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Technology

Meet Wisor, the Mechanical Mole-Man

By Fenella SaundersSeptember 1, 2001 5:00 AM

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Hidden beneath many major cities, an aging network of pipes carries steam heat to large buildings. When pipes leak, workers dig up the roadway, causing traffic snarls. But soon WISOR, invented by Honeybee Robotics of New York, may be able to help. The 8-foot-long, 700-pound robot moves through pipes somewhat like an inchworm. A remote operator uses cameras to align the machine with a leaking flange seam in the pipe. Once WISOR is in place, a tool in the front prepares the joint for repair by milling a groove around the seam. The whole machine scoots forward, moving its rear welding tool into position, and a rubber bladder in the middle expands to block the flow of leaking steam. Then the robot fixes the joint by arc-welding the flange shut— all at ambient temperatures of up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. WISOR has passed its endurance tests, and the Con Edison power company hopes to start using it in New York later this year.

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Photograph courtesy of Honeybee Robotics

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