Jacobs School Wins Innovation Award

Popular Science Magazine awards the engineering school for SkySweeper Robot

The UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering won Popular Science Magazine’s “Best of What’s New” awards for 2013 for its innovative outdoor shaker table and a robot called SkySweeper, designed to move along utility lines.

UCSD boasts the largest high-performance outdoor shake table in the world, which allows structural engineers to test buildings, improve earthquake hazard mitigation and protect structures.

“It can subject a 400-ton payload to 1.2 Gs, the high-end of recorded seismic movement,” the report in the Popular Science Magazine said.

The world’s largest shaker table is 25 ft. by 40 ft. and was tested against a fully equipped five-story building.
Structural engineers at UCSD Englekirk Structural Engineering Center in Scripps Ranch created a five-story building — which included an ICU, surgery room, piping and air conditioning, fire barriers and a functional elevator — and tested it against a series of recorded magnitude of real earthquakes.

The building was tested with some of the world’s greatest earth-shaking quakes, including the 8.8-magnitude Chilean earthquake of 2010. The $5 million project aims to determine how to keep high-value buildings such as hospital and data centers operational even through massive earthquakes.

“What we are doing is the equivalent of giving a building an EKG to see how it performs after an earthquake and a post-earthquake fire,” principal investigator Tara Hutchinson said to UCSD News.

While the shaker table tests the land, the SkySweeper makes its sky-high rounds across utility cables.
“Developed by engineers at the University of California at San Diego, it will be the most affordable and versatile power-line monitoring tool,” said Popular Science Magazine.

SkySweeper is a V-shaped robot with a motor-driven “elbow” at its center. It is equipped with clamps that open and close, allowing the robot to move in an inchworm-like fashion. The clamps that act as its hands can also swing over and release one at a time, allowing the robot to bypass cable support points.

Developed by Thomas Bewley, professor of mechanical engineering at UCSD School of Engineering, and Ph.D. student Nick Morozovsky, the SkySweeper is both low-cost and efficient. Made with just off-the-shelf electronics and plastic parts printed from a 3D printer, the prototype for the SkySweeper is less than $1,000 — far less expensive than the current models used to inspect utility lines.

“The revolutions in low-cost microcontrollers and 3D printers have enabled rapid prototyping of complex robotic systems, such as SkySweeper, that can take novel dynamics and control problems from simulation to reality,” Morozovsky said to UCSD News.