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Tomorrow Today

Robot seeks work as fuel tank inspector

robot
Maverick, a remote-controlled robot that can inspect fuel tanks  
November 19, 1998
Web posted at: 10:33 a.m. EST (1533 GMT)

From Science Correspondent Ann Kellan

(CNN) -- A robot named Maverick that looks like a suitcase on steroids could offer a practical way to protect against fuel tank leakage.

Around the world, billions of gallons of gasoline and jet fuel are stored in huge tanks. If those tanks leak, the poisonous chemicals they contain can seep into the ground water.

RELATED VIDEO
On the job with the robot called Maverick
Windows Media 28K 56K

The potential hazard makes inspecting the tanks a high priority, but it is a tedious and expensive undertaking, which puts the tanks temporarily out of commission.

"You have to drain it, you have to take all of the sludge out of it," said Don Hartsell of Solex Robotics, the maker of Maverick. "That's going to cost anywhere between $30,000 to $500,000."

Using the robot system would bring that figure down significantly, Hartsell added. "We're looking at an 80 percent or more savings over the cost of taking a tank out of service."

robot underwater
Maverick performing in an underwater test  

Maverick can enter a full tank and work its way methodically along the floor, remotely controlled by an operator on the outside.

The robot uses ultrasound to measure the thickness of the metal. A sonar positioning system keeps track of the robot's location, so any thin spots in the metal can be found and fixed.

Solex says that besides saving money and benefiting the environment, the robot system improves conditions for workers involved in the inspection process, because they no longer have to enter the tanks.


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