The start-up Invert Robotics has raised $8.8 million from investors to advance development of robots that can help chemical and other industrial companies inspect dangerous places in their plants.
The New Zealand-based firm says its robots are the first specifically designed to inspect for safety and integrity in nonmagnetic hazardous environments. Equipped with a camera and other tools, they crawl the sides of vessels on suction-cup-covered treads.
Invert was a winner of last year’s Imagine Chemistry start-up contest sponsored by the specialty chemical maker Nouryon. Marco Waas, a Nouryon research, development, and innovation director, says his firm tested the robot at its salt facility in Hengelo, the Netherlands. The results were encouraging, though the robot struggled with complex geometry, Waas says.
Chemical makers also use flying drones to aid in plant and site inspections. At Dow, for example, Johnathon Casillas is the leader of a team of six drone pilots.
Waas sees robots and drones as complementary. Robots offer high image quality and can carry other equipment, but they have trouble on curved, rough, or dirty surfaces. Drones are more agile, but they are weak on video quality, can’t carry much, and are limited by battery life, he notes.