NYSEARCH Project M2017-002: Automation Of Explorer and Advanced Data Analysis

Fig. 1: Automation Test Setup

Fig 2: Closeup view of 3-D Camera

Through its research, design, and development activities, NYSEARCH has successfully increased the operational efficiency of the Explorer robotics platform by successfully integrating a powerful new automation computer which allows advanced control of the device, including alignment controls, drive assist functionality for navigating pipeline features and obstructions, and path mapping capabilities.

NYSEARCH continuously strives to improve the capabilities and performance of the Explorer robotics inspection platform in order to enhance its ability to detect defects and to make its operation more efficient and cost-effective. In December 2022, NYSEARCH officially completed the automation of Explorer along with the addition of advanced data analysis capabilities to reduce the level of operational complexity associated with its development and commercial implementation. This work has resulted in the realization of increased overall functional capabilities, by automating operation and controls.

This project increased operational efficiency through the addition of a powerful new automation computer which was successfully integrated with the existing Explorer system and provides a drive assist feature with the capability of autonomously maintaining proper robot alignment while scanning and fully aligning the robot for entry into any feature. The pipeline feature recognition system can now recognize straight pipes and bends in any plane, including tees, and various obstructions. Also, Explorer’s pipeline mapping function can now provide mapping data that can be post-processed with location survey data to indicate the path that the robot has traveled. The new controls methodology can now manage most pipeline scenarios which minimizes instances of required manual operation. When commercialized in 2023 by Intero Integrity Services (formerly Pipetel Technologies, a subsidiary of Invodane), the automation and advanced analytics will provide natural gas pipeline operators with an advanced, effective, and more productive tool for pipeline inspection activities. .


For more than thirty years, NYSEARCH has worked as a consortium of natural gas Local Distribution Companies (LDCs) who have a common interest and need for research and technology development and demonstration. Today, as part of the Northeast Gas Association (NGA), NYSEARCH manages over (30) projects in various stages of development for LDCs, transmission companies, federal agencies and their manufacturing and commercial partners. NYSEARCH is located in Parsippany, NJ and NGA is headquartered in Needham, Massachusetts.