A hydropower station in northwestern China’s Gansu Province recently made headlines by using an underwater drone to check a floodgate and seal a hole in it.
During a series of mock tests, technicians from the local branch of State Grid, a national power supplier, sank the device, a 30kg-heavy robot, to the bottom of the Yellow River near Liujia Gorge in Gansu.
In an attempt to gauge the drone’s ability to navigate underwater and perform tasks such as removing debris that clog the gate, technicians controlled a tether tied to the robot that sent back real-time images of the underwater environment.
They then operated a robotic arm to clear away small branches that got stuck under the sluice.
Shortly thereafter, technicians stuffed cotton balls fetched from ashore to block the crack in the floodgate and repeated the step four times, until the hole was completely sealed.
According to those involved in the tests, flow rates of rapids roaring through the Liujia Gorge dam can reach 3,800 cubic meters per second.
It is reported that due to complex underwater terrain, drones can replace divers in certain jobs that pose tremendous difficulty and safety risks.
This not only improves the use of smart technologies at the hydropower station, but also reduces maintenance cycles and water resource waste, laying the groundwork for geological mapping and inspection of underwater concrete structures and floodgates, Chinese media reported.
As one of the main outlets for releasing floodwater, the dam sluices are instrumental to controlling water levels during flooding seasons in summer.
By applying the underwater drone to solve real problems, the dam operators not just tested the agility of the device, but also braced themselves to handle sluice breaches or other emergencies.
Underwater robot or drone has seen growing adoption across the nation, occasionally being deployed to conduct environmental inspection, prospect for natural resources hidden below riverbeds and assist with search-and-rescue missions.