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Mechanical engineers at the University of California San Diego have invented a robot designed to move along power lines, searching for damage. The robot, called a "SkySweeper," is made from off-the-shelf electronics and 3D printed plastic parts. Nick Morozovsky, designer of the SkySweeper and graduate student at UC San Diego, believes the robot could be scaled up for less than a thousand dollars, making it more economical than what's currently being used.

"Current line inspection robots are large, complex, and expensive," Morozovsky says. "Utility companies may also use manned or unmanned helicopters equipped with infrared imaging to inspect lines. This is much simpler."

Morozovsky's small SkySweeper robot is V-shaped with a motor-driven elbow in the middle. Its ends are outfitted with 3D printed clamps which open and close to move it down the line a few inches at a time. His first SkySweeper attempt is just a prototype, but Morozovsky has big plans for future versions. He is currently in the process of strengthening the clamps so they can swing past cable supports and he's hoping to outfit it with induction coils that will allow it to harvest energy from the power lines. This would allow the robot to remain in the field for weeks or months at a time. An eventual onboard camera will give real-time video feedback to inspection crews back at the substation.

Morozovsky plans to exhibit his SkySweeper design at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) in Japan and he's entered it into the Road to Maker Faire Challenge (RMC) as well. Winners of the RMC contest are awarded $2,500 to take their design to the World Maker Faire in New York later this year. If you're impressed with the project, there's still a little time to vote on it. You can cast your vote here until August 13, 2013.

You can also take a look at an interview with Morozovsky and watch the SkySweeper in action here: