Robotic vacuum cleaners are becoming increasingly common, so manufacturers have begun looking for other things for robots to clean.
Keeping air ducts clean is very difficult and often requires the use of special tools. Thankfully, DuCTT, or the Duct Climbing Tetrahedral Tensegrity, which is taking research from the NASA robotics research division to clean ducts and keep the air we breathe clean.
The word "Tensegrity" is a combination of the words "tension" and "integrity," and when it comes to this robot, that basically means that it is made up of rods and cables that are able to expand and contract to move. A construction like this was first demonstrated by NASA around two years ago as a part of research into robots that would be able to navigate difficult terrain.
DucTT was developed by University of California, San Diego Ph.D. student Jeffrey Friesen.
Difficult terrain, however, doesn't have to mean space. It can also mean air ducts. The way that the robot climbs air ducts is that it first anchors its top half, then anchors its bottom half. After that, the top half extends upwards, and the cycle begins again.
Air ducts are both expensive to run and maintain, and DuCTT could save a lot of money. Often, in maintaining air ducts, they have to be dismantled by professionals, which can prove to be very costly. A robot simply being able to climb the air ducts is a lot easier. Of course, it's important to note that, while the robot will save money, it would perhaps be better to set it loose after everyone in the office has gone home for the day, as it is pretty noisy.
All of that being said, DuCTT isn't yet ready for commercial release and can't currently do the actual cleaning — it can only climb through the ducts. It does, however, have room for things like sweepers or compressed air.
Check out the video below to see DuCTT in action.