Electricians find themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place. Working on live equipment can be deadly with one electrician dying every day in the United States from high-voltage arc flashing. But equipment shutdowns are nearly impossible in high-availability markets like the $2.6 trillion telecom industry where a single minute of downtime can cost over $8,000.
FLX Solutions, Inc. Founder and President Dr. Matt Bilsky has invented a low-cost 3D printable snake-like robot that will revolutionize how workers deal with hard to reach areas. The idea came from his own frustrations as a contractor with running wires through existing walls.
The robot is one inch in diameter and is made of up of six-inch long links that can both extend and rotate, allowing it to expand and brace against cavity walls to slither up just like a rock climber. It can be inserted through an outlet-sized hole and each link has a camera. The video from the approximately 15 links in each robot can be stitched together creating 3D virtual reality (VR) images. The end of the robot can be easily changed to best suit the task at hand, such as a drill bit for going through studs or a gripper for grabbing.
“Our goal is not to take away jobs. Electricians and other workers know where they need to go, we want to get them there safer and easier” says Bilsky. “The opportunity is to bring smart, robotic tools to every work truck by significantly driving down the price of robotics where the average service robot costs about $50,000.”
SOLIDWORKS has been a critical part of the robots development to date. The project began in 2013 while Dr. Bilsky was still a doctoral student at Lehigh University where SOLIDWORKS is the CAD software of choice. Dr. Bilsky continued working on the project at the University as a faculty member until leaving at the end of 2018.
The SOLIDWORKS Entrepreneur Program made it possible for FLX Solutions to have access to the complete suite of tools despite being a pre-revenue startup.
FLX Solutions uses the various SOLIDWORKS packages to support the development of the robot. All of the parts are modeled and assembled virtually allowing for testing before production. The SOLIDWORKS Simulation package enables virtual testing of designs, saving both time and money.The company was recently accepted into a leading startup-accelerator sponsored by the telecommunications industry to solve problems using the company’s robotic technologies. The company is working to complete a Beta prototype to begin field testing with customers in February 2020. FLX Solutions hopes to have early units for sale before the end of 2020.
“SOLIDWORKS has enabled us to quickly and inexpensively design, test, and iterate the robot so we can demonstrate the technologies to potential investors and strategic partners,” says Bilsky. “It is partnerships like this that make our vision of increasing worker safety while decreasing downtime at a price that makes robotics affordable for all possible.”