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Engineers developing robots for Opera House maintenance

Engineers are working on predictive maintenance technology for the Sydney Opera House, aiming to minimise damage caused by human checks and repairs, whilst also reducing the need for workers to abseil 67 metres above the ground to perform these functions.

Earlier this year, the Opera House’s $200 million renewal plan was revealed. The development of a predictive maintenance system was a major part of this, with engineers from the University of Sydney taking on the job.

Professor Gianluca Ranzi for example, has been studying the practicality of using a robot to minimise human intervention and reduce the risk of harm to the building. The professor believes that human maintenance checks and repairs pose risks to the building’s structure, and that these functions would be better performed by a robot.

Under Ranzi’s supervision, engineering student Amara Kruaval looked into the use of ultrasonic pulse velocity as a non-invasive way to test the health of the concrete used at the foot of the building’s sails. However, she discovered another use for the test; differences in the rates of the pulse could indicate what was behind the concrete, which could be used on the building to identify the presence or absence of steel.

Furthermore, Sydney University engineers have developed an electronic hammer that can test the condition of the building’s roof tiles without causing any damage. The engineers aim to incorporate the hammer in a robot to provide real-time information about the state of each tile.

“If we can find a way of electronic testing on board a robot of some sort, it would certainly be much cheaper and easier – and safer,” said the Opera House’s director in a comment to the ABC.

“We need to ensure we do everything we can to conserve it – without ruining it in any way. If we can find a non-invasive way of testing, like x-ray or ultrasonics, to determine what’s going on with the concrete, it fits in much better with the heritage.”

One issue the engineers have encountered is that some of the details about the building’s construction were not recorded. Therefore, interviews were conducted with some of the structure’s original builders, and the Opera House used lasers to scan the building and create a 3D image including all known information on the building.

According to Opera House CEO Louise Herron, the use of advanced technology in heritage conservation could see the structure last another 200 years.

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