Inuktun builds video-enabled robots for places where humans can’t go
Based out of Canada, Inuktun Services is a designer and manufacturer of
robotic crawler and inspection camera systems that help people reach hazardous areas, confined and underwater spaces. Years into developing their system control and data reporting software, they chose to move their video pipeline to a Medialooks SDK.
A variety of robots
Inuktun was founded in 1989 by Al Robinson — an entrepreneur and underwater engineer who designed the manipulator arm for Alvin, a deep-ocean research submersible that dove on the Titanic. The company offers a range of robotic vehicles, each tailored to a specific use case: some go vertically, some are magnetic, others are capable of crawling a 2-inch pipe. Most of the products are depth-rated and some can go full-ocean depth. This product architecture is recognized as IM3™ (Inuktun Multi-Mission Modular) to reflect the adaptable nature of its proven modules.
Craig Senych, VP of Operations at Inuktun:
A typical application for us would be if we want to do an inspection in a pipe, and we will drive into the pipe with a track vehicle and cameras and inspection sensors and we will record video and sensor data for the length of the pipe, and some vehicles can go as far as 2 km with a length of tether behind them.
Because of its focus on areas that are impossible or unsafe for humans to enter, all Inuktun’s robots are on a tight leash — a strong custom-designed cable that’s used to control the vehicle, transmit video and sensor data and lift or lower the vehicle during operations. A crawler without batteries is small and light—so it can access congested locations, extremely confined spaces and travel further distances.
Inuktun’s mission is to create technology that enables people to perform tasks that they could not otherwise do, in places they could not otherwise go.
Enabled by video
As Craig explains, video is just one modality of the inspection—it is the enabler of the process: the eyes of the operator, who commands the vehicle and its PTZ cameras with an Xbox controller, and reference material that is matched with layers of sensor data—data that has to be Repeatable, Actionable, Meaningful, and Preventive.
We collect lots and lots of data for an inspection job. Anything from ultrasonic thickness to radiation data.
Software development initiatives began at Inuktun about 10 years ago and went through several iterations. Before moving to Medialooks, the company used a third-party solution, which required a USB licensing dongle to be shipped with every copy of the application. Craig says:
That didn’t work too well for us so we started looking around and found Medialooks. The licensing model was the key decision point; performance was another.
To Inuktun, performance was how fast they could record the video and how many streams at once:
Sometimes we have multiple cams on systems—two is often and it can be more. We have to record and receive the video, codec it and store it in a reasonable amount of time. It’s a real-time app in the end of the day, we overlay things on top of the video in real time.
It took the developers about a week to build a proof of concept, which led to a quick decision to license the SDK:
From a management perspective I think the software guys were able to, at a demonstration level, swing to your API inside of a week… The minute we were able to get up and running that fast, if I remember back when we made the decision, it was… wow, that was impressive, it was working well, performance was adequate and… obviously, it took more detailed implementation or performance testing along the way and optimisation… But when we were up and had a demoable product that was substantially integrated into our existing software… I think within a week after that we bought it.
They found out that optimal quality, performance and file size were provided with our implementation of the Quick Sync H.264 codec. Cody Gessner, Software Engineer at the company:
The H.264 codec is faster than others we have used.
The performance of capture, recording and display were greatly improved over our previous solution. The most promising was the display performance by taking advantage to DirectX to accelerate the color space conversion to make the WPF rendering considerably more efficient than our previous solution.
As of today, Inuktun has been using Medialooks technology for almost two years. All of the company’s video requirements have been met: capture, display, recording & annotation. The product is robust and works within the harsh constraints of industrial environments.
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