Slip on a steep roof leads inventor to build remote inspection robot

By Karen L. Edwards, RT3.

When Mike Slawinski was living in Atlanta, a friend of his asked him to help do some roof inspections. Mike wasn’t a fan of heights but agreed to help. They were in a subdivision that featured multimillion-dollar, large homes with very steep roofs.

“I got up on the front of the house and went over to back side, which was four stories because it was a drop-off lot, and I started sliding down the roof,” Mike explained. “In my mind I got to two feet from the edge and there was a concrete patio down below. In reality, I was probably more like 20 feet from the edge. I scrambled over to a valley and got off that roof, swearing I’d never get on another roof again.”

Being an inventor and innovator, Mike decided to try out some tools and technologies that he might be able to use for completing roof inspections from the ground. Nothing he tried worked so he found a partner to do the coding and created the Roof Rover, a robotic roof inspection device. The first model that they developed was bulky, weighing 25 pounds and wasn’t easy to get on the roof. He waited a few years and as technology improved, he developed the model that is available today.

The new robot weighs six pounds and is equipped with sensors and two cameras – one is very high-resolution inspection camera and another camera is used for driving. “The way you use the robot is typically by just moving the cameras around,” said Mike. “The cameras move and record from up to 60 – 80 feet away, so you just move the cameras and scan the surfaces. If I see anything of interest, I can drive over there and take a closer look.”

The robot is equipped with lasers that can measure within one millimeter or less than the thickness of a penny. It can measure thickness of shingles and even distinguish between a blister and hail dent. An accelerometer measures pitch and roll of the roof and the optical encoders allow for measurements while driving within a fraction of an inch. Edge detection sensors keep it from rolling off the edge of the roof.

“It has a surface temperature gauge on the bottom, and I can tell you that when I was using it in Atlanta, we recorded two temperatures of 250 degree on the roof,” explained Mike.

The Rover uses a 22-foot telescoping pole that raises it to the roof. A platform attaches to the gutter allowing the robot to drive on and off the roof. The rover is operated using a windows tablet and a joystick and a 40-square roof can be inspected in less than 20 minutes.

The robot requires little to no maintenance. The treads will need to be replaced every three to four months and it’s a good idea to keep a second rechargeable battery on hand so they can be swapped out. The Roof Rover includes the Windows tablet and controller and is easy to learn how to use – just watch a 15-minute video and the operator is ready to begin inspecting.

This is an excellent example of introducing technology onto the rooftop that doesn’t replace a worker, it just changes what that worker does and keeps them safer.

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