Applied Robotics

Exploring the capabilities of robots across a range of industries by helping our partners bring modern solutions to reality

Many industries in the world have jobs that put people in dirty and dangerous situations. Routine maintenance checks can often be expensive and time consuming.

Our team has the solution: purpose-built robots. Associate Professor Robert Ross and his team have been designing prototype robots to help introduce technological solutions to replace traditional operations. The team also develop the mechanical hardware and electronic software needed to bring these robots to life.

Access to La Trobe’s Rapid Prototyping Laboratory allows researchers to use 3D printing, laser and abrasive waterjet cutting technology to efficiently manage the end-to-end design process and drive ongoing innovation in robotic prototype design.

Many of our team are from the Robotics Automation Mechatronics Prototype Sensing (RAMPS) Laboratory. We collectively bring our multi-disciplinary expertise together and transform computer models into functioning designs.

Our team partners with leading organisations for many of its projects including Greater Western Water, Dried Fruits Australia and the University of Tasmania. We work closely with our partners to find new ways to approach challenging situations using our custom-designed robots.


Lead researcher - Associate Professor Robert Ross

About - Concrete sewer pipes handle large volumes of waste. Over time the pipes are susceptible to corrosion due to biogenic hydrogen sulphide (H2S) gas.

Degradation of the concrete pipes often go unnoticed with visual inspections. Our team partnered with Western Water to develop the ‘3PR: Pipe Penetrator Robot’ to improve the accuracy of corrosion testing in the pipes.

The robot is designed to enter the pipes and test the durability of the concrete walls using a penetrating sensor. On the ground, the operator remotely controls and monitors the machine as the small sensor drills into the concrete, gradually applying pressure to different areas of the pipe revealing the weakened areas of the wall.

Our robot helps improve the accuracy of corrosion testing of concrete pipes around the world. This introduces a more efficient process for replacing large sections of pipes helping reduce cost and improve safety.

Partner - Greater Western Water

Lead researcher – Associate Professor Dr Robert Ross

About – Research into Wombat habitats have always been difficult due to the lack of equipment that can nestle into their small underground burrows. Our team came up with a solution: the Wombot.

This project was initiated in collaboration with the University of Tasmania to see what new research opportunities our team can help deliver using Wombot. We designed the robot with a camera, a gripper and environmental sensors that provides real-time data while traversing the complex wombat burrows.

The aim of this project is to provide new insights and reveal more information about unexplored wombat environments. This can be achieved with Wombot’s included thermal cameras and 360 degree vision which allows researchers to map out the underground burrows.

We hope Wombot provide find the answers experts need to protect wombats from mange diseases caused by small parasitic mites.

Partner – University of Tasmania

Lead researcher – Alex Stumpf

About – The team developed a larger version of the Pipe Probe Penetrator Robot in partnership with South East Water to inspect concrete sewer pipes for corrosion. This remote operated robot can be used in larger pipes (up to 1200mm in diameter) and allows testing for any angle around the pipe wall.

We aim for this robot to improve the accessibility for testing corrosion in pipes with various shapes and sizes. Corroded areas are a major issue for the millions of kilometres of concrete pipes worldwide and this project takes a step forward in providing an innovative solution for industry leaders.

Partner – South East Water

About – Tracking animals can be a tiring and time consuming process. In an effort to save resources and improve tracking accuracy, our team developed WildTrack.

WildTrack is a project made possible through our close partnership with the Robert Reproductive Ecology and Conservation Biology Laboratory. The system is a remote-sensing application which connects real-time data from animals with microchips to a cloud system that is accessible via the internet.

Microchips in the animals wirelessly transmit their movements allowing researchers to monitor a large number of species at a time within a selected environment. WildTrack currently supports hundreds of microchip reader modules recently deployed across the La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary.

Partner – Robert Reproductive Ecology and Conservation Biology Laboratory

Lead researcher – Associate Professor Robert Ross

About – To stop the spread of smoke during fires through buildings, HVAC ducts contain dampers which drop down when triggered by a thermal fuse. These dampers need to be periodically tested – but not all are easily accessible which can lead to expensive and time-consuming building works to carry out these checks.

Our team created a pair of robots (collectively named PyroBot) to traverse HVAC ducts and test the dampers. One robot is responsible for unhooking the thermal fuses and the other robot is responsible for lifting and lowering the dampers. This technology could enable safe inspections of otherwise inaccessible dampers and ducts.

Partner – RAMPS Laboratory

Lead researcher – Associate Professor Robert Ross

About – Traditionally within rat pest control there are two major problems – checking how much bait remains in the bait stations and finding out what is eating the bait. Our research team designed RatSpy, an embedded Internet of Things (IoT) machine vision system to solve both these problems in one.

RatSpy has a small camera which takes pictures of any creatures entering the bait station, along with periodic pictures of the bait. These images are sent to the Cloud and machine vision algorithms are applied to automatically perform bait level estimation.

Partner – RAMPS Laboratory

Lead researcher – Associate Professor Robert Ross

About –Sewer access points (maintenance holes) are typically concrete in construction and likely to suffer hydrogen sulphide (H2S) corrosion. In this project we created a robot which uses a penetrometer to probe the concrete and determine how soft (non-structural) concrete is on the surface. This is important to plan out schedules for remediation and repair.

This ongoing project in collaboration with Intelligent Water Networks tests the structural integrity of corroded concrete maintenance holes using similar methods from our previous projects such as the Pipe Probe Penetration Robot.

We aim for this project to improve efficiency in maintaining the condition of maintenance holes and also improving public safety.

Partner Intelligent Water Network

Our researchers

Associate Professor Robert Ross – Associate Professor in Engineering

Dr Tommy Huynh – Senior Lecturer in Electronics Engineering

Dr Alex Stumpf – Lecturer in Electronics Engineering

Associate Professor Dennis Deng – Associate Professor in Electronics Engineering

Professor James Maxwell – Professor in Manufacturing Engineering

Dr Vipul Patel – Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering

Dr Alex Tomy – Lecturer in Computer Science and Information Technology

Professor Wei Xiang – CISCO Chair of AI and Internet of Things

Dr Simon Egerton – Deputy Head of Department of Computer Science and Information Technology

Dr Richard Hall – Senior Lecturer in Electronics Engineering

Contact us

Our team endeavours to explore the possibilities of our specially designed robots across a wide range of industries.

If you are interested in working with us, contact Associate Professor Robert Ross via email or call +61 3 9479 1593 for more information.