PVAMU professor directs robotic scout for Bechtel

  • Ahmed Abdelmoamen Ahmed, Ph.D., PVAMU assistant professor

Stories about robots doing the work of human beings have almost become routine. But some jobs are truly made for robots — and unquestionably
not for humans.

One clear example can be found at Prairie View A&M University’s College of Engineering, where intensive research will soon lead to robots going where no human body would be able to fit, let alone work.

Dr. Ahmed Abelmoamen Ahmed, an assistant professor of computer science, is directing the Robotic Scout Project, which will employ drone-like robots to literally scout for damage inside pipelines maintained by the Bechtel Corporation, the largest construction company in the United States.

Bechtel imports underground pipelines from Australia, Ahmed notes, but the current robots are proving themselves outdated — conducting long inspections with less than exact results.

The robots being designed as part of the Robotic Scout Project will be equipped with 3-D scanners to specifically locate corroded metal within a pipeline, says Ahmed. The 3-D scanners will send laser beams throughout the pipeline using GPS coordinates. Once damage is detected, the robots will transmit laser-generated imagery of the problem area to the scanners with 3-D models of the corrosion.

Bechtel has maintained a research-based relationship with PVAMU for many years and the Robotic Scout Project arose following discussions between Bechtel and the College of Engineering. Dr. Shield Lin, who at the time was interim chair of the College of Engineering, sought a professor to lead what would become the Robotic Scout Project. Ahmed volunteered to write the proposal to Bechtel, which was accepted. Bechtel has provided $10,000 to fund PVAMU’s completion of the project, which will include testing a prototype of the new pipeline robots. Bechtel specifically stipulated that PVAMU directly involve one or two students throughout the research.

“They asked us to hire one or two students,” Ahmed says. “We took one month to hire the most qualified student we have. This was a good fit for us and the university has agreed to fund the student as compensation for him working on the project.”

Ahmed arrived at PVAMU in fall 2017, having previously worked at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Cairo. Ahmed is currently writing grant proposals aimed at much more ambitious projects and securing additional outside sponsors for research. Specifically, he is pursuing a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Winning one or both grants would enable the College of Engineering to build a new lab, hire more students for research activities and purchase more state of the art equipment.