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 DULUTH, Minn., March 8 /PRNewswire/ -- Reach All, the Duluth manufacturer of aerial platforms, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (NYSE: PCG) of San Francisco, the nation's largest utility company, have recently entered into a partnership on a project to develop a robotic aerial platform.
 The device, which will be the first of its kind in the United States, will be used by PG&E's personnel to work on overhead distribution power lines by way of two remotely operated robot arms. The company distributes electric power to approximately 4.5 million customers.
 The project consists of designing a truck-mounted articulating boom aerial platform with an enclosed personnel pod mounted at the end of the boom. The pod will be fitted with two robot arms (remote manipulators). The unit will be mounted on a Chevrolet conventional truck chassis. It will look much like a typical utility truck except for the personnel pod in place of the basket at the end of the boom.
 It is anticipated that this project will bring about the development of the next generation of utility line maintenance vehicles.
 Working on or in proximity to electric power lines is physically demanding, and the presence of high voltage is always a consideration. When severe weather strikes, it is often impossible for crews to repair damaged lines and restore power.
 With this new device, the operator controls the aerial platform and the robot arms from inside an enclosed pod. The operator is protected from severe weather and is insulated from electric shock so work can proceed on live power lines in almost any weather.
 Utility companies can minimize power outages during storms and conduct everyday maintenance without interrupting service to their customers. This can result in a considerable savings in revenue which otherwise would be lost during outages.
 Robot Arms Extend the Operator's Capabilities
 Kraft Telerobotics Inc. of Overland Park, Kan., is the manufacturer of the remote manipulator arms. The robot arms are virtual extensions of the operator's body. By manipulating hand controllers, the operator can transmit every movement of his arms and wrists to the robot arms, which will duplicate each move with human-like motion and speed.
 Of primary importance is the fact that the Kraft manipulator arms have operated successfully in a high voltage field exceeding one million volts while demonstrating the ability to perform a variety of complex tasks on energized transmission lines.
 The arms can pick up small objects, hold tools, turn wrenches, and perform many other operations. Each arm can lift 100 pounds at full extension, giving the operator more capabilities when it comes to pulling or lifting lines, insulators, transformers, and other attachments. The arms also have force feedback sensitivity which allows the operator to "feel" objects and gauge gripping strength accordingly.
 By using robot arms, the operator works in a secure, climate- controlled environment. The arms give the operator more strength and reach while reducing fatigue, and work can be conducted while power lines remain energized.
 Three-Phase Development Program
 The project to develop this new device will proceed in three phases. Phase 1, the start-up, is already underway. Reach All is designing and manufacturing a 45-foot aerial platform that will accommodate the pod. This includes interfacing the power and control systems required for robotic functions.
 PG&E is furnishing the pod, which they have fitted with a Kraft remote manipulator system. The complete unit is to be operational by April 1.
 Phase 2 is a development stage which will employ the device in numerous work practice situations so that personnel from PG&E can assess the unit's capabilities and propose modifications for future development.
 Phase 3 will involve manufacturing a second machine which will incorporate all of the design refinements and recommendations determined through Phase 2. This machine will be used in actual field testing, including live line work. It will serve as the precursor for future generations of robotic utility maintenance vehicles.
 The Phase 1 machine is scheduled to be on display at the Electric Utility Fleet Managers Conference in Williamsburg, Va., in June, as well as at the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition in Louisville, Ky., in September.
 Reach All is a leading manufacturer of mid-range and tall aerial platforms. The company has engaged in other special projects in order to develop custom-designed equipment for unique applications. Reach All is owned in part by a subsidiary of Minnesota Power (NYSE: MPL) of Duluth.
 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in the United States. The company has approximately 25,000 employees; its service territory includes northern and central California.
 -0- 3/8/93
 /CONTACT: Terry Murphy of Reach All, 218-722-9200/

CO: Reach All; Minnesota Power; Pacific Gas & Electric Co. ST: Minnesota, California IN: OIL SU: JVN

KH -- MN016 -- 4245 03/08/93 17:40 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Mar 8, 1993

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