Duke Engineer Builds Robots that Protect & Serve

May 18, 2017 1:10 PM ET

When robots are mentioned, it’s easy to conjure up memories of old science fiction movies. But do they have a place in today’s energy industry?

Kentucky employee Steve Hinkel is working on it. His innovative efforts teaching and designing robots have already caught the attention of local law enforcement and may have a future at Duke Energy.

One of his recent creations is a rover robot for the Newport, Ky., Police Department, across the river from Cincinnati. Affectionately called SWAT-Bot by officers, the robot can help police access places that might be too risky or too cramped to enter, and can see things they may not ordinarily be able to detect.

Hinkel began dabbling in robotics several years ago when his young son showed an interest in robots. Over time, Hinkel became a quasi-expert in the design of robots – now teaching a class on robotics at Northern Kentucky University.

He continues to design new robots. And in addition to the Newport police squad, two other local police departments are adopting Hinkel’s robot designs.

As for Duke Energy, robots could be used to handle tasks that could be more dangerous than they first appear – like working in traffic.

“For example, instead of a crew member using a flag to direct traffic in highly congested areas, as when electrical workers are making repairs to a power line, a robot could do it,” said Hinkel. “A technician might also direct a robot to make a repair in an energized electric substation; that way the person can stay in a completely safe zone.”

See what else our employees are doing to benefit their communities in our 2016 Sustainability Report.