Robotic crawlers are becoming a common sight in the world of building inspections. Whether it’s inside crawlspaces or under heavy machinery, inspection robots are just about everywhere. The appeal is easy to recognize. These robots let inspectors get into areas that might be dangerous or otherwise inaccessible. It’s a tool that keeps you out of harm’s way, opens up work in areas other inspectors write off, and provides a ‘cool’ factor to your marketing.
At the time of writing, a professional crawlspace inspection robot can cost between $3000 to $5000, depending on the number of features and seller. Price is always a concern when buying new equipment (we made a guide about how to quickly recoup this cost) which can lead people to build their own crawlers.
Let’s be clear, this article is not about insulting the hard work that people have put into their own crawlers. Our own robots started off as prototypes that evolved over time and are still changing and growing. We want to explore the hidden costs of building your own inspection robot, as well as what goes into it. So, let’s break this down!
So you want to build an inspection robot?
You’ve got the right parts
First things first, let’s clear up a few misconceptions. Building an inspection robot that will stand up to daily use for years can be complicated. Some people suggest just buying a $20 remote control (RC) car and taping a cheap camera to it. While that’s an option, it would be similar to using a lighter as a flashlight. It’s a cheap, fast solution that offers poor results and won’t last.
So, when it comes to building an inspection robot, it needs to be built right. That means investing time and money. That means quality parts on a solid frame that can handle the terrain. A camera that can capture enough detail so you know what you’re looking at. A battery that doesn’t die 20 minutes into an inspection. Lights that let you see where you’re driving.
It is a learning (and costly) process to figure out what to use and what to avoid. It took several iterations before our team landed on parts like interchangeable DeWalt batteries, and we still had to make our own camera protection and debris deflectors.
The essentials of a quality crawler are going to cost more, but the alternative might mean losing a crawler where you can’t get to it. The good news is that there are other DIY builders who can recommend components and share advice on how to build your crawler, which can cut down on your next big hurdle.
Time is Money
How long did it take to research the right parts to use?
How much time does it take to learn how to wire all of the parts together into a functional system?
What’s the amount of time it takes to test an inspection robot out and make changes to the design?
Some builders will start with cheaper components and upgrade as time goes on, taking the time to swap out parts that break with higher quality components.
One cost that regularly slips people’s minds is the ‘hidden’ cost of time. Time is one of your most valuable assets, so how much does it cost you, on top of the actual parts, to build your own crawler?
The point of a professional inspection robot is to provide inspectors with an immediate solution that is ready to go out of the box. These robots are built as a tool an inspector can pick up and count on to get through the work reliably day after day. Building a crawler may seem like a cost-saving alternative, but can cost more of your time in the long run.
Another thing to consider is how you’re presenting yourself to a client or realtor. Using a professional inspection robot adds a level of authority compared to a homemade crawler, making it more appealing as a marketing tool.
Professional crawlers come in different shapes and sizes, along with different price points. They offer a fast, dependable solution to your inspection needs, and most will have all the features you’re looking for. If you want to learn more about some of the features and components of different crawlers, why not take a look at our blog post comparing our tracked and 4-wheel drive GPK inspection robots?
At the end of the day, inspection robots exist to help you do the best job possible. All that matters is that you can depend on them to get the job done right.