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Century-old Gas Canisters Unearthed in Downtown Ottawa. Here's What We Did.

Updated: Jun 9

Developing a remote-controlled drilling robot, uDesign Solutions is helping to defuse potentially explosive gas canisters that had been buried on Victoria Island for over 100 years.

The military equipment decommissioning expert operating the drilling robot

In summer 2018, three large, badly corroded steel scuba-diving tanks were discovered unexpectedly on Victoria Island, in downtown Ottawa. Turns out, they were the gas canisters buried by inventor Thomas Leopold "Carbide" Willson more than 100 years ago after a failed experiment. Magellen Engineering, the company specializing in dealing with nuclear and chemical weapons, asked uDesign Solutions to build a remote-controlled drilling robot to help this special mission. Chris Falconi, the director of uDesign Solutions, was invited by CBC to share the story of this unique product development project.


The decommissioning experts building a bunker with sandbags

According to Chris, as the canisters were buried a century ago, no one was 100% sure what is in them. The mysterious gases stored inside could be highly explosive, which made the mission of decommissioning those canisters extremely risky. A bunker with sandbags walls and a special air filter were carefully built to deal with the risk. Most of the taps on the canisters had completely rusted off, so they couldn't be drained the usual way. And then, that's where the remote-controlled robot came in.


A remotely-operated driller attached to the canister

To neutralize the cylinders, the robot had to release the gases inside. Firstly, the canister was fastened to the ground and then the drilling robot was attached to it via a magnet and it drilled a tiny hole so that the unknown concoction of gases inside could be safely drained. After enough time has passed, someone in protective gear checked it out and attached a bigger bit to drill a bigger hole, to make sure there is no gas left before they could be safely transported and disposed.


The remote controller

As the initial trial happened in February, the devices were expected to work in an extreme cold environment, which was one of the challenges the product development team had to tackle. In addition, decommissioning potentially explosive gas canisters in downtown Ottawa especially required extra cautions. Although 8 canisters had been safely decommissioned, the drilling robot's mission is not yet completed; 200 to 300 more are still remaining to be defused. The land is expected to be completely cleaned up by summer 2019.



The story is featured on CBC.


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