This New Robot Can Detect Leaks in Any Pipe System
Gone are the days a leaking water pipe meant ripping up meters of pipe to locate the problem. The brilliant scientists at MIT have the answer, in the form of a robot, of course. The new robot, PipeGuard, can find a leak in any pipe material using pressure sensors and onboard locating equipment to locate leaks in any type of pipe matrix.
[Image Source: MIT]
The robotics system has two methods of finding leaks. One that floats along in the water and one that can be controlled via remote control.
The system has been in development for over 12 years. It uses a small device, in the shape of a shuttlecock, that moves through the pipe system gathering data on water pressure using sensors located in its ‘skirt’. At the same time, the clever bot is keeping track of its location. Once it is removed from the network, its data sets are downloaded, cross referenced to locate the leak.
[Image Source: MIT]
PipeGuard just passed a super difficult test traveling through a pipe network at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia. It managed to find the artificial leaks with 100 percent accuracy.
The robot could fix an $80 million dollar problem
Pipeguard will now go to Mexico, where it will aim to help the Monterrey local government find the source of leaks that are causing 40 percent of its water supply going to waste. A problem costing the city more than $80 million a year.
The scientists behind PipeGuard hope to one day be able to develop the system so that it can be used in more pipe dimensions and types as well as having an onboard fixing kit, that would allow the robot to repair small leaks.
PipeGuard isn’t just a clever way to help find simple leaks, it is tackling a worldwide problem. The worlds water distribution systems lose roughly 20 percent of their supply each year to leaks. Mark Gallagher, a director at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Water Department, said PipeGuard “could minimize the damage to infrastructure and the loss of water services to homes and businesses, and it could significantly reduce the associated cost.”
The system could be applied to potentially dangerous oil and gas pipes
Right now PipeGuard is limited to water pipes, but future iterations will be able to work for gas and oil networks too. Natural gas pipeline networks are often poorly maintained with inadequate mapping. This means dangerous leaks are only identified after explosions or poisoning has occurred.
The system would be invaluable if developed to identify oil leaks. The Dakota Access pipeline is reportedly already leaking oil, despite not being fully functional yet. A system such as Pipeguard would minimize these deadly leaks that are not only financially costly but have unfathomable consequences for the environment. The PipeGuard technology finds leaks while they can still be fixed at a reasonable cost without damage to the environment or nearby infrastructure.
Its inventors, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Kamal Youcef-Toumi and graduate student You Wu, will present their research on PipeGuard at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) in September.
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Natasha Caudill is a social media influencer and accessibility advocate debugging the monochrome world for you. She speaks to Interesting Engineering about her life experiences, social media interactions, advocacy, and being a part of NASA's unveiling of the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope.