CES 2023: Engineers create a snake-like robot that can move inside water pipes

The intelligent robot 'evolves' inside the pipe, without stopping water distribution.
Jijo Malayil
A Pathfinder robots in a pipeline.
A Pathfinder robot in a pipeline.


At a time when a significant proportion of people face scarcity of drinking water, a staggering 32 billion m3 of clean water is lost a year due to faulty distribution networks around the world. This is where technologies like ACWA Robotics' Pathfinder autonomous robot become a much-relevant product for utilities. The system can navigate at the heart of the water supply network without disrupting water distribution to users to provide actionable data. 

The technology has been recognized at CES 2023 (Consumer Electronics Show) with the title - Best of Innovation under the category 'Smart Cities' and is an Honoree under the titles 'Human Security for All, Sustainability, Eco-Design & Smart Energy'. CES is one of the world's most influential technology shows, with the 2023 edition being held from January 5-8 in Las Vegas. 

According to a UN report, worldwide water demand is expected to exceed supply by 40 per cent by 2030, and waste of water in the supply chain is something that cities cannot afford anymore.

"Our intelligent robot evolves inside the pipe, without stopping water distribution, and provides key data to build the network digital twin, save millions of m3 of water and help optimize cities’ water infrastructure investments," according to the company website.

How Pathfinder works

The robot, which is fully autonomous and designed to pass through elbows, and service lines, can also go with or against the flow of water in a respective pipeline. Each Pathfinder robot is equipped with sensors that are adapted to the specific pipeline material, diameter, and network operational model. 

The system is capable of analyzing the pipe location with centimetric accuracy, providing a report of the pipe's overall condition (residual thickness, corrosion, micro-cracks, ovalization) and any data one might require concerning water and hydraulics (pressure, quality, turbidity). 

According to the company website, one of the main objectives of the Pathfinder project is to "bring water utilities and network operators the most accurate and efficient data." 

How quality is maintained

To ensure that water quality is not compromised with the use of such systems, the ACWA team has ensured that Pathfinder robots meet French 'autorité de Conformité Sanitaire' health requirements. "On missions in drinking water, robots will access the network via a sanitized airlock," according to the firm. 

The intelligent technologies also ensure that Pathfinder missions include risk management solutions, with the system automatically aborting the mission and returning to base in case of any unexpected situations. "Mission programs include a 'safe recovery mode' enabling our robots to disengage from the pipe and be safely brought back to base." according to ACWA. 

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