One of the most important needs of the world is clean, safe and sufficient water. However, water distribution systems all over the world are losing around 20 percent of their supply because of leaks. Leaks don’t only cause water shortages, but it also can cause serious structural damage to buildings and roads by undermining the foundations.
One of the solutions that was created is through leak detection systems. Unfortunately, these systems are expensive and slow to operate. They also don’t work well in systems that make use of wood, clay or plastic pipes, that account for the majority of systems around the world.
This is why researchers at MIT developed a new system that can provide a fast and cost effective solution that can find even the tiniest leaks with pinpoint precision no matter what material the pipes are made of.
This system was created and has been under development and testing for nine years by by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Kamal Youcef-Toumi, graduate student You Wu, and two others. They will be presenting this project at the upcoming IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) in September. Currently, the team is performing tests this summer on 12-inch concrete water-distribution pipes under the city of Monterrey, Mexico.
This new system makes use of a small, rubbery robotic device that looks similar to a badminton shuttlecock. The device can be inserted into the water system through any fire hydrant. It will them move passively with the flow and logs its position as it moves on. It will detect even small variations in pressure by sensing the pull at the edges of its soft rubber skirt that fills the diameter of the pipe.
Source: YouTube, MIT
The device will then be retrieved by using a net through another hydrant, and the data it gathered will be uploaded. There is no digging needed, and there will be no interruption of the water service. Accompanying the team’s passive device that moves with the water flow, the team also developed an active device that can control its motion.
The MIT team, named PipeGuard, plans to commercialize this robotic detection system solve problems related to pipe leakages.