I’ve written a number of times previously about the drive towards smarter cities, with the Internet of Things used to monitor key infrastructure and even provide real-time repairs.
One interesting project is taking place in the sewers beneath the American city of Cincinnati. The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) aims to develop a "smart sewer" that reduces the overflow into the cities rivers and creeks.
“Our smart sewer system is anticipated to save tens of millions of dollars in capital investments in projects to control sewer overflows,” the team says. “This is our best chance of reducing spending and ultimately costs for our ratepayers.”
MIT researchers are working on a similar approach, albeit their aim is to reduce leaks that result in roughly 20% of global water supplies being lost during transportation.
Their system consists of a rubbery robot that looks a little bit like a badminton shuttlecock. The device is inserted into the water system, and then is carried along with the flow of water, measuring and logging as it goes. It’s capable of detecting small variations in pressure because its rubber skirt fills the diameter of the pipe.
As the device is retrieved from the system, the data is then uploaded. It’s a nice approach because it doesn’t require expensive and disruptive digging work, and there is no interruption to the water service.
Coming to Market
The team hopes to make the next step and commercialize their product, with strong initial interest from Saudi Arabia, where 33% of their water supply is currently lost through leakage. They sponsored a test of the product in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, with the robot performing well in
“We put the robot in from one joint and took it out from the other. We tried it 14 times over three days, and it completed the inspection every time,” the team says.
It managed to find a relatively small leak, albeit one of around one gallon per minute, that conventional detection techniques often miss. Add these up however and you get a significant problem, and such leakages are widespread.
The team will next work on a more flexible, collapsible version of the device that can operate effectively in pipes of different sizes. This will be crucial as most water systems have a variety of pipe diameters in their networks.
They believe that the system will be hugely valuable to city planners who are keen not only to stop the wastage caused by leaks but also to reduce the structural damage that leaks cause to streets, houses and other underground utilities.