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Robots to help repair aging water pipes
An engineering team at the University of California, Irvine are building a robot that can travel along water pipes and repair them from the inside. If this project is successful, a commercialized robotic system could give the U.S. a lead in the growing world market for water infrastructure technology
The American Society of Civil Engineers which rates the quality of city infrastructure, including water works, estimates 6 billion gallons of clean drinking water disappears each day, mostly due to old, leaky pipes and mains.
In order to address the problem, a UCI engineering research team is building a robot that can travel along water pipes and repair them from the inside. The team is also working with Fibrwrap Construction Inc. and Fyfe Company LLC, two companies that specialize in making repair materials and applying them to city infrastructure.
The robot is expected to save cities time and money by accessing broken and leaking pipes faster, easier and with fewer resources than traditional methods.
The repair robot could easily be inserted into water systems, travel along them until it finds a break or weak point, and then apply a patch made of tough reinforcement material along the inside of the pipe. Essentially, the robot would create a new fiber pipe inside the old damaged one.
The obstacles for this project involve creating a way for the robot to accurately identify flaws in pipes that have unpredictable shapes and uneven surfaces. Another problem is how to apply the reinforcement material.
The research team is integrating an advanced sensor system into the robot that can measure contact pressure against the sides of the pipe and activate the repair process where appropriate.
The robots can be built for various types and sizes of pipes and repair them 11 times faster than human crews, according to a team representative.