Robots Could Repair Nation's Water Mains, Save $245 Billion

water pipes photo

Photo via Leonid Mamchenkov via Flickr CC

Thanks to seed money granted by the US Department of Commerce's Technology Innovation Program for small businesses, two companies - Fibrwrap Construction, Inc. and FYFE Company - and robotics experts at the University of California are creating a team of robots that will help the US keep a handle on its +2 million miles of aging water pipes and infrastructure. By deploying robots, the team hopes that the country can both boost its water conservation efforts as well as minimize the expense of maintaining and upgrading mains systems. The team figures it could mean a massive savings for taxpayers.

The Robotic Rehabilitation of Aging Water Pipelines project received nearly $8.5 million to go towards the $17.5 million project cost. The project duration is 5 years, during which the team hopes that they'll develop a prototype robot to apply carbon fiber reinforcement inside water transmission pipes.

The project team notes that right now, broken pipes have to be dug up, section by section, to be replaced. But their idea for a robotic sidekick could significantly speed things up, laying strong but inexpensive carbon fiber internally in the pipes as reinforcement.

Cleantechnica reports
"Fibrwrap estimates that a robotic device could lay its carbon fiber material 11 times faster than a human crew, but the real challenge is dealing with the flaws, unusual shapes and uneven surfaces typical of older water mains and pipes. The team will focus on developing sensors that can monitor the contact pressure between the application device and the interior of the water main, and synchronize that with the motion of the robot."

water pipes photo

Photo via renaissancechambara via Flickr CC

The team states that if their project pans out the way they've envisioned it and they can commercialize their robotic system, they could save the US economy an estimated $245 billion. Of course, that's only for the pipes they're able to keep reinforced. Eventually, the oldest, or cheapest parts of our water infrastructure will have to be updated. And that'll take more than robots.

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