News Feature | June 13, 2016

Sewer-Cruising Robot Will Survey Texas Infrastructure

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A robot is being deployed in Arlington, TX, to cruise the sewer pipes and look for potential problems.

The 42-inch device looks more like a “futuristic sled” than a robot from “The Jetsons,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“People think a robot comes in and says ‘Hi!’” said Walter “Buzz” Pishkur, the city’s water utilities director. “This isn’t that.”

The robot is mobile and has data-gathering capabilities. It includes a high-def video camera, lasers, and sonar. Overall, the project will cost the city about $600,000. Project backers say that in lieu of replacing every aging pipe, robotic equipment can help the city target problem sections of its infrastructure.

“What’s certain is that [the robot] will have a very dirty job: tooling around in the city’s largest sewer pipes, collecting data that someday soon will help Pishkur and his crews to locate cracks and wear before they cause a major pipeline collapse,” the report said.

“Pishkur and his staff built the robot from materials provided by Red Zone Robotics, a company that typically rents its sewer-bots and experts to cities. Utility officials talked Red Zone into providing the materials so they could build it themselves and hire their own data crunchers at University of Texas at Arlington,” the report said.

Robert Stanley, senior engineer in the water utilities department, described the aims of the project. “When you collect the data, you’ve got to do something useful with it,” he said. UT Arlington researchers will take the data and seek to apply it.

The university researchers have a three-year contract with the city council to “evaluate all sewer pipes with a 60-inch or greater circumference and, in a second phase, will recommend a new, more sustainable and resilient system of fiber-reinforced pipes for the future,” according to an announcement from the university.

Ali Abolmaali, chair of the university’s civil engineering department, described the research objectives.

“We’ll make recommendations for what to do based on where the robots and sonar detects anomalies within the pipes,” he said. “This research could provide a blueprint for other cities to copy.”

Pishkur, the utility director, said in a previous Star-Telegram piece that he sees a big opportunity for utilities to place a greater reliance on innovation.

“There’s a lot of technologies that have been on the market but haven’t been adapted by utilities,” he said. “What we’re doing is actually looking for and attempting to adapt some of those technologies. I think what we’re learning is there is a lot of great stuff out there we need to take advantage of.”

To read more about maintaining wastewater infrastructure visit Water Online’s Sewers And Sewer Line Maintenance Solutions Center.