Boston, MA, US
You Wu, Tyler Mantel
Bio-inspired robotic leak detector to help save water and protect infrastructure.
WatchTower Robotics Co. aims to help public and private water pipeline operators around the world save water and protect infrastructure. Specifically, WatchTower Robotics Co. develops robots, automated tools, and data analytics that will empower pipeline operators to map their pipes, detect leaks actively and early, assess pipe conditions, and make informed maintenance decisions.
1. What is the problem you’re trying to solve and how does your design help?
Every day, about 20% of the clean water produced in the world is lost due to pipe leaks. Due to limitations in available technologies, most of the leaks are either not found, or found too late. Watchtower uses a next-generation, flexible robot to inspect water pipes, locating leaks for utilities to easily fix. The strategy is to build a robot that is like a squid or gecko; it leaves behind a piece at every leak it finds in an underground water pipe. This piece has a beacon effect that allows maintenance crews to locate it with wireless scanners from above ground, pinpoint the location of the leaks, and know where to dig and fix them.
2. What makes your design different than previous or current approaches to the problem you’re trying to solve? What are the social, cultural, and/or environmental wins that your innovation provides?
Our solution is flexible, allowing it to inspect most any pipe. Our solution is low cost, allowing utilities to find leaks before they burst and disrupt a city.
3. How did you apply lessons from living organisms to your design and what difference did that make?
Our robot “feels” for leaks while it travels through a pipe. The mechano-receptors responsible for this were inspired by the way humans sense physical objects. Similar to the way octopus have no vertebrae (which allows them to fit through tiny openings) we are working to eliminate the rigid structure from our robot design (eliminating the likelihood of getting stuck in a crushed section of pipe).