Little Robot Maps Out Leaks in City Water Pipes Before Catastrophe Strikes


Access to clean, safe water is one of the world's pressing needs, but today's water distribution systems lose an average of 20 percent of their supply because of leaks. These leaks can also cause structural damage to buildings and roads. Many leak detection systems don't work well in systems that use wood, clay, or plastic pipes - which account for the majority of systems in the developing world. Researchers at MIT have developed a fast, inexpensive robotic device that can find even tiny leaks in pipes, no matter what the pipes are made of. The robot can inspect water or gas pipes from the inside to find leaks long before they become catastrophic. The device can be inserted into the water system through any fire hydrant. It then moves passively with the flow, logging its position as it goes. It detects even small variations in pressure by sensing the pull at the edges of its soft rubber 'skirt' which fills the diameter of of the pipe.