Engineers have now developed tiny robots that can patrol the pipe network, look for issues, and stop leaks in the UK. A new generation of robotic pipe patrollers for underground environments is being tested by the Integrated Civil and Infrastructure Research Centre (ICAIR). Pipebots are tiny, moving robots with cameras for eyes and all-terrain legs. They are being created in collaboration with the water industry to inspect pipelines for weak points and cracks before they develop into leaks. They go along the pipe while taking pictures and using a microphone to hear the pipe. They are designed to identify whether or not a pipe issue is likely to occur. The biggest challenge for the pipebots, according to Professor Netta Cohen, an artificial intelligence specialist at the University of Leeds, is communication. Together with her teammates, she is developing a system in which a larger “mother” robot transports and deploys a group of smaller robots.

Since there are millions of houses supplied by thousands of kilometers of pipe in the UK, leaks are a frequent and difficult problem. This year, there has been a lot of discussion about water waste. According to Water UK, South East Water, South West Water, and Yorkshire Water have localized hosepipe bans in place as a result of the summer drought. According to Ofwat, 20% of consumers in England and Wales are having trouble paying their water bills as a result of the current economic downturn.