Robots have been to Mars, the moon and the ocean floor, but until last month they’d never visited Pittsburgh’s sewer pipes.
That changed on June 22nd, when a squat inspector called The Solo began its subterranean journey under the city’s Beechview and Brookline neighborhoods. The Solo, which looks like it could be R2-D2’s accessory dog, is an invention of RedZone Robotics, and while its journey may only represent one small step for robots, it’s one giant leap for the field of unmanned pipe condition assessment.
The Solo came to Pittsburgh courtesy of a partnership between the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) and RedZone, which is based in the city. As an agency release explained, PWSA has to inspect its sewers per an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Previously, PWSA has met its end of the agreement with a cabled truck and operator. The cable attaches to a camera, which allows crews to inspect pipes for fissures and leaks.
“The PWSA was averaging approximately 80,000 linear feet in four months using traditional televising methods,” the release states. “RedZone will complete the same amount of work in 6-8 weeks.”
According to Brendan Schubert, the agency’s manager of external affairs, the robot is also cheaper than traditional methods, costing about $1.50 per linear foot. That’s because The Solo is autonomous.