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A new low-cost robot, the U.S. winner of the 2018 James Dyson Award, is designed to stop water leakage, and find leaks in pipes early to avoid wasted water and burst pipes that can occur later on down the road.

Fast Company writer Adele Peters writes:

Called Lighthouse, the robot looks a little like a badminton birdie. A soft “skirt” on the device is covered with sensors. As it travels through pipes, propelled by the flowing water, suction tugs at the device when there’s a leak, and it records the location, making a map of critical leaks to fix.

While other leak-detection technology exists, it mostly relies on acoustics to find leaks–something that can work in suburbs, but doesn’t work well in noisy city centers. Some locations use plastic pipes, which can’t use acoustic detection at all. This is true in much of the South. “This basically means that for cities in Georgia or Virginia, the way they find leaks is to just wait until the water main breaks,” says MIT doctoral student You Wu, who spent six years developing the product.

In a city like Boston, where around 50 water mains burst last year, a single break can cause $200,000 in damages to streets and property. The breaks typically begin when pipes shrink in the winter, and small, undetected leaks get worse. If the new technology lets the water company find and fix leaks early, Wu says, it could save 90% of the cost.

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