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UTA researchers lead project using robots to inspect sewer pipelines

The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) has partnered with the city of Waxahachie in the US state of Texas to carry out robotic inspections on several miles of the city’s sewer pipelines.

The pilot project, which is being led by professor and chair of UTA’s civil engineering department Ali Abolmaali, is expected to result in estimates on the remaining service life of the pipelines.

The project will be equally split between inspection and data evaluation, with data retrieved from the robot being used for a range of assessments.

Core samples taken from the pipes will be analysed by an electron microscope to relate material chemistry to pipe strength, in addition to using finite element modelling and artificial intelligence.

"This is a tremendous step forward from a project that Professor Abolmaali initiated with the city of Arlington, and it's wonderful to see the impact that UTA scholarship and research is having on the communities we serve," said UTA president Vistasp Karbhari.

"Professor Abolmaali's ability to continue enhancing the state-of-the-art in pipeline assessment, along with enabling practical application of the research that results in tremendous cost savings and increase in safety for cities, is a wonderful example of university research having local impact."

UTA will work with RedZone on the robotic inspection of the sewer pipes, as well as with water consultant Public Water Solutions.

"We are excited about the opportunity to partner with UTA on this project," added Tommy Ludwig, Waxahachie assistant city manager. "Waxahachie continually looks for ways to deliver service to our customers in the most cost-effective and efficient ways possible. We believe that this partnership with Dr. Abolmaali and his team will help us continue in this effort by helping the city prioritise repairs and better utilise the funds allocated to its Capital Improvement Plan."

The project will also show how private companies can work with public entities to help aid capital infrastructure decisions and, ultimately, residents and businesses.

"The frustration with pipe replacement has been the expense and disruption of digging up streets and sidewalks," noted Ron Lusk, president of Public Water Solutions. "A pipe segment often can't be replaced without a significant excavation, so the solution up until today has been to replace long stretches of pipe. Now there is an option that allows pinpointing analysis onto almost each and every pipe segment, freeing up much-needed funds. Pipe replacement becomes microsurgery instead of amputation."