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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S016813/1
Title: Pervasive Sensing for Buried Pipes
Principal Investigator: Horoshenkov, Professor KV
Other Investigators:
Drinkwater, Professor B Richardson, Professor R Dodd, Professor TJ
Cohen, Professor N Robertson, Professor I Boxall, Professor J
Rogers, Professor CDF Metje, Professor N Tait, Professor S
Croxford, Dr AJ
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Acoustic Sensing Technology Ltd Aliaxis Group S.A. Anglian Water
aql Balfour Beatty Plc Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Guidance Automation Ltd MELWELL TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION CONSULTI National Infrastructure Commission
Network Rail Nuron Ltd Oxford Electromagnetic Solutions Limited
Phoenix ISL Red Zone Robotics Rioned
RSK Environmental Ltd Scottish Water Scoutek Ltd
Severn Trent Water Ltd Stantec Synthotech
Thames Water Plc UK Society for Trenchless Technolody UK Water Industry Research Ltd (UKWIR)
University of Waterloo (Canada) US Environmental Protection Agency UTSI Electronics Ltd
Welsh Water (Dwr Cymru)
Department: Mechanical Engineering
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Scheme: Programme Grants
Starts: 01 March 2019 Ends: 29 February 2024 Value (£): 7,290,965
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Acoustics Control Engineering
Ground Engineering Instrumentation Eng. & Dev.
RF & Microwave Technology Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Construction Water
Environment Technical Consultancy
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
26 Sep 2018 Programme Grant Interviews - 26 and 27 September 2018 (Element) Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
In Europe, the total value of sewer assets amounts to 2 trillion Euros. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that water collection systems in the USA have a total replacement value between $1 and $2 trillion. Similar figures can be assigned to other types of buried pipe assets which supply clean water and gas. In China alone 40,000 km of new sewer pipes are laid every year. However, little is known about the condition of these pipes despite the pressure on water and gas supply utility companies to ensure that they operate continuously, safely and efficiently. In order to do this properly, the utility operator must identify the initial signs of failure and then respond to the onset of failure rapidly enough to avoid loss of potable water supply, wastewater flooding or gas escape. This is attempted through targeted inspection which is typically carried out through man-entry or with CCTV approaches, although more sophisticated (e.g. tethered) devices have been developed and are used selectively. Nevertheless, and in spite of the fact that the UK is a world leader in this research area, these approaches are slow and labour intensive, analysis is subjective, and their deployment disrupts traffic. Moreover, because these inspections are necessarily infrequent and only cover a small proportion of the pipe network, serious degradation is often missed and pipe failures occur unexpectedly, requiring emergency repairs that greatly disrupt life of the road and adjacent buried utility infrastructure.

This Programme Grant proposes a radical change in terms of buried pipe sensing in order to address the issues of pipe inspection and rehabilitation. It builds upon recent advances in sensors, nano- and micro-electronics research, communication and robotic autonomous systems and aims to develop a completely new pervasive robotics sensing technology platform which is autonomous and covers the entire pipe network. These robots will be able to travel, cooperate and interrogate the pipes from the inside, detect the onset of any defects continuously, navigate to and zoom on sub-millimetre scale defects to examine them in detail, communicate and guide any maintenance equipment to repair the infrastructure at an early sign of deterioration. By being tiny, they do not present a danger of being stuck, blocking the pipe if damaged or run out of power. By being abundant, they introduce a high level of redundancy in the inspection system, so that routine inspection can continue after a loss of a proportion of the sensors in the swarm. By making use of the propagation of sonic waves and other types of sensing these robots can monitor any changes in the condition of the pipe walls, joints, valves and lateral connections; they can detect the early development and growth of sub-millimetre scale operational or structural faults and pipe corrosion. An important benefit of this sensing philosophy is that it mimics nature, i.e. the individual sensors are small, cheap and unsophisticated, but a swarm of them is highly capable and precise. This innovation will be the first of its kind to deploy swarms of miniaturised robots in buried pipes together with other emerging in-pipe sensor, navigation and communication solutions with long-term autonomy. Linked to the related previous work, iBUILD (EP/K012398), ICIF (EP/K012347) and ATU's Decision Support System (EP/K021699), this Programme Grant will create the technology that has flexibility to adapt to different systems of governance globally.

This work will be done in collaboration with a number of industry partners who will help to develop a new set of requirements for the new pervasive robotic sensing platform to work in clean water, wastewater and gas pipes. They will support the formation and operation of the new research Centre of Autonomous Sensing for Buried Infrastructure in the UK and ensure that the results of this research have strong practical outcomes.
Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.shef.ac.uk