By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Technology
Engineers at the University of California Irvine are working on robotic technology that promises to rehabilitate the nation's aging water infrastructure.
Led by civil & environmental engineering professor Maria Feng, the team is working to build a prototype robot that could repair and retrofit aging water pipes by applying a tough reinforcement material around their interiors, instead of excavating the pipes to replace them.
The engineers are working with Fibrwrap Construction, which specializes in structural renovation through trenchless application of composites, and Fyfe Company, which specializes in fiber-reinforced polymers for civil infrastructure rehabilitation.
Currently, the way to fix an aging or broken pipe is a bit, well, low-tech: construction crews dig trenches to find damaged pipe segments, then patch them on the spot or dig them out entirely for replacement -- plenty disruptive in a crowded metropolis.
This isn't the first time robots have been used to inspect pipes, but it's the first time they'll be able to fix them, by applying a carbon-fiber coating to the pipes' interior walls.
The researchers are working on giving the robot an advanced sensor system that can gauge contact pressure against the pipe wall and trigger the application process. In 2008, team member Masanobu Shinozuka -- a world-renowned expert in structural engineering -- won a National Institute of Standards & Technology Technology Innovation Program award to develop the technology.
"This robot needs to be intelligent," said Feng in a statement, herself internationally known for her invention of sensors that continually monitor the soundness of structures. "It has to see and feel and constantly adjust to the pipe surface. Smart robots like this are very different from those used in manufacturing."
The engineers anticipate that the robots will be able to lay carbon-fiber coating 11 times faster than human crews.
According to an American Society of Civil Engineers report (.pdf), an average of six billion gallons of potable water is lost every day in the U.S. because of leaky pipes.
At commercial scale, the engineers' robotic system could save the U.S. economy some $245 billion -- plus give the nation a leg up in the race for water infrastructure technology.
Mar 8, 2010
All those ditch diggers and pipe layers are unionized. They won't be laid off. But, the utilities won't be hiring as many new ones. There will be less demands for uneducated workers, which should encourage enrollment in colleges. There will always be other places for uneducated people to work, though.
This is horrible. In these economic times, how can we afford to advance technologically instead of paying people to do mundane jobs that machines can do? Instead we should fall behind the rest of the countries in science and technology because those workers really need their jobs. It's not like it is creating skilled labor that would pay higher wages like building and fixing robots or anything , nor is it saving any money by doing things like minimizing water waste. We should go back to the good old days where everyone had a job sewing clothing in their houses and farming by hand before evil technology destroyed our economy with things like automated textile factories and the automobile industry.
Relining a municipal waterline was done in my neighbourhood last year. One still has to dig down to the pipe at some point. In our instance at three points along the block. A robot was used to insert a plug into each residential connection after which the pipe was flooded with a thermosetting polymer. Water service was minimally disrupted but it was still a major operation but less expensive than digging up and replacing the pipe.
This is why we lost the manufacturing race to foreign competition. Now they have all the cushy robotic jobs, and we are left working at McDonald's. Please grow a brain lobe and realize that robotics MAKES jobs not destroying them! In just this example: 1. Building robots makes more jobs in robot factories. 2. The savings in water makes it possible for more factory jobs that use water to move into the area. 3. Productivity explodes which causes more jobs to handle the new load. 4. Jobs fixing robots are more rewarding that digging ditches, and they pay high wages. Get a grip on it people! I've been a robotic repairman, and I've seen the tremendous advantages first hand on the factory floor. BELIEVE IT!!
Since when was technological advancement about preserving jobs? During the industrial revolution technology replaced jobs with innovation to reduce costs. If total cost is less then people work less hours for more money - that's a component of how the west is rich - they already work less hours than the 19th or 20th century - so what's the problem? - these are the same time wasters who complained about tractors and sewing machines.
If we have to raise taxes to spend so much more than we currently do to repair infrastructure, then that means that I will be spending less money elsewhere in the economy as I pay the higher taxes. The jobs that were supported by that previous spending disappear. Nobody directly connects the loss of those jobs to the higher taxes. On the other hand, politicians love to take credit for creating the jobs created because it was easier than deploying efficient technology. Overall, we all lose and pay more for less.
The problem is the issue is not fixed. The concept is good, however we still need to think of the employees this will displace. The employees should be offered to retrain for the skill sets needed by the companies rather than eliminated. Secondly, although carbon fiber composite is a step forward we still need to find a better solution for repair other than super heated carbon polymers. As a planet we need to be stepping away from the carbon based products. Even the refining of PET as commendable as it is, is not bringing us any closer to being a green planet.
There will be no new jobs. People that dig trenches and line pipes aren't community college material to begin with. So I don't know where you think the "new jobs" are going to fly out of? My only consolation is the University of California will disappear because the public system will no longer be able to support public schools. Oh wait. Perhaps we can tax robots. They could pay for Maria Feng's salary. Or else she could get a job slinging soup in a kitchen. Especially when her pension disappers because the guys digging trenches disappered as well. Eggheads.
And the robots would cause the displacement of how many workers? Not that that is a bad thing necessarily, but something that has to be accounted for with new jobs else where.
Pipe lining is invented already, it is done by humans. You don't need a robot to deploy the liner inside the pipe, air pressure and/or hot steam will do it fine, even through turns (as long as the operator knows what he is doing.) For more information, you can visit www.trenchlessonline.com (a magazine), www.ebdhi.com (a company) or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trenchless_technology for the Wikipedia blurb
...that 20% of our water is lost through leakage. An inexpensive and easy to deploy remediation technology would go a long way towards solving our water problem.
You are so right about "really weird"... The failure of our water systems is a public health disaster in the making; repairing them by digging is an economic disaster for any business located near the repair. Yet 90% of the posters here are worried only about possible job loss. Weird!