'Sewer robot' to crawl under Cape Town

2015-04-15 15:42

Cape Town - Cape Town may not have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles patrolling its sewers, but it will soon have a tiny robot equipped to spot signs of troubles in its pipes.

The city's water and sanitation department has enlisted the help of "The Crawler" to be the eyes of operators trained to nip blockages and spills in the bud.

The Crawler weighs in at around 10kg and is fitted with sturdy wheels and a camera to inspect for pipe cracks, collapses, tree roots, storm water ingress and joint displacements.

The device is suspended into a sewer manhole and placed on the pipe floor, ready to move forward or backward, tilt its camera around, and shine its lights on surfaces which hardly see the light of day.

An official sits in a van on street level, operating the device with a control pad and monitoring its movements on a big screen.

 (Jenna Etheridge, News24)


The screen records the date, time, distance down the pipe, inclination and speed of the robot.

The city's pipes are between a metre and 12m beneath the surface and range in diameter from 150mm to 1 000mm.

For bigger pipes, the robot "supersizes" by clicking into a bigger frame with larger wheels.

Once the robot has completed its trip, an operator writes up a report, places the data onto the city's geographical information system and identifies problem areas that can be monitored and fixed.

"The robot inspects the sewer line and tells us the state it is in so we can fix it instead of waiting for a burst pipe, which will cost in the region of R300 000 to fix," utility services mayoral committee member Ernest Sonnenberg told News24.

The new system is expected to reduce inconvenient burst pipes, which disrupt traffic, the tar and topsoil.

(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

R2.4m paid for crawler and system

He said a lot of foreign objects are deposited into the sewer line and remain undetected until they become a big problem.

"The initial layout cost in a project like this may be very big but you recoup it very quickly."

The Crawler's parts come from Germany and Sweden, but are assembled in South Africa.

Project manager and technician Deen Williams told News24 that the City paid R2.4m for the crawler and its system, which includes all attachments, support parts, software and installation.

It is set to hit the city streets next week, as soon as it is insured.

A second crawler is expected to join the team next week, and two more are planned within the next year.

See the sewer crawler in action here:

Read more on:    cape town  |  service delivery  |  technology

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