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July 14, 2016

Tech uses sound waves to find clogged city sewer pipes

InfoSense, Inc., a small business that received early funding from the National Science Foundation, has developed a technology that helps keep sewer pipes clog-free.

The company, which is spun out of University of North Carolina at Charlotte and was supported by the NSF Small Business Innovation Research program, has commercialized a device based on fundamental science and engineering research.

The technology is based on the transmission and processing of sound waves. A speaker lowered through a manhole sends acoustical waves through a pipe to a receiver on the other end. An algorithm processes the signal and determines to what degree clogs or other defects may be obstructing the pipe. Over 130 cities around the globe are already using the device, called the Sewer Line Rapid Assessment Tool, or SL-RAT. Due to its ease of operation and speed, the tool can complement and help better focus the deployment of currently used robotic cameras and cleaning equipment.

Robotic cameras and sewer cleaning equipment are much slower and cost significantly more to use than the SL-RAT technology. According to InfoSense, utilities can typically cover 1,000 to 1,500 feet per day using a camera or a cleaning truck, while the SL-RAT averages 7,500 to 15,000 feet per day. With more than 800,000 miles of sewer pipes in the U.S., the ability to screen pipes first with the SL-RAT and better target the deployment of cameras and cleaning equipment can generate significant cost-savings for wastewater utilities.

Ivan Howitt, InfoSense chief technology officer and founder, says the technology is an elegant example of how innovative new solutions can help industry solve old problems.

The project is one of many examples of NSF-funded research and technology that take smarter, more innovative approaches to making local and national infrastructure safer, cleaner and more resilient.

Original air date: July 14, 2016

Credit: NSF

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