An artificial intelligence-enabled system, coupled with sensors, could help cities detect costly water losses in municipal water systems.
While major problems such as burst pipes are revealed by pressure changes, volume fluctuations or water simply bubbling to the surface — small leaks often go undetected for years.
The technology, developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo in collaboration with industry partners, has the potential to detect even small leaks in pipes. By combining sophisticated signal processing techniques and AI software, it can distinguish between a fully sealed pipe and one that is leaking even a small amount of water.
The acoustic signatures are recorded by hydrophone sensors that can be easily and inexpensively installed in existing fire hydrants without excavation or taking them out of service.
“This would allow cities to use their resources for maintenance and repairs much more effectively,” said lead researcher Roya Cody, a civil engineering PhD candidate at Waterloo. “They could be more proactive as opposed to reactive.”
It is estimated that municipal water systems in Canada lose an average of over 13% of their clean water between treatment and delivery due to leaks, bursts and other issues. Countries with older infrastructure have even higher loss rates, so yes — this sort of technology has real-world use cases both in the developed and developing world.
Cody added that by catching small leaks early, cities can prevent costly, destructive bursts later on.
Researchers have started field testing the hydrant sensors after reliably detecting leaks as small as 17 liters a minute in the lab. They are also working on ways to pinpoint the location of leaks, which would allow municipalities to identify, prioritize and carry out repairs.
Once everything is set, the software will record acoustic signatures and based on that data - determine whether some pipe is leaking or not. Furthermore, researchers are also developing this tech to help cities identify where exactly the pipe is leaking, making it even easier to fix pipes early on.
At the time of this writing, it was unclear whether the technology is commercially available but that doesn't stop local officials from contacting researchers for further details to eventually procure the system for their city. It's the money well spent that will practically pay for itself as soon as the first leak is detected. Explaining that to the public could also help one's career, presenting him/her as a forward-looking, tech-savvy problem solver.
The technology has been tested, but it has yet to be commercially available. In the meantime, businesses can contact researchers for further details to eventually procure the system and offer it to local governments. It's the money well spent that will practically pay for itself as soon as the first leak is detected. Explaining that to the local officials should make for that much easier sell.