What was our chosen real-world problem?

We chose the problem of leaking water main pipes under the road. Most of the UK uses an old system of pipes, many of which were laid in the Victorian era. These have been worn out because of ground shifting, corrosion and frost. Everyday, in the UK alone, 3.3 billion litres of water are wasted through leaks and breakages in the pipes, enough to meet the daily demand of around 21.5 million people. Currently, the primary way of repairing leaks is to dig up the road and replace a section of the pipe, but this is very time-consuming, and weakens the connections between pipes. Estimates say it would cost over £100 billion to replace all leaky pipes in the UK.

And the solution?

We have developed a snake-like robot which can enter pipes to fix leaks. Our solution can be split into 3 key parts. First of all, locating the leak. The methods currently used aren't very accurate, but when you replace the whole pipe, they don't need to be. We use the method of using a listening stick on the surface to find a change of pressure in a pipe. To add on to this, we use an ultrasonic sensor to create a 3D image of the inside of the pipe to precisely pin-point a leak. The second part is the delivery system. The robot can enter pipes via fire hydrants and air valves. Inside the pipe it turns itself inside-out to expand and move forward. Control chambers in the side of the robot inflate to cause it to turn. Finally there is the repair kit. On the front of our robot we have a nozzle that can rotate 360 degrees to spray 'shotcrete' at the leak, sealing it. Shotcrete is a fast drying liquid concrete that is applied through a pressure hose, currently used in tunneling to waterproof them. This part of the robot also has the ultrasonic sensor, as mentioned before. A similar device has been developed by Stanford University for disaster relief:

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