Robots to help humans explore the next frontier – the underground

A robot and its team of humans that can solve our water problems, one leak at a time.

The humans have a water problem.

About 20% of the drinking water supply is lost in pipe leakage across the world. With climate change and all its effects, we better make every drop count. One way of not wasting water is by finding leaks in the pipe system and fixing those pipes. However, finding those leaks and can be tricky or even costly especially in large cities with large pipe systems.

Introducing Scout!

Scout Watchtower Robotics


Scout is a leak seeking robot that can swim in water pipes under cities and pinpoint the location of those leaks.

The brains behind Scout is Mr. You Wu - a brilliant Ph.D student at MIT.

He’s been trying for some time to solve the problem of designing and robot that can reliably find leaks in pipes but could not find a solution. However, in 2015, he accidentally found a solution while dancing at a party when he stepped on his partners dress and had a moment of inspiration. Yes friends, don't give up. The universe will supply the solution when you least expect it so keep your faith and pay attention to the signs.

Now back to Scout.

Scout has skirts that gets pulled or tugged into a leak and therefore provides very accurate information about the location of a leak in the pipe. As scout swims in pipes and detects the tug in the skirt, it relays information to the surface which enables the utility companies to replace a pipe efficiently without digging a whole mile of pipes just to find a few small leaks.

Scout also draws its design strong points from animals in the ocean kingdom.

Combining the jellyfish, octopus and the blind cave fish, Scout's design uses Bio-mimicking to find inspiration for its design. Sometimes we just need to take a step back and look around us for the answers we seek. 

In California, water is a problem and unfortunately the crisis is not going away soon. 

The city of Los Angeles does have a system that detects leaks using microphones but the system is prone to noise and cannot accurately find leaks. Scout can solve that problem because it does not rely on finding the sound of a leak and instead uses a more reliable physical detection system.

Dr. Wu has started his own company Watchtower Robotics to further develop and mass produce Scout. So far, Scout has gained interest from water dependent regions like Southern California and also countries like Saudi Arabia. 

We would like to congratulate Dr. Wu and his team on this robot and trust it will play an important role in saving water and fighting climate change.

Here's a quick video on Dr. Wu and his CEO Tyler Mantel explaining briefly what their robot can do for your drinking water system.

Water is a finite resource and we should make the best use of it and not be wasteful.

Let the robots trail blaze. Humans will come when its safe. 

The underground can be a dark and dangerous place. There are miles and miles of underground human-made tunnels, cave systems and urban underground networks around the world that have not been explored or left abandoned after use.

Plus you never know whats hiding there. Remember Tremors or NOD's Devils Tongue....

Tremors RoboticsNOD Devils Tongue Robotics

Yeah it can be scary so naturally robots are mans best friend because they can literally go where no man can. They can do all the dirty work and we get to sit back, relax and be safe from the perils that come with the subterranean world.

DARPA is looking to capitalize on this benefit by hosting the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. The challenge has a prize pool of $5 Million and is looking for the best and brightest teams to build and develop some bada** subterranean robot technology.

The Challenge will allow competing teams to unleash their robots into various underground systems such as abandoned mines and tunnels to autonomously navigate the terrain and also map it at the same time. The competition will have four stages - The first stage is the Tunnel Circuit which is happening this weekend. Next is the Urban Circuit in February 2020, The Cave Circuit in August 2020 and Systems final in August 2021. This is a big deal.

During these tests, no humans are allowed to go into the underground systems as the robots are tested to see if they can accurately map while autonomously navigating these environments and also retrieve certain objects in the tunnels.

One team competing in the challenge is our smart and innovative friends at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The JPL team have brought their best, brightest and toughest robots to the underground challenge and have partnered with Caltech, MIT and KAIST to form a super-team called Collaborative Subterranean Autonomous Resilient Robots Systems (CoSTAR).

CoSTAR’s 60 members are the big dawgs of the underground and they have chosen to bring a few robots to navigate and solve the complex problems found in the challenge. The fleet will use multiple robots to map the underground tunnels, use AI to navigate the tunnels and locate specific objects like cellphones or mannequins.

These robots from CoSTAR are the next generation in subterranean robot technology also very glad to see a couple Husky UGV's from Clearpath Robotics being used. Excellent!

While these tough subterranean robots can be used in disaster relief situations, NASA also looking to deploy these robots to find life the underground worlds in space.

On a slight side note, see the world longest underground tunnel currently being built in NYC.

An introduction to robotics can be found here....

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