Around the world, one in five people don’t have enough water, according to the United Nations, but that’s not because there isn’t enough fresh water for people to drink, bath, wash their clothes, or even water their lawns. It’s mainly because either the water has been polluted, pipes don’t exist to take water from lakes and streams, or aging infrastructure allows water to leak.
In 2008, Saudi Arabia approached MIT’s Mechatronics Research Laboratory to fund new technologies to help tackle the third problem. The country, notorious for its expensive desalinated drinking water, was losing one-third of its water every day due to leaking pipes, but existing detection methods, developed for metal pipes, proved incompatible with the plastic infrastructure.
After nine years of research and development, You Wu, a fifth-year MIT mechanical engineering PhD candidate, has created an elegant solution. His invention: Robot Daisy, a flexible intelligent device that resembles a shuttlecock—or a blue-skirted woman, from which it gets its name.
Daisy works by floating through pipes and pinpointing water leaks. When water leaks through a crack in the pipe, it creates suction that grows linearly with its size and can be measured with sensors. These sensors compose Daisy’s rubber skirt. To identify leaks in a pipeline network, a technician inserts her into the underground piping through a fire hydrant, and she logs the location and force of any tugs on her skirt as she floats downstream. Once the technician retrieves her from the pipes, the computer chip storing all the data in her body connects to wifi and downloads a map of the leaks.
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