Leak Detection Robot

May 2016 – August 2016

I helped research a leak detection robot with the MIT Mechatronics Research Laboratory (MRL) the summer after my sophomore year at MIT. The robot is both passive and flexible, meaning that it passively moves with the flow of water in pipes and is flexible enough to bend around corners.

Leaks create a local pressure differential in a pipe. The robot's membrane experiences a drag force across that pressure differential. That force data was stored on a microSD card on the robot. Additionally, accelerometer data was gathered and stored. This data could be analyzed after robot extraction to locate each of the leaks.

I took charge of a novel type of architecture which detected the drag force using a tilting platform, springs, and force-sensitive resistors. My research showed that this design was less reliable than the ultimate design of the robot. In my version, the platform and its attached membrane were affected too easily by small errors when bumping into the pipe walls. The final design used skirts attached to plastic sliders which kept the robot centered in the pipe more effectively. For testing, I built prototypes of the robot and tested them thoroughly.

We struggled to distinguish the forces from the leak from the noise of the robot hitting the pipe walls. During my time in MRL, we weren't able to consistently identify leak locations. I did learn how to create flexible, water-proof electronics during this time, and a paper was later submitted to the International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

This is a drawing of my version of the robot. The front cap contains the microSD card for data storage and easy access.

This is a picture of the most reliable version of the robot.

This is a schematic of the robot in use and the signal that it picks up.