Thursday, February 2, 2012

patentECO - Put That in Your Pipe

First, a few statistics.
  • 170,000 public drinking-water systems are located across the US
  • 54,000 of these systems are community water systems that collectively serve more than 264 million people
  • The remaining 114,000 are non-community water systems, such as those for campgrounds and schools
  • More than half of public drinking-water systems serve fewer than 500 people
  • The nation has far fewer public waste-water systems than drinking-water systems —  approximately 14,780 wastewater treatment facilities and 19,739 wastewater pipe systems as of 2008
  • Aging pipes and inadequate capacity lead to the discharge of an estimated 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage each year
  • The cost of the capital investment required to maintain and upgrade drinking-water and wastewater treatment systems across the US in 2010 is estimated as $91 billion. Only $36 billion of this was funded, leaving a capital funding gap of nearly $55 billion.
The nation’s drinking- and wastewater systems are aging and in major need of rehabilitation.
These are a few of the observations of “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure,” released by the American Society of Civil Engineers on December 15, 2011. The report states that “[e]ven with increased conservation and cost-effective development of other efficiency methods, the growing gap between capital needs to maintain drinking-water and wastewater treatment infrastructure and investments to meet those needs will likely result in unreliable water service and inadequate wastewater treatment.”
The American Water Works Association published “Dawn of the Replacement Era: Reinvesting in Drinking Water Infrastructure” in 2001. One of the stunning stats in that report is that the replacement cost value of water mains plus water treatment plants, pumps, etc., is over $13,000 per household in 2011 dollars, on average.
Is there clean technology that can be applied to this problem so that water infrastructure repairs and replacement can proceed in a targeted, cost-effective manner that also reduces the environmental effects of the construction activities that will be required?
One tool in the patentECO patentsphere is water pipe inspection and repair robots.
Patent number 8,024,066, “Autonomous inspector mobile platform,” was issued on September 20, 2011 to a team of inventors, with Carlos Reverte of Miami, FL as the first-named inventor. The patent, assigned to RedZone Robotics, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA), is classified in the US system as 700/245. This classification places the invention with others that feature robot control in generic control systems or specific applications of data processing.
Claim 1 states:
A method, implemented by an autonomous robot, for inspecting an interior of a sewer pipe, the method comprising:
a) capturing information about the interior of the sewer pipe via at least one sensor;
b) storing data representative of the captured information;
c) determining a position of the autonomous robot in the sewer pipe;
d) relating the determined position to the stored data;
e) traversing through the sewer pipe, while performing steps (a)-(d), wherein traversing through the sewer pipe comprises traversing based on the captured information, and wherein at least steps (a)-(b) and (e) are performed automatically by the autonomous robot;
and (f) utilizing a tether connected to the autonomous robot to determine a distance traveled by the autonomous robot.
The invention provides streamlined and low cost inspection and surveillance of pipes and pipe networks using trenchless methods. An autonomous robot, which may be untethered or tethered for mechanical, communications and/or power, is deployed within the pipe. Once deployed, the robot navigates through the pipe capturing image data to form a complete picture or map (2D or 3D) of the interior structure of the pipe. The image map is used to determine the condition of the pipe and the existence of one or more defects that need to be corrected.
Although this invention is found within the Water category of the clean technology patent ecosystem, it is classified by the USPTO as a data processing invention. This is an excellent example of the overlapping nature of clean technologies, and the fact that clean tech covers a vast territory.