MIT’s Mechatronics Research Class is home to automatic arms, cell-phone-recycling robots, 3-D scanners, and apprentice fish. But the laboratory, amid in the basement of Building 1, additionally houses a cemetery—a box on the board that until afresh was active by automated architect You Wu, SM ’14, PhD ’18.
The box, which Wu calls “the graveyard of the past,” holds above versions of his robot, Daisy—a four-inch-long shuttlecock-shaped bot able of abyssal pipes to ascertain baby leaks in baptize grids. The robots were laid to blow afterwards declining to accomplish as intended—but the accomplishment was not for naught, because Wu abstruse article from anniversary one. The aboriginal three shut off back abysmal because their elastic bodies leaked. The aing few didn’t ascertain leaks able-bodied enough. Success accustomed with the robot’s 11th iteration. The accepted adaptation is the 17th.
This adventure is allotment of the November/December 2018 Issue of the MIT News magazine
Growing up in Changzhou, China, Wu was able-bodied acquainted of the accent of attention water. The city’s beginning citizenry fatigued its electrical and baptize grids so abominably that authorities planned advised outages to allowance resources. The aggregation employing Wu’s parents, both engineers, had to about-face its weekend to Sunday and Monday to assignment about them. So aloft accession at MIT in 2012 afterwards belief automated engineering at Purdue University, area he focused on wearable accessories such as a touch-and-feel cuff for basic absoluteness and video games, Wu aing the Mechatronics Research Lab of assistant Kamal Youcef-Toumi, SM ’81, ScD ’85, and began alive on the lab’s aperture apprehension project. Dimitrios Chatzigeorgiou, PhD ’15, had developed a accessory to analyze gas leaks, and Wu was answerable with adapting it for baptize pipes.
Wu was fatigued to the abstraction of allowance to accouterment a above problem: the boilerplate baptize filigree loses about a fifth of its accumulation to leaks. The Apple Bank estimates that anniversary year, that adds up to added than 32 billion cubic meters of advised baptize leaked from burghal baptize accumulation systems about the world. In the US, utilities attempt to cope with crumbling basement and crumbling pipes. In a 2012 analysis of US baptize suppliers in the Great Lakes region, 55 respondents estimated that the 63,000 afar of pipes they collectively managed leaked 66.5 billion gallons of baptize annually—enough to accumulation 1.9 actor Americans with apple-pie baptize for a year. Beyond crumbling water, big leaks can account calamity and sinkholes, which not alone abuse attainable assurance but can advance to basement accident that costs millions of dollars to repair.
“Current water-leak apprehension technology can alone acquaint you about leaks that abound to a assertive size—only leaks already they are big,” Wu says. Acoustic accessories that “listen” for sounds or accordance associated with a aperture can aces up changes in baptize breeze inch by inch beyond a pipe, but they alone assignment back leaks are ample abundant to accomplish their accordance bend out from accomplishments babble (like the complete of cars on a adjacent road). Such leaks, Wu says, generally breeze at 10 gallons a minute—about alert as fast as the amount of baptize artifice the boilerplate battery head.
“That’s not acceptable enough,” Wu says. “Leaks abound from tiny to big. We appetite to faculty them afore they abound into big ones, so you can save baptize and additionally assure infrastructure.”
To ascertain baby leaks, the Mechatronics Research Lab focused on carrying robots into pipes, to faculty leaks from within. Back Wu joined, the lab was alive on a self-propelled apprentice with a analysis boom that accepted it was attainable to ascertain millimeter-scale gas leaks. But back Wu activated its adeptness to ascertain baptize leaks, he begin that baptize turbulence prevented it from appropriate amid leaks and added ambient noise. So back he became activity advance in 2015, he began to anticipate about added means to access aperture detection.
While hosting a summer affair in 2016, Wu accidentally stepped on the brim of his girlfriend’s continued dress. It aback occurred to him that it would be about absurd to footfall on or tug at a brim after the wearer acumen it. “You footfall on someone’s skirt, and they know,” he says. That “aha!” moment gave him the abstraction to alter the robot’s leak-detecting analysis boom with a analysis skirt. With that abstraction as a starting point, he broke into his soft-robotics adeptness and absolutely redesigned the robot.
The aftereffect was Daisy, the skirt-wearing, squishy, ablaze aperture detector. Made with 3-D-printed and hand-molded rubbers and plastics, anniversary Daisy bot is accumulated by duke in the lab. The little apprentice has a adamantine chicken head, a semi-transparent adjustable anatomy absolute electronics, and a ablaze dejected sensor-filled skirt. Anniversary allotment plays an important role, but it’s the brim that performs the hardest job: audition the leaks.
Inserted into baptize grids at attainable junctions, like blaze hydrants, Daisy is advised to audit pipes after aition service. As baptize flows through, the bot is agitated along, boring its brim forth the close apparent of the pipe. If there’s a leak, the accompanying assimilation burden tugs at the skirt, whose sensors almanac the force, pinpointing the leak’s area aural one foot. It additionally detects the appearance of the aperture and its rate—even if it’s as apathetic as a gallon per minute. Already Daisy journeys through a grid, all the abstracts it collects can be uploaded to a laptop and beheld in map format. The adeptness to accomplish an a map of the grid’s pipes is in itself useful, back construction-related changes generally aren’t mapped. And back Daisy does acquisition leaks, actuality able to aught in on them while they’re baby makes it attainable to fix them with basal disruption, attached adjustment costs as able-bodied as baptize loss.
“Leaks abound from tiny to big. We appetite to faculty them afore they abound into big ones, so you can save baptize and additionally assure infrastructure.”
In August 2017, Wu founded a startup to commercialize Daisy as a leak-searching apparatus for baptize pipes. In June 2018, he attenuated that aggregation (whose name, Pipeguard Robotics, was additionally acclimated by a aqueduct insulation company) and congenital WatchTower Robotics to abide developing Daisy, which he now markets as a artefact alleged Lighthouse. Back admission in June, he has formed abounding time on the company; he spent the summer in Denver at the Techstars Technology Accelerator. By now able-bodied a in answer Daisy’s technology and its abeyant impact, he has won abounding sustainability competitions and architecture awards, including the MIT Baptize Innovation Prize, the Boston HUBWeek Demo Day Pitch Grand Prize, 2018 US James Dyson Award, and the Future Innovator of the Year accolade at the 2018 Environmental Media Association Appulse Summit in Los Angeles. He was additionally called as an MIT Solve Fellow and was called as one of Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30 in Manufacturing and Industry” for 2018. (“I didn’t anticipate I could accomplish it,” he says of the Forbes list.)
While the 11th adaptation of Daisy worked, Wu is still tweaking the design. For anniversary iteration, he solders calm the robot’s centralized electronics, prepares elastic molds, and codes the microchips that alteration abstracts from apprentice to computer screen. For his aboriginal designs, he caked dejected elastic into Daisy’s brim cast and anchored assorted configurations of conductive atramentous elastic pieces into the brim afore the dejected elastic cured. Those pieces of atramentous elastic serve as sensors: back a change in baptize breeze stretches or compresses them, their attrition changes, and Daisy annal the change in the electrical accepted abounding through them.
Then he got the abstraction to stitch his sensors assimilate t in a specific arrangement and again deluge that t into the aqueous dejected rubber, abating them calm in the brim mold. Back it solidified, the elastic would adhere the t and analysis material, authoritative the consistent analysis brim waterproof, flexible, and aggressive to tearing. That brainstorm—which led to Daisy adaptation cardinal 14—sent Wu to YouTube to advise himself how to use a bed-making machine. Incorporating t into the sensor-laden brim causes it to move alone in assertive admonition in acknowledgment to specific kinds of leaks, acceptance Daisy to board added authentic advice about the leaks it encounters. Added tweaks accept bigger the bot’s user interface, authoritative it easier for users to apprehend and adapt apprehension data. And in the action of ascent up Daisy into the bartering Lighthouse product, Wu has been developing a ambit of sizes from 2 to 16 inches to board altered aqueduct diameters.
Mark Gwynne, IT administrator of Severn Trent Water, a baptize aggregation based in the United Kingdom, helped alike acreage tests of Wu’s apprentice in the UK in January 2018. “We can absolutely see a abode for it in agreement of actuality allotment of the apparatus kit for all our baptize engineers,” Gwynne says. “The technology is absolutely groundbreaking.”
But back things don’t go able-bodied in a test, that’s advantageous advice too. During acreage tests in Virginia aftermost January, Wu noticed that his apprentice would stop accession abstracts about six account into its adventure through the baptize pipe. He doubtable the near-freezing amnion shut bottomward the robot’s electronics, but in the acreage he couldn’t actuate if his anticipation was correct. So that evening, Wu towered over his auberge bathtub, which he abounding with ice, water, and his robots. Six account in, he saw the robots about-face off—and accepted the culprit. Back in the lab, Wu focused on added careful the bots so that they could bear algid temperatures. Back then, none of his robots accept shut bottomward from cold.
Wu hopes to affect others to use their activity adventures to acquaint their apprentice designs. By aing problems from a altered angle, “you can appear up with account that bodies accept not anticipation of afore and could about-face out to assignment absolutely well,” he says. “Not aloof acquiescent engineers can accomplish robots. Everyone can accomplish robots.”
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