MIT robot swims through water and gas pipes to detect leaks

The team carried out field tests of its pipe-inspecting robot in Saudi Arabia earlier this year

Sustainable Problem:

Leaks from pipes, plumping fixtures and fittings are a significant source of water waste. According to MIT, an average of 20 percent of the water flowing through today’s distribution systems is lost to holes along its journey. These leaks not only make shortages worse but also can cause serious structural damage to buildings and roads by undermining foundations. Current leak detection systems can be tedious and expensive, and are often not suited for the type of systems used in developing regions,

Technology Summary:

PipeGuard team at MIT has provided a fast, inexpensive solution that can find even tiny leaks with pinpoint precision, no matter what the pipes are made of. Researchers at MIT are developing a small robot that can be deposited through a fire hydrant to hunt out the leaks. The robot is called PipeGuard and resembles a large shuttlecock. Attached to the robot’s rubber body, where the feathers would be, is a soft rubber skirt that expands to fill the diameter of a pipe. This then detects variations in pressure caused by a leak, by continually sensing the degree of pull at its edges.

This robot can be inserted into the pipe system through any fire hydrant, where the flow of water carries it along its merry way as it logs its position in the pipe and detects small variations in pressure, thanks to its sensitive rubber skirt. Then at the end of its journey, it can be retrieved with a net through another fire hydrant and its data can be retrieved. No digging is required, and there is no need for any interruption of the water service. Also, in addition to the above passive device, the team has produced an active version that can control its motion.





  • Local Government
  • Utilities
  • Engineers
  • Water consumers

Steps in deploying this technology:

  • Perform a pilot study to prove efficiency of technology in saving water.
  • Identify governments that support, and utilities that are interested in implementing the technology.
  • Do a study of each location to determine best implementation strategy
  • Collect and analyze data with goal of finding “win” for this new technology.

UNI – rs3750




2 thoughts on “MIT robot swims through water and gas pipes to detect leaks

  1. The researchers are working on improving the robots to be able to change shape in order to fit into pipes with different diameters. They also hope to eventually outfit them with means of repairing the leaks. Truly futuristic.


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