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Robots invade Harrisburg's underground infrastructure - abc27 WHTM

Robots invade Harrisburg's underground infrastructure

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Robots are invading Harrisburg!

Capital Region Water has hired a robotics company to examine the city’s century-old pipes to help detect weak spots that cause sinkholes.

What looks like a colonoscopy basically is one for Harrisburg’s 160 miles of infrastructure intestines. Pittsburgh-based RedZone Robotics has been hired by Capital Region Water to give the city’s aging infrastructure a complete checkup.

RZR’s Craig Foster explained how the snake-like cyborg maps the pipes inch-by-inch.

"It's an actual computer in there, takes time to heat up and everything,” he said.

Once the robot is turned on, the machine has three hours of battery life to provide a profile of the pipes using sonar, lasers and photographs.

"When it's flashing, it's taking pictures,” Foster said. “Between the flashes is when it's dark, it's taking pictures of the laser profile. Then, underneath it, it's getting the sonar data from under the water level - all at the same time."

Foster said two frames are taken per second, which when strung together looks like a seamless video. Another worker pulled up recent video from a section of pipe, which revealed a clean interior in full HD color. The laser profile showed a bright red outline of the pipe to portray its thickness and density. The sonar provides a heart rate-style map with peaks and valleys to show the pipe’s imperfections.

Shannon Williams, Capital Region Water CEO, said the data collected will save CRW time, money and headaches when trying to detect voids underground.

"We can determine the condition, prioritize any repairs that need to be made with the intention that we're going to prevent any catastrophic failures," she said.

Sinkholes and water main breaks have plagued the city in the past couple years. Of course, many still shutter thinking about earth-eating sinkholes on N. 4th Street and S. 14th Street that prompted temporary evacuations.

Ever since the city handed power over to The Harrisburg Authority per the recovery plan, the newly named Capital Region Water has control of Harrisburg’s water and sewer system. The fresh start has a focus on preventative maintenance.

Last spring, abc27 first showed how THA began Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping. The pink lines and workers with funky-sounding wands and lawn mower-looking ground penetrating radar machine that covered the city provided the first phase of data collection above ground.

Williams said the second phase is underway using the robots underground. The entire GIS mapping program is paid for in part by Department of Commerce and Economic Development funds. Both maps will be combined in an electronic format and should be ready by June. At that point, CRW could start to fix areas most in need.

"To look and find and prevent the failures, it's gonna cost us a whole lot less money in the long run," Williams said.

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