SERVO 09.2017 33
Access to clean safe water is one of the world’s pressing needs, yet today’s water distribution systems
lose an average of 20 percent of their supply because of
leaks. These leaks not only make shortages worse, but can
also cause serious structural damage to buildings and roads
by undermining foundations.
Unfortunately, leak detection systems are expensive
and slow to operate. Plus, they don’t work well in systems
that use wood, clay, or plastic pipes, which account for the
majority of systems in the developing world. Now, a new
system developed by researchers at MIT could provide a
fast inexpensive solution that can find even tiny leaks with
pinpoint precision, no matter what the pipes are made of.
The system — which has been under development
and testing for nine years by Professor of Mechanical
Engineering, Kamal Youcef-Toumi, graduate student, You Wu,
and two others — uses a small rubbery robotic device
that looks something like an oversized badminton birdie.
The device can be inserted into the water system through
any fire hydrant.
It then moves passively with the flow, logging its
position as it goes. It detects even small variations in
pressure by sensing the pull at the edges of its soft rubber
skirt, which fills the diameter of the pipe.
The device is then retrieved using a net through
another hydrant, and its data is uploaded. No digging is
required, and there is no need for any interruption of the
water service. In addition to the passive device that is pushed
by the water flow, the team also produced an active version
that can control its motion.
Ultimately, the team hopes the robot will not only just
find leaks, but also be equipped with a special mechanism
they have designed so that — at least for smaller leaks —it
could carry out an instant repair on the spot.
Professor Einstein doesn’t look like your typical robot.
This very expressive, very wacky
robotic character is a creation of Hanson
Robotics, which calls it “your personal
genius.” Professor Einstein can chat about
science, tell jokes, check on the weather,
and, naturally, quote Einstein himself. It
connects to a companion app called Stein-O-Matic, with games, videos, and
This is the first consumer robot from
Hanson Robotics, which is based in Hong
Kong. The company was founded by Dr.
David Hanson, a roboticist known for creating incredibly
The final design is 37 centimeters ( 14. 5 inches) tall.
Here are the tech specs:
• The main computer board uses an
• Two NiMH rechargeable batteries
hide inside the feet, allowing the robot to
“run” for three hours.
• The main audio input is a
microphone on its chest; two additional
mics on the sides of the head help with
sound direction location. There is also a
camera on its chest that’s used to track
faces and help the robot maintain eye
• Infrared sensors on the bottom of
the shoes prevent the robot from walking
off of a table.
• For movement, the robot uses nine
coreless DC motors with custom gearboxes. Motors on the
legs and feet allow it to walk. There are five motors in the
face alone, used to create the different expressions. Professor
Einstein is available for around $300.