RACER Sydney Water sewer inspection

One leading Australian utility has been sending a floating robot into its sewers to collect data, but it can do a lot more than that – the RACER (Rapid Assessment Condition Evaluation Robot) has been developed to inspect and condition assess large traversable sewers, promising a new age of asset management for the utility.

Sydney Water Wastewater Networks Program Lead Engineer, Steve Barclay, said this new technology was developed in collaboration with IC Pipes P/L in a bid to reduce the safety risks involved in the Avoid Fail Sewer traverse inspections, and improve the quality and consistency of data collected.

“Traversing entails sending people down into our large sewers and walking through for a condition assessment. Basically, we are looking for three things: issues we need to fix now, soon or later, so that we can budget and prepare for remedial works,” Mr Barclay said.

“Sydney Water has 16 fatal-risk standards and traversing includes 13 of those risks. Traversing is the riskiest operation undertaken at Sydney Water. Our safety systems are quite robust, but still it is a high-risk activity sending people into the sewers.”

Mr Barclay said Sydney Water has been looking for a technology-based solution for this issue, with recent developments in photogrammetry and sonar technology offering this exciting pathway.

“We’ve been looking for a system that can gather enough information for detailed engineering assessments without having to traverse. And technology is finally catching up with us,” he said.

RACER is the result of this technology crossover. It uses the latest in photogrammetry – what Mr Barclay likes to call “Google Street View for sewers – which allows the operator to view the conduits as if they were in there themselves, without having to get wet or be put at risk.

“The only thing you can’t do is take tactile measurements, but we can undertake these tasks at the launch or retrieval maintenance holes. However, it reduces our risks right down to three of our 16 fatal risk standards,” Mr Barclay said.

Furthermore, the RACER also records continuous sonar data showing silt levels in the sewer, heralding a new era of quantitative data for Sydney Water’s asset lifecycle decision-making.

“The RACER generally self-centers in the sewer flow, ranging in sizes from 1,200mm to 38,000mm,” Mr Barclay said.

“It collects the images and sonar data with a special untethered floating camera arrangement which is then converted into 360 degree vision and 2D view with sonar data.”

This new technology will play a role in the utility’s future asset management, but for now Sydney Water is pleased with how well the RACER helps in improving safety and reducing costs.

“This technology will help us prioritise our future works. We assess the service life of every Avoid Fail Sewer asset we have on the traverse program. We want to try and automate the entire system,” Mr Barclay said.

“We will always have to go down into sewers to work on them and check things we are unsure about. But this will eliminate the majority of our current risk profile.”

For further information, contact Mr Barclay at Sydney Water: [email protected].

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