An animation of the 'microwave on wheels'
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The utility partnered with the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Hub to develop a microwave robot that combats pipe blockages.

The technology will be placed inside wastewater pipes invaded by tree roots – the number one cause of blockages.

The ends of the tree roots will be zapped by the microwave robot, removing any moisture so they’re unable to regrow.

Urban Utilities spokesperson Michelle Cull said tree roots were a common cause of wastewater pipe blockages for utilities around the world.

“This is such an exciting project because tree root invasion is certainly a problem we’d love to zap out,” Ms Cull said.

“Tree roots are a big problem because they can catch wet wipes, tissues and other products that shouldn’t be flushed.

“This can then lead to costly and disruptive blockages or pipe breaks within the wastewater network.”

The ARM Hub will 3D print equipment so the microwave unit can be mounted onto a robotic CCTV tractor.

ARM Hub Chief Executive Officer, Cori Stewart, said, “We are thrilled to be collaborating on a new system that could potentially benefit more than 1.6 million residents across South East Queensland.

“The prototype involves 3D printing; one of the next-generation technologies that are considered the future of manufacturing in Australia.

“The success of this project has the potential to solve an industry problem experienced around the globe,” Ms Stewart said.

Urban Utilities currently uses jet rodders to clear tree roots in pipes, however, this often leads to tree roots growing back faster.

Microwaving has been a common method for drying wood in the timber industry for decades. 

Trials of the prototype are expected to begin in 2024. 

Featured image: The microwave robot prototype. Courtesy of Urban Utilities.

Assistant Editor, Utility magazine

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