Inside Job: Robot Would Inspect Water Pipes from Within

Acwa Robotics’ new Clean Water Pathfinder robot aims to crawl around inside active water pipes to check for corrosion and leaks, helping utilities save water and money.

A prototype system is inserted into a water pipe. Photo courtesy of Acwa Robotics.

While most water pipes are inspected by eye from the outside, the French startup Acwa Robotics plans to inspect them from a whole different angle—the interior of the pipes themselves.

The company has launched Clean Water Pathfinder, an artificial intelligence-powered robot capable of navigating through drinking water pipes, monitoring their condition and searching for leaks without interrupting their operation.

The Pathfinder made its debut at CES 2023 in Las Vegas, where it racked up a Best of Innovation award in the Smart Cities category and Honoree status in the Sustainability, Human Security for All, Eco-Design and Smart Energy categories.

“We are just at the inception of something really good, which is robotic work inside water pipes,” company Cofounder and Business Development Director Jean Francois Guiderdoni said, speaking to Inside Unmanned Systems at CES.

The goal of the project is to better understand and map the condition of drinking water pipes. According to Acwa, utilities around the world lose 32 billion cubic meters of clean water every year because of the poor conditions of the pipe networks. In the United States alone, that amounts to 8.2 billion cubic meters, or 20 to 40% of the total water transported.

The Clean Water Pathfinder, roughly the size of a human arm, can be dropped into pipes to autonomously conduct interior surveys, using high-definition cameras, ultrasound instruments and leak detection instruments to measure pipe thickness, monitor corrosion and locate cracks or leaks.

Guiderdoni created the 14-person company in 2018 with Chief Technology Officer Jean Francois Rossi (“everyone in France is named Jean Francois,” he jokes), who was working with a wastewater treatment plant when he started digging into the issue of water transport and loss.

“He started looking at water loss, water breakages, and water scarcities, and the fact that we were losing 20% of the water which was distributed on the network,” Guiderdoni said. “He said, that’s insane, there’s got to be a solution to help utilities, and he realized that they were doing a lot of renewal blind, basically.”

Companies in France were just pulling up pipes because they were old, in some cases discovering they were actually in good condition.

“They were saying, that pipe is 100 years old, it should probably be renewed,” Guiderdoni said. “Sometimes they were pulling out of the ground extremely good quality…pipes, and replacing them, and that is actually a really expensive activity, which he said costs between $200,000 to $800,000 per kilometer.


Enter the Clean Water Pathfinder. The robot could be inserted at a pipe access point, then would make its way inside the pipe using flipper-like robotic arms to stabilize it while it moved in a caterpillar-like motion.

The Clean Water Pathfinder uses studded “legs” to move through active water pipes.
The Clean Water Pathfinder robot can handle pipe curves of up to 90 degrees. Photos courtesy of Acwa Robotics.

“The principle was to build something that creates minimal disruption inside the pipe, because we are running while the water is in operation. The water needs to still flow inside the pipe. It cannot be rolling in the pipe because you’d be moving everything around, and its clean water,” Guiderdoni said.

The robot is jointed so it can follow a pipe up to a 90-degree angle. The one on display at CES is the smallest model, adapted for pipes of 200 to 400 millimeters. A larger version could tackle pipes of 400mm to 600mm, and the largest planned size could inspect pipes up to 800mm to 1,000mm.

The Pathfinder is battery powered, and “it’s surprisingly low on consumption. We built everything around the machine to make sure we are minimizing the battery consumption and extending the life of the robot,” Guiderdoni said.

The company plans to put docking stations at pipe access points so the robot could conduct inspection runs of up to 10 kilometers. Down the line, he said, the company would like to add an embedded charging system to use the motion of the passing water to recharge the batteries.

The Pathfinder on display at CES is what Guiderdoni called an MVP, or most viable product, not a prototype but not a production model. The company will be conducting paid pilot missions with it this year with an eye to entering production in late 2023 or early 2024. The 10 largest private utilities in France have already asked for missions, he said, and a Canadian utility has also expressed interest.

“What is really being developed in 2023 is all the elements around the robot—how you put it inside the pipe, how you can salvage it if there is an issue with the machine, and improving the data collection.”

The sensors the Pathfinder will carry are still in flux. It will have cameras to spot microcracks, internal corrosion and joint issues, but Guiderdoni said it will also need to measure pipe thickness, which would require ultrasound or magnetic flux leakage (MFL) sensors.

“Currently, we are integrating ultrasound, and we will be looking at MFL and other technologies after that,” he said. It will also likely carry audio sensors to detect leaks, which create specific sounds, and some potential customers have asked that it include water quality sensors. The company won’t develop its own sensors, but will integrate commercial ones into the robot.

The first market aim is for utilities providing drinking water, but industrial companies such as refineries have water pipes as well, for needs such as firefighting, and Guiderdoni said they could be future customers.

The company doesn’t plan to work with utilities directly, but instead provide the robot to utility service providers to do the work.

“We want to focus on technology” and continue developing the Pathfinder to do more than just inspect, Guiderdoni said. “In 10 years, maybe we’ll be inside, repairing pipes.”

Inside Unmanned Systems Named Finalist for Neal Award

The cover of the Neal finalist cover from Inside Unmanned Systems.

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and its prestigious Jesse Neal Awards for excellence in business-to-business journalism announced March 8 that the “The Food Issue: Autonomy from Field to Fork” issue of Inside Unmanned Systems is a finalist in the contest’s Best Tabloid/Magazine/Newspaper revenue category.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony in New York on April 21. Inside Unmanned Systems won in this category last year for its “Science & Research” issue.

“The Neal Awards have long recognized the best of the best in B2B journalism,” said SIIA President Jeff Joseph. “We are particularly proud of this year’s honorees who produced reliable data, content, and services during a period of global upheaval and uncertainty—an era in which producing trusted, accurate information that provides critical business intelligence took on increased importance, perhaps more so than any time ever before. Our thanks and congratulations go to these outstanding finalists.”

In Memoriam: Dee Ann Divis

Dee Ann Divis, the founding editor of Inside Unmanned Systems and contributing editor for Inside GNSS, died Nov. 22 at the age of 62, just days from her Dec. 19 birthday.

A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, she spent most of her career in the Washington, D.C., area, becoming a recognized expert on satellite navigation position, navigation and timing. She began her career working with a company that sought to launch a private space shuttle before working with a number of publications on technology-related issues.

Dee Ann Divis (center) at the Neal Awards luncheon in New York City, 2018, with colleagues Christine Waring (left) and Renee Knight (right).

Glen Gibbons, the former editor of Inside GNSS, recalled how Dee Ann stepped in to write a Washington View column for GPS World in 1996.

“She had a background in space-related issues, understood satellites, launches, and such. But GNSS was still a mystery to her, as it was to most of the world’s citizens who have since come to depend on it. Nonetheless, Dee Ann plunged right in with a column discussing Russia’s GLONASS system and ICO Global Communications’ proposal to put navigation signals on Inmarsat satellites,” Gibbons said.

“However that first connection was made, by referral or advertisement, it was the beginning of a successful professional relationship that evolved into friendship during the 20-plus years that Dee Ann and I worked together.”

Divis was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and held a variety of high-profile science journalism jobs, including for UPI, Aerospace Daily, Al Jazeera and most recently for Navigation Outlook, which she founded and edited, providing deep reporting on GPS and PNT technologies.

“Dee Ann was, first of all, a quintessential journalist,” Gibbons said. “She brought to our trade publications all the training and values of the news journalism background that we shared: accuracy, fairness, proportionality, relevance, context, and so on. … Dee Ann was fearless in posing hard questions in public venues or in private to those responsible for GNSS policy or its operation and applications. Over the years, she developed a devoted following among readers who trusted and relied on her journalism, her good-hearted personality, and her deep knowledge of the GNSS field. They will miss her presence, her friendship, and her contributions. As will I.”

Abe Peck, who worked alongside Divis on Inside Unmanned Systems, said as founding editor she shaped it “into a leading definer of and advocate for the expanding world of autonomous vehicles and their essential technologies. Drawing on decades of experience, her coverage of regulation emerging from Washington, D.C., key states and global hot spots was especially astute.

“She also added insights about government rules and programs to sister publication Inside GNSS, detailing how proliferating satellite navigation systems were being impacted by policy issues. As a result, Dee Ann was justly honored for her journalism by the Society of Professional Journalists and other organizations. Her contributions endure.”

I spent some of my career competing with Dee Ann, as I was editor of what was then Unmanned Systems, a rival publication. After seeing her at numerous events and press conferences, I can attest to her fearlessness and nose for news. She seemed almost omnipresent at times. It always made me nervous when I attended an event and she wasn’t there, in case she had found something better; I hope now that she has.

Drones over Ukraine at the Naval War College Foundation

Recently, Inside Unmanned Systems writer Sébastien Roblin gave a presentation for the Naval War College Foundation’s annual Dinner with Drones event in beautiful Newport, Rhode Island, concerning his articles in the Spring and Fall issues on the disruptive impacts of drones in the war in Ukraine. He was invited to speak by Captain John Jackson (USN Ret.), author of One Nation Under Drones and an aficionado of unmanned vehicles past, present and speculative.

Sponsored by Foundation CEO George Lang, the October 12 event was attended by graduate students from Jackson’s class and foundation members who contribute to the college’s mission of teaching critical thought on strategy and security to students from across the globe, creating connections between partners and even rivals alike. The presentation discussed topics ranging from “the Great Bayraktar debate” concerning the effectiveness of UCAV drones in high-intensity conflict, the effective use at unprecedented scale of cheap commercial drones in reconnaissance and attack roles, and the mounting impact of Iranian drones exported to Russia for attacks on civilian infrastructure.

The following day, Roblin had a chance to tour Dr. Jackson’s curated collection of UAVs, UGVs and UUVs, and gained insights from students, colleagues and visiting AeroVironment Business Development director Jim Huefner on topics ranging from mine-hunting missions in the Black Sea, applications of the Switchblade and submarine-launched Blackwing drones, and future planned integration of quadcopter SUAS in the U.S. Army and Marines.

It was a learning experience for all.

Verizon Frontline’s THOR: a Superhero with a Drone for Disaster Response

drone for disaster responseAs Hurricane Ian bears down on Florida, DRONELIFE got an inside look at Verizon Frontline’s newest tool to support public safety and first responders.  Verizon’s THOR – Tactical Humanitarian Operations Response – is a superhero with a drone for disaster response, one of Verizon Frontline’s hundreds of deployable assets that stand ready to assist first responders and public safety teams.

Continue reading below, or listen:

At Verizon’s Boston headquarters, THOR – a giant truck equipped with a full menu of Verizon’s support offerings – was on display.  THOR (and “THOR’s Hammer” – a communications trailer that acts as a 5G network, entirely managed from within the trailer) are purpose-built solutions with every detail carefully planned to provide critical data and communications to first responders.

Verizon Frontline THOR drone for disaster responseTHOR carries an Easy Aerial Raptor on the roof, which can act as either a tethered or untethered drone, providing an aerial view of a critical scene.  THOR and Raptor are a Swiss Army Knife for disaster response, with multiple capabilities available depending upon the situation.  Raptor has a versatile payload capacity. THOR provides the network, and makes the real-time video available to multiple applications to get maximum value from network usage.

Carlo Thompson, Verizon’s Distinguished Engineer Systems Architecture, explains the THOR design.  “It’s all about trying to minimize impact on the network,” says Thompson.  “We can be doing 3D photogrammetry at the same time as situational awareness.”

drone disaster responseInside, THOR is a sophisticated command center.  In addition to the Command and Control in the rear of the truck, each seat, each door, and a back panel of the truck are equipped with screens that allow real-time data views.  Doors can be opened to allow many first responders access to the data at the same time, for maximum value.   With the Verizon Frontline team operating, disaster response teams can simply use the best data available and the network provided to do their jobs most effectively.

THOR and THOR’s Hammer go far beyond providing drones for disaster response.  THOR’s Hammer provides push-to-talk (MCPTT), land mobile radio (LMR) and private mobile edge compute (MEC) capabilities.  Secure, reliable standalone 5G coverage where existing infrastructure has been damaged – as often happens in hurricanes and other natural disasters – is a critical piece of response.  As a Verizon news story states,

THOR’s Hammer was built to operate independently or in tandem with THOR. For instance, THOR, or another deployable asset, could be used to extend THOR’s Hammer’s 5G standalone capabilities into areas the trailer can’t reach. For example, THOR’s Hammer could be positioned at an emergency operations center while THOR moves deep into a forest during a wildfire response effort.

“We’re talking about how we communicate,” says Thompson.  “We’re trying to move the technology out of the way.”

Eric Durie, Manager of Communication for Verizon Public Sector, sums up THOR and the Verizon Frontline mission:  “This is a great example of Verizon Frontline’s commitment to working in partnership with our first resonders – to bring them the capabilities they need, when they need them the most.”

Read more about Verizon and Verizon Frontline:

Inside Unmanned Systems Wins Prestigious Jesse Neal Award
Inside Unmanned Systems Wins Prestigious Jesse Neal Award

Three other entries qualify as finalists

The editorial and design staff of Inside Unmanned Systems has been honored for the “Best Single Issue of a Tabloid/Newspaper/Magazine” in its revenue category at the 68th Jesse H. Neal Awards celebrating business-to-business media. The ceremony took place recently in New York.

“Excellent editorial craftsmanship, engaging photography and graphics. Topical coverage!” the judges commented about IUS’ “Science and Research” issue.

Inside Unmanned Systems is published by Autonomous Media. “I want to congratulate our team of journalists, editors and designers, whose vision, creativity and execution in technical storytelling has been acknowledged as best-in-class,” publisher Richard Fischer said. “This award validates our commitment to our global audience: to deliver content that explicates complex solutions, advances technical knowledge, and deepens understanding in the art and science of unmanned and autonomous capability and benefit.”

Within the cited issue, an “Up Close With…” package delved into expertise from NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration). In-depth analysis explored UAS solutions across multiple domains: soaring with HAPS/HALE stratospheric solar UAVs, probing hurricanes and other sky phenomena via unmanned technologies, deploying sub-surface drone missions to learn about algae, microbes and oil spills. Other stories spot-lit UAS defending nature by facilitating species counts and thwarting poachers, and captured intriguing ways drone researchers are mimicking the eon-tested, flight-friendly characteristics of creatures from swifts to insects.

Dedicated technology coverage included analysis of the sensors and other solutions that empower UAS. Specific stories drilled down into the PNT needed to collect effective climate data, what informs reliable and affordable positioning, and the specifics of robust, precise servos.

Finally, our columnists inventoried a roster of research programs, showed how major government research organizations are moving autonomy forward and delved into major market trends.

“This award,” executive editor Abe Peck said, “is founded not only on the work of our talented staff, but on input from highly competent sources and, most of all, advancements across the entire unmanned space.”

Additionally, the magazine’s “Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Package” and its “Sensors: A Force Multiplier” feature were named finalists across three categories.

For more information, contact advertising services manager Gina McGuiness,

UK CAA – Proposed extension to Legacy and Transitional UAS provisions in the Open Category
Grand Farm Announces Site Selection for Future Innovation Facility

Fargo, ND – This morning at the BankNorth Theater located inside of Cass County High School in Casselton, ND, Grand Farm and Casselton Economic Development jointly announced the future site of Grand Farm’s Innovation Facility. 

Melissa Beach, Casselton Community and Economic Development Director helped unveil the site,” We are excited that Grand Farm chose our community for its permanent location. With our long history in agriculture and abundant community and industry partners, the Casselton area is a great fit for their Innovation Facility.”

Since its launch in 2019, Grand Farm has been operating and deploying AgTech projects on donated acreage south of Fargo, ND. With continual expansion of projects and research, Grand Farm determined that constructing an Innovation Facility on their own acreage would best allow them to continue their impact in agriculture technology innovation.

 “We couldn’t be more excited to join this great community,” said Brian Carroll, Director of Grand Farm. “While our current test site has exceeded expectations, we continue to add projects and seek to provide additional capabilities. When you look across the Casselton area, you see a network of established organizations from agriculture to transportation to finance, so we’re really joining as another piece of a deep-rooted ecosystem.”

Grand Farm’s Innovation Facility will be intentionally designed to be a continually adapting, demonstration and innovation space that will stay at the forefront of agriculture technology innovation. It will provide expanded acreage for the deployment of additional AgTech projects, rapid prototyping capabilities, and increased research capacity.

In February, the North Dakota Department of Commerce announced it had selected Grand Farm as a recipient of the department’s Autonomous Agriculture Technology Matching Grant. The $10 million grant was created with funding from the 67th Legislative Assembly to encourage and support the advancement of autonomous farming technology by awarding a 1:1 match of funding for the deployment of an innovation facility, project management for complex North Dakota-based and global autonomous agricultural concepts, and workforce initiatives to upskill the autonomous agriculture workforce with qualified professionals to ensure advanced farming techniques. 

Grand Farm directly engages the community, bringing together local stakeholders with organizations from around the world to collaborate on innovations solving some of the world’s largest challenges in AgTech. Grand Farm was developed to be additive to existing infrastructure, programs, and state/federal investments. Its independent, neutral-platform allows for direct and rapid engagement with growers, industry, researchers, and government. This gaps-based approach maximizes investment into programs, facilities, and infrastructure.

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Blue sUAS Program: DIU on DRONERESPONDERS Webinar

DIU on DRONERSPONDERSAn Inside Look at the Blue UAS Program at the Defense Innovation Unit: DIU on DRONERSPONDERS Webinar this Tuesday, March 22 at 2:00 pm EST. 

The Blue sUAS list  – a list developed by the Defense Innovation Unit, or DIU – is designed to be a list of approved, US-manufactured drones that meet the highest level of security, appropriate for use by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and other government agencies.

“According to the DIU website, the Blue UAS effort is a holistic and continuous approach that will rapidly vet and scale commercial UAS technology for DoD.  This program consists of 5 lines of effort that curate, maintain, and improve a robust roster of policy approved commercial UAS which suit the diverse needs of DoD users,” says DRONERESPONDERS.

Since the development of the Blue sUAS list, however, use of the list has spread to use by the General Services Administration and some state and local agencies, causing concern that some U.S. manufacturers may be left out of the process.  Hear the DIU on the DRONERESPONDERS webinar on Tuesday, March 22 at 2:00 pm EST for an inside look at the Blue sUAS process.


To help clarify the focus of the Blue UAS program, DRONERESPONDERS, the fastest-growing non-profit program support the use of drones and robotic vehicle systems technology by public safety agencies and emergency services organizations around the globe, has announced a special webinar event featuring program managers from DIU’s Autonomy Innovation group who are responsible for the Blue UAS program.

The webinar titled “Blue UAS: Adopting Commercial UAS for DoD and Public Safety” is scheduled for Tuesday, March 22 from 2:00 to 3:00 pm Eastern.

Webinar attendees will learn the inside story on why the Blue UAS program was originally created and hear about the core mission the group was tasked with. DIU program managers will discuss how they are working with industry to develop reliable and interoperable components, software, and systems to help serve the needs of the U.S. drone community and public safety agencies.

There is no cost to attend the webinar, but registration is required via

Read more about the DIU’s Blue sUAS program: