Jet Aire has been named one of the winning partners in the Ofwat Breakthrough Innovation Challenge for its participation in a research project to develop the world’s first blockage clearing pipebots.

Working with Northumbrian Water, the University of Sheffield, as well as a number of other universities, WASCs and suppliers, this project aims to find a way to proactively detect build-ups before they become a blockage, eradicating spills and sewer flooding and its devastating impact on customers.

The innovative technology will see a truly autonomous pipebot that will live in the sewer for 30 days at a stretch, patrolling to understand the network and detect blockage build-up, alerting maintenance teams.

There are over 40,000 incidents of internal and external sewer flooding in the UK every year which cause devastating damage to customers properties. A significant proportion of these are because of blockages in sewer pipes.

Dean Blackburn, North East Area Manager, Jet Aire said: “Current approaches using smart networks are reactive, based on detecting rising water levels in sewers to estimate where blockages might be. However, it is often too late to allow maintenance teams to locate and clear the blockage before flooding occurs. Pipebot makes this process proactive. We are very excited to be supporting this project which could be the first step in delivering the world’s first blockage clearing pipebots.”

Helen Campbell, Senior Director, Ofwat said: “There are big challenges in the water industry that must be solved, some are well known and others are less so. In our fourth Water Breakthrough Challenge we called for solutions with potential to deliver wide-scale, transformational change for customers, society and the environment – and that’s exactly what today’s winners have done. From raingardens to prevent flooding to green energy from treated sewage, innovations to cut the water sector’s carbon footprint to robots that patrol the pipe network, the winners are all helping shape a more sustainable and efficient water sector.”

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is part of a series of competitions from Ofwat, run by Challenge Works with Arup and Isle Utilities, designed to drive innovation and collaboration in the sector to benefit individuals, society and the environment.

It supports initiatives that help to tackle the biggest challenges facing the water sector, such as achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing leakage, as well as delivering value to society.

  • More information on Water Breakthrough Challenge 4 is available here