A low-cost unmanned module to tackle sewer blockages using AI.

Northumbrian Water challenge: Sewer blockages smart Porcupine

Sewer blockages are a real challenge as they cause a significant proportion of sewer flooding, in turn, unflushables in the sewer network are a key contributor to sewer blockages. Northumbrian Water previously developed a device called ‘Porcupine’ which is placed in the sewer and traps unflushables on its spines. Northumbrian Water is now looking to develop a ‘smart’ device which can react to issues before they form a blockage or cause flooding.

You can read more about Northumbrian Water and the two challenges here.

Angela MacOscar, Head of Innovation at Northumbrian Water, said:
“Being part of the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator programme allows us to open up some of our biggest challenges to the floor – meaning that we can welcome fresh and innovative solutions through collaboration with the start-ups in order to even further improve our exceptional customer service.

“Among some of our biggest challenges are sewer blockages and water network monitoring, and we can’t wait to see how the successful start-ups and scale-ups react and progress some solutions to these industry problems.”

About Innvotek Ltd

Innvotek is a technology and innovation company based in Cambridge, UK. The company’s engineering team has recognised expertise in robotic engineering for extreme environments and machine learning applied to inspection and monitoring of critical industrial assets. The company offers significant experience in ground-up development of robotic platforms for operation in marine and explosive environments. Its multidisciplinary, systems approach involves a range of engineering skills set in mechanical, electronics and control engineering. Innvotek’s well-equipped workshop provides facilities for prototype testing of robotic assemblies including pressurised immersion tank for underwater and IP testing.

The solution

This project will develop a low-cost, unmanned monitoring system aimed at tackling the challenge of unflushables, such as wet-wipes, nappies and cotton-buds – reducing sewer flooding and environmental contamination within the sewerage system. 

The integrated prototype ‘Smart Porcupine’ is a detection module, placed physically in the sewage stream with a wireless data connection to the company computer server. Connected to a user software dashboard, the system will be enabled for remote observation and tracking of potential blockages – detected by the sensor before being sent automatically to the server to alert the operator. Operating continuously, the system will provide the company with data on the time and location of blockage events. 

For industry the solution will

Provide a unique and new offering for the water sector that has not been tried before. A product like Smart Porcupine would have been too expensive to develop previously, but with the advent of low-cost microcontrollers capable of advances AI software with low power requirements, it is now a real possibility to develop and deploy Smart Porcupine cost effectively.

This solution will have applications in other manufacturing sectors, especially those where anomaly detection in complex flow environments are important for quality and process control, such as process industries, food and beverage.

What the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator means to Innvotek

“Innvotek is excited to be working with Northumbrian Water and The Digital Catapult through the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator. We look forward to helping Northumbrian Water reduce the risk of sewer flooding through the deployment of our innovative smart sensor technology.”  Dr Michael Corsar, CTO, Innvotek Ltd

Business achievements

  •  10+ years of recognised expertise in developing bespoke robotic and automation solutions that meet real-life challenges

  • 30+ innovative technologies delivered through collaborative R&D projects in cooperation with leading UK and EU research organisations

  • 1,500+ cutting-edge ideas supported within innovation and engineering consultancy

Coming soon 23 June 2021 – Prototype presentation event

Taking place online on 23 June 2021, the programme will proudly present the first phase insights and learnings for industry. You’ll hear directly from the Industry Challenge Owners and Tech Sponsors, and find out more about the challenges they face and how to overcome them. Joined by the 14 programme startups you’ll discover the industry-changing prototypes as they pitch the conceptual solutions developed through the programme.

Find out more and register to attend