Robots help map Kansas City sewer system to prevent horrific problems for citizens

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An army of robots is being deployed underground in Kansas City. Its mission? To map the city’s entire sewer system. The robots can see what we can’t – cracks and fractures in the pipes hidden under the street that could cause sewage to leak above ground.

Many of the city’s sewers are old. One pipe under Main Street was installed 160 years ago during the Civil War, so it's obviously important to keep an eye on it.

Water Services invested around two-and-a-half million dollars on eight robots and eight trucks equipped with a closed-television circuit system. Every day they place the robots in different sewer pipes and record what they see through its camera, creating a virtual video tour of the city’s entire sewer system.

It’s like a video game. Water Service employees use a remote control to steer the robot down the pipe. If they find a crack that needs repair, they fix it right away. This technology allows them to catch potential catastrophes before they happen.

"Definitely don't want to have sewage in your basement or don’t want to have sewage in your environment as well, so we take every measure we can access the city’s infrastructure and make sure it’s in working order," said Amir Kenner, senior engineering technician. "What we definitely want to find out is if there’s any cracks, fractures, anything that would warrant some repairs or cleaning activity, so we try to take a preventative maintenance approach to at least catch things beforehand."

Water Services has already mapped about a third of the city’s 2,800 miles of sewer line. They say it will take another eight years to complete the job, but they add these robots are saving the city time and money by finding potential sewage backups before they actually happen.

"When a person flushes their toilet or runs water down their sink, they want it to go away and never come back so it’s all about providing reliable customer service to the citizens of Kansas City," said Andy Shively, chief engineering officer KC Water Services. "We’ve got to take that data and use that data to prioritize repairs and then we load it into our data system and use that information in the future going forward just in case there’s a service call."