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

Northumbrian Water challenge: A smart porcupine for sewer blockages

Sewer blockages are a real challenge as they cause a significant proportion of sewer flooding, with unflushables in the sewer network being a key cause of blockages. Previously, Northumbrian Water developed a device named 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 the 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 tanks 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 enable for remote observation and tracking of potential blockages – detected by the sensor then 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 offering for the water sector that has not been tried before. Before now, a product like Smart Porcupine would have been too expensive to develop. The recent advent of low-cost microcontrollers, capable of advancing AI software with low power requirements, now make it possible 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

Prototype presentation

On 23 June 2021, the programme proudly presented the first phase insights and learnings for industry in an online event.  Watch the Innvotek pitch here: