by Photo courtesy of San Diego County Water Authority

The San Diego County Water Authority was awarded its first-ever utility patent for a device that inspects inaccessible or unsafe interior sections of water pipelines. 

Inventor, Martin Coghill, Water Authority Operations and Maintenance Manager, affectionately named the device “Scanny". The tool saves time, reduces costs, and improves safety during ongoing aqueduct inspections. 

The Water Authority operates and maintains a water delivery system that can deliver more than 900 million gallons of water per day through 310 miles of large-diameter pipeline, 1,600 aqueduct-related structures, and approximately 100 metering/flow control facilities.

“This technology was created in-house out of necessity to improve safety while inspecting steep portions of our aqueduct,” said Coghill. “The array of multiple cameras enables high-resolution imaging, and the unique design keeps the cameras oriented in the correct position relative to the pipe.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded the patent on April 5 for the Water Authority’s pipeline inspection system, which contains a body, cameras, support members, and light sources to capture high-resolution images of pipeline walls. The agency spent nearly three years completing a complex process after applying for the patent on June 13, 2019. 

“This new pipeline inspection tool is a prime example of the Water Authority’s commitment to innovation that benefits ratepayers by saving money and enhancing reliability,” said Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl. “We have a long history of advancing industry-leading solutions, from state legislation to adopt low-flow toilets in the early 1990s to the nation’s largest water conservation-and-transfer program a decade later to the largest seawater desalination plant on the continent.”

Scanny is “just a small part of an expansive toolkit”, according to the Water Authority. The agency it uses combination of technologies for monitoring pipelines, including electromagnetic scanning, which detects and locates damaged areas within pipeline walls, and real-time acoustic fiber-optic monitoring, which can detect and locate distressed pipelines while they are in service. 

According to Coghill, the inspection tool uses commercially available lightweight adventure cameras and lights that are arranged in a unique way on a chassis that moves through pipelines that are 4 to 9 feet in diameter. The camera can be added to any existing pipeline assessment equipment and offers a much higher resolution than traditional CCTV. 

“In addition to inspecting unsafe and inaccessible portions of pipelines, the tool’s design means the Water Authority no longer needs to use specialized third-party rope support crews to assist with pipe inspections. A bonus feature of the device is the ability to stitch the video files together for an immersive 360-degree virtual reality experience. He said it’s always fun to take people into the pipe by just putting on VR goggles,” a statement from the agency read. 

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