Skip to main content
Press Release

Fatbergs Beware: GE Research Demonstrates Autonomous “Pipe-worm” Robot that Can Demolish Hard, Solid Waste Deposits

March 08, 2022
  • Innovative, autonomous soft robot design adapted from the giant earthworm tunneling robot developed as part of the Defense Advanced Research Agency’s (DARPA) Underminer Program
  • GE’s Pipe-worm (Programmable Worm for Irregular Pipeline Exploration) adds cockroach-like whiskers to its powerful fluid powered muscles to give it extreme flexibility and perception capabilities 
  • Ideal for autonomous monitoring, inspection, repair and even mapping of oil and gas pipelines or underground municipal water and sewer systems.
  • The Pipe-worm is powerful enough to demolish solid waste deposits called “fatbergs,” which have become a problem in many municipal sewer systems.

NISKAYUNA, NY – March 8, 2022 – GE Research’s latest adaptation of its famed autonomous giant earthworm robot will literally make you “bug out,” when you see what it can do. Dubbed “Pipe-worm,” which stands for Programmable Worm for Irregular Pipeline Exploration), this updated autonomous soft robot design represents a continuation of work funded through DARPA’s Underminer program to develop more advanced tunneling technologies as well as new sensing and operational solutions for monitoring and maintaining underground networks. 

A recent demonstration of GE’s Pipe-worm at its research campus in Niskayuna not only showed the robot’s potential for military applications envisioned through the Underminer program, it also has vast potential for a variety of innovative industrial pipeline monitoring, inspection, and repair applications. Deepak Trivedi, a top soft robotics expert at GE Research who led the development of GE’s Pipe-worm, noted that it successfully traveled >100 meters of pipe while navigating many turns, diameter, and altitude changes.  The robot was even shown to move through pipes without disrupting normal operations, and even against fast flowing liquids. Also, the push and pull of its powerful artificial muscles illustrated the robot’s suitability for heavy duty jobs such as the cleaning of solid waste deposits, called fatbergs, which currently plague many of our nation’s sewer systems.  The application of AI and robots to deal with fatbergs was recently highlighted in a major Wall Street Journal news feature.

“GE’s Pipe-worm takes the concept of the plumber’s drain snake to a whole new level,” said Deepak Trivedi, a soft robotics expert at GE Research who led the development of Pipe-Worm.  “This AI-enabled autonomous robot has the ability to inspect and potentially repair pipelines all on its own, breaking up the formation of solid waste masses like fatbergs that are an ongoing issue with many of our nation’s sewer systems. We’ve added cockroach-like whiskers to its body that gives it greatly enhanced levels of perception to make sharp turns or negotiate its way through dark, unknown portions of a pipeline network.”

Trivedi explained that the combination of artificial intelligence and addition of cockroach-like whiskers enable GE’s Pipe-worm to automatically identify turns, elbows, junctions, pipe diameter, pipe orientation and other pipeline characteristics in great detail. It is then able to use this information creates a map of a given pipeline network in real-time.  Cockroach whiskers are incredibly sensitive at detecting even the slightest changes in the air and environment around them.

In addition to pipeline network monitoring, inspection, repair and mapping, GE Research’s Robotics and Autonomy team is exploring other autonomous inspection and repair applications like jet engine and power turbines in the Aviation and power sectors.  Trivedi explained that scaled down versions of the robot could be used to navigate and inspect these much smaller crevasses and spaces.  Also, the Pipe-worm robot could be used to inspect conduits for underground fiber optic cables that connect billions of people and machines to the Internet online. 

About GE Research

GE Research is GE’s innovation powerhouse where research meets reality. We are a world-class team of scientific, engineering and marketing minds working at the intersection of physics and markets, physical and digital technologies, and across a broad set of industries to deliver world-changing innovations and capabilities for our customers.   To learn more, visit our website at  www.ge.com/research/.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Todd Alhart
GE Research
+1 518 338 5880
[email protected]

business unit
tags