Sewer-cruising robot to seek faults in Arlington wastewater pipes

It tickled the imagination of people at the Arlington City Council work session Tuesday — a seemingly occupied body bag lying on the floor, next to the lectern, for most of the meeting.

But just before adjournment, Walter “Buzz” Pishkur, the city’s director of water utilities, whipped away the cover to reveal . . . well, some kind of futuristic sled, maybe?

Pishkur has challenged his staff to come up with a name for the 42-inch-long device, which he called a robot.

“People think a robot comes in and says ‘Hi!’ ” he said, waving. “This isn’t that.”

What’s certain is that it will have a very dirty job: tooling around in the city’s largest sewer pipes, collecting data that someday soon will help Pishkur and his crews to locate cracks and wear before they cause a major pipeline collapse.

The project is a collaboration with the University of Texas at Arlington, where researchers will study how to interpret raw data to ferret out flaws in sewer pipes.

“When you collect the data, you’ve got to do something useful with it,” said Robert Stanley, senior engineer in the water utilities department.

Pishkur and his staff built the robot from materials provided by Red Zone Robotics, a company that typically rents its sewer-bots and experts to cities. Utility officials talked Red Zone into providing the materials so they could build it themselves and hire their own data crunchers at UTA.

Read Next

The cost to the city will be about $600,000, with about $200,000 of that going to UTA. Pishkur said that’s less the half the cost of hiring a complete service to run a robot and interpret the data. And the city will eventually own the equipment outright.

The floating robot is equipped with a high-definition video camera, laser to scan the concrete pipe above the water line and sonar to scan below. It will be pulled through the pipes on a cable.

The city has 1,222 miles of sewer pipe, but the robot’s workplace will be the 48 miles of the largest concrete pipes, which range from 24 inches to 66 inches in diameter. Those are most important, Pishkur said.

“If you’re going to have a catastrophic failure, it’s going to be in the large pipe,” he said.

Pishkur will conduct a trial run Monday through 5,000 feet of pipe.

“This excites people. It’s cool stuff and very innovative,” he said. “Every once in a while, it’s OK to be cool in the water department.”

Center Street bridge

Motorists eager to reroute their commutes to the new Center Street bridge over Interstate 20 will have to wait another six months.

Crews working the $11 million project, which will extend Center Street from its current end near Highlander Boulevard southward across the highway to Bardin Road, have had to reinstall back-fill materials for the retaining walls.

Construction started in October 2014 with an estimated completion in the spring or summer of this year. It’s now expected to conclude in December, according to city staff reports detailing several contract change orders, which were part of the business the City Council approved Tuesday.

The walls are now being installed, as are the bridge decking and approaches to the bridge, said Val Lopez, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Fort Worth office, which is managing the project.

“It will improve access and mobility in a very busy part of Arlington,” Lopez said.

The city is financing the project through certificates of obligation, which are similar to bonds but don’t require a public election. The debt will be paid with tax revenues from a tax increment reinvestment zone, which is a special taxing district that generates revenues from property values within a geographic area. Those revenues must be spent on improvements whin that zone.

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST