Pipeline repairing drone wins Drones for Good Award

The ‘Buildrone’ team from Imperial College London has taken first place the United Arab Emirates’ National Drones for Good Award, beating over 1000 submissions from around the world. The Imperial Team’s drone is claimed to be able to ‘print’ material to seal leaking pipelines.

The Buildrone team, part of Imperial’s Aerial Robotics Lab, was led by PhD student Talib Alhinai. The competition was an initiative of the United Arab Emirates, which aimed to bring together the innovative technologies behind civilian drones and showcase how they can be turned into practical solutions for improving people’s daily lives.

Alhinai said: “Compared to current methods where humans have to maintain pipelines, our approach offers major time and cost savings while simultaneously reducing risks to engineers when doing inspection and repair tasks.”

The drone carries out its repairs by depositing liquid polyurethane foam on a leaking pipeline, which takes less than five minutes to fully expand and seal the area. This technology could be especially useful in the energy and chemical industry where oil spills in vulnerable environments, leaks from explosive methane gas in cracked pipelines and toxic chemicals escaping supply pipes can endanger humans, the ecosystem and lead to substantial financial losses.

Alhinai added: “25% of drinking water around the world is also lost due to leaking pipelines. The UAE alone loses at least 10%, Saudi Arabia loses up to a staggering 60% of its water through pipeline leaks and Syria and Jordan lose up to 45%.”

With the AED1million (approximately £190,000) prize money, the team plans to create a more user friendly interface and fine tune the drone to be more robust in challenging weather conditions, as well as set up a pilot project with an industrial partner in the next six to 12 months.