Wireless Communication Systems for Underground Pipe Inspection

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The proposed autonomous system for the leak inspection of water pipelines.The proposed autonomous system for the leak inspection of water pipelines.
Professor Kamal Youcef-Toumi
Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
External Link (meche.mit.edu)
Professor Samir Mekid
Department of Mechanical Engineering, KFUPM
External Link (www.kfupm.edu.sa)
Professor Rached Mansour
Department of Mechanical Engineering, KFUPM
External Link (faculty.kfupm.edu.sa)
Dalei Wu
Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
Managed By
Jim Freedman
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Chemicals, Instruments, Consumer Products
Patent Protection

Wireless communication systems for underground pipe inspection

US Patent Pending 2015-0179044
Relay Node Placement in Wireless Sensor Networks for Pipeline Inspection
American Control Conference , June 17-19, 2013
Channel-Aware Relay Node Placement in Wireless Sensor Networks for Pipeline Inspection
Wireless Communications, IEEE Transactions, July 2014, p. 3510


This invention is a wireless communication system for underground pipeline inspection to detect leaks.

Problem Addressed

Pipeline leakages are not only wasteful and costly but also potentially dangerous, as leaking gas pipes can explode or leech toxins into the environment. Pipes are most commonly inspected for leaks from within (i.e. “in-pipe”). Ensuring accurate, real-time leak detection requires reliable communication both ways between a remote monitoring center and the in-pipe sensor codes.

Developing a communication system for in-pipe inspection has proved challenging. Wired systems are subject to wire damage and limited sensor mobility. Wireless communication requires signals to travel through multiple media, including water, plastic, soil and air, to reach aboveground. Moreover, the in-pipe sensor nodes have a limited battery-based energy supply.


The inventors have developed a system to enable bidirectional wireless communications between underground in-pipe sensor nodes and an aboveground remote control center. Sensor nodes inside the pipeline are mobile and carried by robots. The wireless communication system includes mobile sensor nodes inside the underground pipeline, aboveground relay nodes deployed along the pipeline, a remote monitoring center, and some mobile communication network from a third-party provider. Sensed information can be transmitted from the sensor nodes to the remote control center, and control commands can be delivered from the control center to the robots and sensor nodes.  

The robotic device used for leak detection is built on wheels that propel it along the pipe. It consists of a drum-like membrane that forms a seal across the width of the pipe. When the robot encounters a leak, the flowing liquid distorts the membrane and pulls it slightly toward the leak. This distortion is detected by a piezoelectric system consisting of force-resistive sensors, which wirelessly communicate information back to the aboveground relay nodes and remote control center to signal a leak. 


  • Energy-efficient communications and prolonged network lifetime
  • Robotic system can rapidly and accurately detect leaks of just 1-2 mm in size
  • Highly affordable compared to existing systems of leak detection
  • Improved speed and sensitivity over existing systems