Macomb County’s New Tech for Sewer Inspections: Drones and AI Lead the Way

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Cutting-Edge Technology for Sewer Inspections

Macomb County is pioneering a new approach to sewer inspections using drones and Artificial Intelligence (AI). This innovative method aims to enhance scrutiny of sewer lines while saving significant costs. Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller announced this groundbreaking initiative, marking the first such use in Michigan.

Transforming Sewer Inspections With Drones

At a News conference at the Chapaton Pump Station in St. Clair Shores, Miller reportedly expressed excitement about the new technology.

“It’s the new wave,” she said. “It’s going to be very transformational.”

She believes Macomb County is the first in Michigan to combine drones and AI for sewer inspections.

“By the end of the year, you’re going to have a lot more people doing this,” she predicted.

How It Works

The inspection process involves flying a specially-equipped drone through the county’s large interceptor drains, which are buried about 60 feet underground and can be up to 15 feet tall.

The drone, made by Swiss tech company Flybotix, is equipped with LED lights, high-definition video cameras, and a protective cage. It captures detailed footage of the sewer interiors, which is then analyzed by AI software from SewerAI, a company based in Walnut Creek, California.

Macomb County'S New Tech For Sewer Inspections: Drones And Ai Lead The Way 2

Operations manager Vincent Astorino explained that the drone is lowered into the sewer through a manhole and flown through the pipes. Its battery lasts about 24 minutes, but inspectors carry multiple batteries to ensure continuous operation. The AI system reviews the footage, identifies defects, and prioritizes issues for engineers.

Addressing Infrastructure Needs

Miller highlighted the importance of regular inspections, citing the 2016 collapse of the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor in Fraser, which caused a massive sinkhole and led to the evacuation of homes.

“Everyone has aging infrastructure underground that needs a lot of attention,” she said.

The AI-driven inspections are expected to provide better information and help prevent such incidents.

The new system, costing less than $100,000, will save the county millions by reducing the time and labor involved in traditional inspections. Previously, it could take months or years to analyze inspection videos, but the new technology can do it in as little as 24 hours.

Embracing Technology for the Common Good

Miller acknowledged some public hesitancy about AI but emphasized its benefits in this context.

“AI and technology are our friends,” she said. “They can be utilized very, very effectively. This is how you can use the technology for the common good.”

DroneXL’s Take

Macomb County’s use of drones and AI for sewer inspections showcases the potential of technology to improve public infrastructure management. By leveraging cutting-edge tools, the county can conduct faster, more accurate inspections, ensuring safer and more reliable sewer systems. This initiative sets a promising precedent for other municipalities to follow, demonstrating that embracing technology can lead to significant public benefits.

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