Sewer AI Revolutionizes Sewer Maintenance With the Help of Drones


Early civilizations built their communities along waterways to have access to life sustaining water and as a natural sewage system. As populations increased and cities developed, more modern sewers were created. Evidence of the first ever sewer, which was built to remove waste from homes, was found in South Asia built around 2000 BC by the Indus Valley Civilization. Today, more than half of the world relies on vast sewer systems to safely manage sanitation. The United States of America alone has more than 6 billion feet of sewage infrastructure.

With so much critical infrastructure, it is vital to constantly inspect and repair buried sewage tunnels. When sewage lines are damaged, the results can cost millions to repair and pose severe health risks to anyone living in the area. These lines are typically inspected manually by a team using a camera connected to some type of pole. The camera is lowered into a section of pipe and manually maneuvered to capture as many images as possible. The images are then uploaded and painstakingly inspected by another person.

It is a timely and costly procedure. The images are often blurry and do not always unveil issues in need of repair. To solve this issue, Billy Gilmartin and Matthew Rosenthal founded Sewer AI in 2019, a system that uses drones and AI technology to revolutionize sewage maintenance. As stated on Sewer AI’s website, nearly “half of our nation’s sewer infrastructure is at the end of its useful life and is failing. This means every year 860 billion gallons of raw untreated sewage gets dumped into our cities, streams, lakes, oceans, and waterways causing incalculable damage to the environment and to public health.” Sewer AI has the tools needed to tackle these waste management issues.

In May of 2024, Macomb County, Michigan announced that it would be partnering with Sewer AI to adequately service its sewage system. At a press conference, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner, Candice S. Miller, announced how grateful the county was for this partnership. Miller noted how in the past, the county would spend millions on an antiquated inspection process and that with Sewer AI, ratepayers would be able to see savings in the future. “We actually purchased this drone and software package for less than $100,000, a pretty good bang for your buck, I would say,” Miller said.

Miller and Macomb County Public Works Operations Manager, Vince Astorino, went on to demonstrate how the system would work. They presented a small drone that is housed inside a cage. In case the drone bumps into the sides of a sewer line, the cage protects the drone as well as the sewer line. The drone has a high-resolution camera that captures images of a much higher quality than the manual cameras previously being used. And since the drone is small it is easy to maneuver and has a longer lasting battery.

Once the images are captured, Astorino explained that they are uploaded to the Sewer AI platform. Here Sewer AI’s system scans everything for any issues. The AI system not only works faster than a person scanning the data, but can pick up imperfections that a person could easily miss on their own. The system also helps generate plans of action for repairs, shares pertinent information with all involved with a project, and helps maintain accountability.

Perhaps the most impressive feature, according to Astorino, is the accuracy and turnaround time the Sewer AI system will provide Macomb County with. “Sometimes it would be months before a pipe would be inspected,” Astorino said. “Now we go out into the field and get the footage, turn it over to Sewer AI, and we have a 10-day maximum turnaround time, but a lot of times they’re turning around the data within 24 hours.” Sewer AI explains on its website that “because of inefficient workflows, field teams & capital equipment are idle 66% of the time, inspecting only ~1,400 ft per day while incurring unnecessary costs.” With drones and the new AI software, these same teams can inspect upwards of 3,000 ft per day with usable data in as little as 24 hours.

So far, Sewer AI has completed more than 425,000 inspections of more than 25,000 miles of sewer lines. This work has directly benefited more than 150 million people. For Macomb County, the third most populous county in Michigan, this partnership is set to benefit hundreds of thousands of residents. Not only will the county’s sewer system be better maintained, but Miller projects that using the drone and AI system will ultimately benefit taxpayers with lower future costs. Miller closed out the press conference stating, “It’s just an incredibly huge difference in how we are going to be doing our inspections going forward.”

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