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Founder Profile: You Wu, Founder–WatchTower Robotics

While Imagine H2O has seen a few innovative approaches to leak detection (acoustic sensing, satellite imaging) few have been as ambitious or novel as WatchTower Robotics. By combining brilliant engineering with a passion for water conservation, You Wu has built Daisy, a leak detection robot unlike any other. While unleashing an untethered robot in the pipes of a modern city may sound more appropriate in movie theater than in the real world, WatchTower Robotics has found a way to turn science fiction into a helpful reality.

Tell us a little about yourself and what led you to WatchTower Robotics.

My name is You Wu. I am currently the cofounder of WatchTower Robotics LLC. Born in Changzhou, a city on the outskirts of Shanghai with over 3 million people, I grew up feeling the pressure of mass population on energy and water scarcities. Now I live in Massachusetts, where WatchTower Robotics is located. My background overlaps significantly with our technology, and I actually just received my PhD in mechanical and robotics engineering at MIT. No big deal. My company, WatchTower Robotics, is on a mission to help cities find leaks, save water and protect infrastructure. We provide robots to municipal water companies to help them assess underground water pipeline conditions, including pipe mapping and leak detection.

Congrats on the PhD! Dr. Wu, where did you get the idea for the robot, Daisy?

WatchTower Robotics came to life when my passion met the opportunity. When I grew up in China, we had scheduled days without electricity or water as collaborative conservation effort. Meanwhile, 20% of clean water was lost in transportation due to leaks. Unsatisfied with this situation, I want to make a difference. By the time I went to MIT, there was a project opening to develop leak detection robot for water pipes. I jumped on it, spent 6 years developing the technology, and then Daisy was born.

What’s the value you provide for your customer?

We enable municipal water authorities to consistently and actively find leaks months before they lead to critical failure. They can therefore avoid interrupting water services while saving water and preventing further damage to infrastructure.

How does your robot sensor compare to more common leak detection mechanisms like acousting sensing?

Our sensors are not acoustic or visual. Instead, it is a tactile sensor that measures the suction force generated by the outflux of water at a leak. This unique approach is more sensitive and consistent. In noisy environments, acoustic tools can nominally find leaks, meaning potential losses of 10 gallons of water or more per minute. That is twice the flow rate of a typical shower. In that same environment as well as any other place, our robot can detect leaks down to 1 gallon/minute, or about what a 4 millimeter crack would cause.

Do you envision the use of robotics to solve other water related problems? 

Robots are a more efficient way to reach areas inaccessible to humans. Take for example, the deep ocean, or in my case, underground water pipes. There is huge potential in using robots to secure water resources, test water qualities and treat water to a drinkable state in remote locations. Robotics will undoubtedly play a significant role in helping us get the most out of this critical resource in the future.

What are your priorities for 2018? 

We have three main priorities. The top one is achieve expert validation in urban environments. So far we have only tested robots in test facilities and countrysides. Now we need to get them into city water pipes and build a strong business case. The second one is to get our robots NSF certified for safe to use in drinking water pipes. The third one is to raise capital for scaling up our operations and team.

Sum up your IH2O experience in 3 words.

Inspirational. Connections. Fun.