21 May 2024

Pipebot Patrol wins share of £40M in Water Breakthrough Challenge

Ofwat’s Innovation Fund today announces 17 winners from the fourth Water Breakthrough Challenge, a £40M competition that invited solutions with the potential to deliver wide-scale, transformational change benefitting customers, society and the environment.

The winners include the Pipebot Patrol project led by Northumbrian Water, which has been granted £1.6M funding and is supported by project partners Environmental Monitoring Solutions, the University of Sheffield, and Minicam. This will see the development of a sewer robot that will crawl through miles of the wastewater network to constantly inspect pipework, raising alerts to the precise location of blockages as they are beginning to form.

The project is one of the winners of a £40M competition from Ofwat, the economic water regulator. The goal of the Pipebot Patrol project is to develop an autonomous sewer robot, to proactively raise alerts to the precise location of blockages. This approach will allow maintenance teams enough time to react before blockages cause sewer flooding – keeping sewage where it belongs. Blockages in sewers can lead to flooding and due to insufficient knowledge around the condition of buried pipes in the UK, there are 1.5M road excavations per year causing road closures at a cost of at least £5.5B per year.

Richard Warneford, Wastewater Director for Northumbrian Water Group, explains:

This funding allows us to progress robotic solutions to monitor sewers and minimise the possibility of sewer flooding to customer properties and the environmental impact. Combining robotics, autonomy and acoustics with smart-sewer networks, we’re developing new tools for water companies to meet our performance commitments to reduce sewer flooding.

Richard Warneford, Wastewater Director, Northumbrian Water Group

Dr. Sonja Ostojin, the Head of Innovation at EMS, said:

It is great to be a part of this forward-thinking project team and to help bring change to the way the water industry is dealing with blockage detection and cleaning challenges. We need to be able to proactively detect and manage potential blockages within the network, therefore we must be able to rapidly identify the location of developing obstructions. EMS as a specialist systems integrator in environmental monitoring and compliance will share knowledge and expertise on blockage detection.

Dr. Sonja Ostojin, Head of Innovation, EMS

Helen Campbell, Senior Director, Ofwat said:

There are big challenges in the water industry that must be solved, some are well-known, and others are less so. In our fourth Water Breakthrough Challenge we called for solutions with potential to deliver wide-scale, transformational change for customers, society and the environment – and that’s exactly what today’s winners have done. From raingardens to prevent flooding to green energy from treated sewage, innovations to cut the water sector’s carbon footprint to robots that patrol the pipe network, the winners are all helping shape a more sustainable and efficient water sector.

Helen Campbell, Senior Director, Ofwat

The Water Breakthrough Challenge is part of a series of competitions from Ofwat, run by Challenge Works with Arup and Isle Utilities, designed to drive innovation and collaboration in the sector to benefit individuals, society and the environment.

It supports initiatives that help to tackle the biggest challenges facing the water sector, such as achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing leakage, as well as delivering value to society. 


For all media enquiries, please contact waterinnovation@seven-consultancy.com or call +44 (0)20 7754 3610

Environmental Monitoring Solutions is a company that helps a wide range of businesses and organisations achieve and maintain environmental compliance. Its divisions span water (industrial water and water quality) and environmental management, and an innovation team. We collaborate with academia, providing an advisory role in product development, working in the field testing of sensing technologies at all Technology Readiness Levels, and in hardware and software development. We offer expertise in AI, blockage detection and real-time control. EMS supports industry when there is a need for action that will address a gap in the market, working closely with internal teams to support them and bridge the knowledge gap. EMS is an established and leading provider of a range of short-term and permanent water and wastewater monitoring services and a range of environmental management services, including but not limited to CSR and sustainability services, training for staff including management, assistance with environmental permits and consents, and legal compliance support.

About Challenge Works

Challenge Works is a global leader in the design and delivery of high-impact challenge prizes that incentivise cutting-edge innovation for social good. In the last 10 years, they have run more than 80 prizes, distributed £84 million in funding and engaged with 12,000 innovators.

Challenge prizes champion open innovation through competition. We specify a problem that needs solving, but not what the solution should be. We offer large cash incentives to encourage diverse innovators to apply their ingenuity to solving the problem. The most promising solutions are rewarded with seed funding and expert capacity building support, so that they can prove their impact and effectiveness. The first or best innovation to solve the problem wins. This approach levels the playing field for unknown and previously untested innovators so that the best ideas, no matter their origin, are brought to bear on the most difficult of global challenges.

About Arup

Dedicated to sustainable development, Arup is a collective of designers, consultants and experts working globally. Founded to be humane and excellent, they collaborate with clients and partners using imagination, technology, and rigour to shape a better world.

Together they help clients solve their most complex challenges – turning exciting ideas into tangible reality as we strive to find a better way and shape a better world. With a community of over 1700 water professionals, Arup is leading global thinking across key areas like innovation, resilience, net zero carbon and sustainable water management.

About Isle Utilities

Isle is a global team of independent scientists, engineers, business and regulatory experts with a common drive to make a positive environmental, social and economic impact through the advancement of innovative technologies, solutions and practices.  Our passion and expertise in technology and innovation enables us to connect expertise, investment and inspired ideas across the globe. At the core of all our activities is our ambition to make the world a better place. Find out more: www.isleutilities.com