Future Zone

When robots clean tunnels

DrainBot created an innovative and sustainable way of cleaning tunnel drainage and cutting locking times by using a robotic system.

Usually up to 350 litre of water are being used per minute or up to 7.000 litre per kilometre to clean drainage pipes in tunnels. Water jets use high water pressure to clean drainage pipes and remove sediments. We have developed a fully automated robotic system that frees the drainage pipes from sediments and does not require any water nor fuel since its battery driven, making it much more environmentally friendly.

“There are no more locking times for maintenance work in tunnels that cause the traffic to stop.”, says Slaven Stekovic, who founded the company together with Philipp Lepold in 2019. There is also no need for human operators to be present since the system is fully automated. This improves not only the efficiency and sustainability of tunnels, but it also reduces the costs and hazards related to drainage maintenance for railway and road operators and owners.




Mission around the clock

With the new system that we created as a start-up, the drainage pipes are being cleaned by 90 centimetres long robots which are equipped with a maintenance brush that removes the sediments in the pipes. The robots are also equipped with a camera and several sensors that document the cleaning process and collect data about the conditions of the pipes. Due to the cold weather conditions and high humidity in the tunnels they have to be built very robust, according to Philipp Lepold one of the founders.

The robotic units are battery driven and are being charged on the several installed charging stations throughout the tunnel. One robotic unit can clean several kilometres of drainage pipes. “Our system is designed to clean continuously. The robots are in use around the clock,” says Stekovic. This way an optimal function of the drainage pipes can be ensured and a “high level of contamination” of the systems can be avoided.



Data analysis and machine-learning

The charging stations collect the data that the robot collects through the sensors and sends them to our cloud for further data interpretation and analysis. Smart intelligence and machine-learning will ensure that the cleaning intervals are optimized and that possible damage within the drainage pipes is detected in an early stage.

Our robotic system for tunnel drainage maintenance is created for both road and rail tunnels. The technology used can also be adapted for underground systems, says Stekovic. Airport drainage pipes are also being examined for potential DrainBot use.

The system can be installed into the existing drainage pipes who dispose with the necessary diameter without any problem at all: “There is no need for big changes. A reconstruction is not necessary since we can easily adapt the robotic units.”



First customers in Austria

We have the honour to be already working with one of the biggest Austrian infrastructure operators. Further projects are already being discussed. Our company has doubled in size since the beginning and consists now of a four-man team, that offers drainage pipe maintenance as a service to their customers. Operators do not need to train their own staff for robotic software, says Stekovic.

Our start-up is being financed through funding from Förderbank Austria Wirtschaftsservice (aws), the research promotion agency FFG and the Hoirzon 2020 programme of the European Commission. The first business angels are also already on board.

In addition to the further development of the system, we are also working on expanding internationally. Stekovic: “We are already in talks with operators in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, but also in some Asian countries.”

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