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With aging water and sewage pipes threatening to cause roads to subside, NEC's ICT technology is being used to combat their deterioration

  • AkaikeWhen a sewage pipe becomes cracked, for instance, sand and other material seeps into the pipes along with water. That causes a depression above the sewage pipe. As a result, the road above subsides.
  • MitaSo the road can subside because of sewage pipe leaks as well...
  • AkaikeIn Japan, there are actually over 3,000 incidents of roads subsiding each year due to sewage pipe deterioration. Many are small incidents involving a subsidence of 20 centimeters or less, but in more severe cases roads several meters wide have collapsed.
  • MitaIt wouldn't be good if that happened while you were driving.
  • AkaikeIt is said that approximately 10,000 kilometers of pipe was laid 50 years ago or more. What's more, as this graph demonstrates, the amount of pipes that need maintenance goes up every year.

FigureThe number of decaying pipes are expected to rise rapidly in the coming years *Source: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism website

  • MitaWow... (at a loss for words)
  • AkaikeThat is why sewage pipe inspections need to be carried out urgently.
  • MitaIt does seem like we're running out of time to deal with this.
  • AkaikeTo inspect the interior of the pipes, they are currently dammed, cleared of mud, sand, and household wastewater, then pictures are taken of the inside. Incidentally, when using a TV camera, it is said that about 200 meters of pipe can be inspected in a day. Do you know how many teams and how many years it would take to inspect the 10,000 kilometers of sewage pipe that need inspection, if each team went at a speed of 200 meters a day?
  • MitaI have no idea... (distant gaze).
  • AkaikeThe treatment of the sewage removed when cleaning also incurs a cost, so there are many cost-related issues. And the number of pipes that require inspection continues to climb.
  • MitaIt's a tricky problem.
  • AkaikeUnder these circumstances, in 2013 the Ministry or Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism solicited demonstration projects for managing sewage pipes appropriately. In response, NEC proposed the Sewage Pipe Management System together with the Japan Sewage Works Agency, and it was ultimately adopted. This is an inspection technique designed to complement current TV camera inspections rather than replace them. It would be ideal if it were possible to clean and inspect all pipes, but as mentioned earlier this isn't practical or viable from a cost perspective. In light of this, we needed technology that made it possible to ascertain the situation inside pipes, so we could identify which locations warranted cleaning and closer inspection.

The Sewage Pipe Management System utilizing NEC's image analysis technology

  • MitaWhat advantages does the Sewage Pipe Management System have over conventional inspections?
  • AkaikeThe main advantage is that it applies NEC's image analysis technology. If I do say so myself, NEC has outstanding technology in areas such as facial recognition and fingerprint authentication(*).
    *Awarded first place in an international contest for facial recognition and fingerprint authentication organized by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology)
  • MitaI heard about NEC's facial recognition in an earlier installment.
  • AkaikeWe utilized that technology in the inspection of sewage pipes. Computers can automatically detect defects within the sewage pipes, which raises the efficiency of engineers' confirmation work.
  • MitaI see.
  • AkaikeMore specifically, robots like this one are put in the sewage pipe, and take photos of the interior (shows a photo of the robot).

FigureInspection robot used with the Sewage Pipe Management System

  • MitaWow, it looks like a little train with wheels. It's interesting that it can be controlled with a gamepad!
  • AkaikeThat may be the impression the first time you see it. NEC has actually been making many robots for a long time now, and we have a wealth of related technology and know-how. This robot also has many capabilities made possible through advanced technology, such as the use of mobile phone miniaturization technology and extremely durable LAN cables.
  • MitaWhere are the cameras mounted?
  • AkaikeIt is equipped with one camera at the front and four around it. All you have to do is capture photos of the sewage pipe interior using this robot, transfer them to a computer, and perform image analysis.
  • MitaSo once you've cleaned the sewage pipe, you can just place this robot inside and begin shooting?
  • AkaikeNo, you don't need to clean the inside of the pipe.
  • MitaHuh? You don't?
  • AkaikeThe demonstration project we did for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism involved inspecting the inside of sewage pipes while water is flowing and without cleaning them.
  • MitaAmazing! That must improve efficiency a lot over conventional inspection methods, right?
  • AkaikeExactly. A longer distance can be inspected each day, and eliminating the need to clean the pipes and process the sewage inside drastically reduces the costs involved.
  • MitaWow! I'm impressed.
  • AkaikeIncidentally, when we borrowed a field in Funabashi, Chiba to perform proof-of-concept tests, we confirmed we were able to automatically detect cracks and other damage.
    *The results of the proof-of-concept tests were praised for their high accuracy, and were published on the website of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism's National Institute for Land and Infrastructure Management as a guideline for introducing technology that promotes screening inspections (inspections that find sewage pipe damage with basic inspections)
  • MitaI feel like this technology is going to play a really important role.
  • AkaikeWe are still in the proof-of-concept test phase, but we plan to begin commercialization in fiscal 2015.
  • MitaThat's not far off! If this technology takes hold and speeds up sewage pipe inspections, we'll be able to go about our daily lives with peace of mind.
  • AkaikeWe are doing all we can to ensure that happens.
  • MitaToday we learned how NEC's ICT technology is contributing to the safety of water in the future. Thank you so much for speaking with me, Mr. Akaike and Mr. Yamasaki!
  • Yamasaki, AkaikeIt was a pleasure.

Conclusion
In this installment we heard about NEC's Water Leak Detection Service for water supply pipes, and Sewage Pipe Management System for sewage pipes. I was shocked to learn that broken water and sewage pipes can cause major damage such as the subsidence of roads. I was also surprised to find that the replacement and inspection of water and sewage pipes are such pressing issues. I really hope that NEC's ICT technology helps solve the problems we are having with aging water pipes. See you in the next installment of "MiTA TV"!

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