SmartBall - detecting leaks before they happen

How do Southern Water go looking for leaky pipes? With a bowling ball of course!

It is not just any old bowling ball of course. Our resilience teams are currently trialling a high technology system provided by our partners Pure Technologies and Water Resource Centre Ltd  which goes where no bowling ball has been before.

The techies call the system SmartBall - but a fan of cult film The Big Lebowski at Southern Water has christened it 'The Dude.'

Although SmartBall looks like a blue bowling ball from a distance, that's deceptive. Outside is a foam case which protects the clever stuff hidden inside a smaller ball - which if we had to hang a film reference on we'd call a Harry Potter Golden Snitch.

 

The inner ball is equipped with an acoustic sensor which can detect tiny variations in the flow down a pipe which might indicate the smallest of leaks or even a crack that has yet to leak.

The acoustic sensors which can 'hear' a leak of as little as 0.11 litres/min. Other detectors inside the ball can spot unevenness in pipes and pockets of air in a pipe.

Safely housed in its foam packaging, the SmartBall is squeezed through one of the valves on a water main and is rushed along by pressure for up to 12 hours. In our current trials, SmartBall stays in the pipe for shorter periods but actually transmits data to the surface where it is collected by computer. The ball can then be grabbed at another valve or caught with a net where the pipe pours into a reservoir.

Southern Water often knows a pipe has a leak by measuring flows at each end - but locating the exact spot without digging up an entire street has been very tricky until now even with modern 'acoustic loggers' which attach to valves and listen for the tell-tale gurgles of a leak.

We're already proud of the work our 135 teams who work full time finding leaks - Southern Water was top of the industry leakage league tables last year. We hope constant innovations such as SmartBall will keep us there.