Artificial intelligence used in sewer maintenance

Wastewater management is a dirty job. In today’s job market, it’s not a job that many people care about. But cities must do it for public health and the integrity of infrastructure.

“Looks like we’ve got a lot of silt. It’s an indicator of infiltration. We have seepage somewhere along this pipe, ”said Justin Guerra, utility supervisor for the town of Galveston.

This team is responsible for assessing and cleaning the sewer lines below us. That’s all to make sure everything goes well.

“It’s a dirty job. A lot of people don’t want to do it. Nobody wants to step in, to be next, ”said Trino Pedraza, director of public works and utilities for the town of Galveston.

It starts with a quick sewer line assessment test, which transmits sound waves through the sewer line and gives it a condition score. Then another crew cleans the line and a film crew comes in to take a video. This allows them to see potential issues that need to be addressed.

“There are a lot of conditions that come into play,” Guerra said.

It can take a long time and a lot of people.

“It’s already a bit difficult to attract people to the utility industry because we are not the highest paid group. We are civil servants, ”Pedraza said.

He’s always looking for ways to do more with less.

“Right now the candidates are just not coming. We’ve had positions open for six months, but what we can do is make sure people don’t leave, ”he said. “What is important is that we apply the money we have and the resources we have to the areas that need them.”

Galveston has chosen to invest in artificial intelligence to get the most out of its employees.

“Our main technologies are called autocoding and what we do is have trained a number of AI computer vision models to automatically identify conditions inside the pipe,” said Eric Sullivan, Director of Business Development at Sewer AI. Sewer AI is the company providing AI services in Galveston.

“Now operators don’t have to do all this manual data entry,” Sullivan explained. “We have documented a doubling of production. It depends and in some cases we have had people who have more than doubled their production in one day.

Cities will need increased productivity to repair aging sewer infrastructure, which plagues every city in America.

The 2021 Infrastructure Report Card classified the U.S. sanitation system as D +.

“This type of unresolved issue is going to continue to cause public health problems,” Sullivan said.

This is something that the Town of Galveston is trying to be proactive about.

Economist Stephan Weiler said any new technology can lead to a shift in the workforce.

“Technology replaces workers, but it also makes workers who stay a lot more efficient,” Weiler said. He said the pandemic has changed what people want to do or what they will tolerate in a job.

“It feels like this is really some kind of unique reorganization in the lives of workers and workers in companies,” he explained.

For Pedraza, it’s about creating a system that allows problems to be resolved faster.

“This productivity leads to other data that allows staff like me and the engineering department to make decisions to take care of the areas that need it and we have that information faster,” he said. .

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