Acwa Robotics, the French water nugget that caused a sensation at CES in Las Vegas

Posted on January 6, 2023, 8:45 am

Acwa Robotics wasted no time at CES. The young marksman, whose offices are located in Aix and Bastia, won three innovation awards at the top technology fair for his autonomous robot, which inspects water pipes to locate them and detect potential problems.

“We have developed the first intelligent machine capable of moving completely autonomously in a water network”, says its co-founder Jean-François Guiderdoni to “Echos”. “From that moment on, ‘the sky is the limit’. The first obvious market is checking the status of networks. But behind that, there is huge potential to do other things. »

A “caterpillar with arms”

Underground, Acwa Robotics robots move “autonomously with a pre-programmed mission”, explains the founder. The device, an articulated arm that can bend in half to match the shape of the tubes, knows it has to travel that distance and collect data that often.

In case of an obstacle, the robot is programmed to stop by itself. “The risk is that it gets blocked for x or y reason”, says the businessman. For example, if there is a loss of pipe diameter » due to limescale sedimentation, the device may get stuck.

These robots are designed to “minimize disruption to water distribution and quality”. “Its main body does not exceed 50% of the diameter of the pipe”, which allows the water to flow normally during this operation, guarantees the founder.

high definition images

Once the robot is in the tube, its mission is to locate the exact route, but above all to accumulate information about the state of the tubes. Thus, it captures images in high definition to identify possible problems: defect in the joint, cement mortar that is peeling and rusting, for example.

It is also lined with sensors to measure wall thickness and identify external corrosion. Ultrasonic sensors make it possible to detect rust on the outside of pipes. Finally, they also detect leaks, even if that is not their primary mission.

pilot projects

Founded in 2018, the start-up has already won two innovation competitions, which allowed it to develop a first prototype. At the end of 2020, it raised 1.8 million euros from Sofimac, Région Sud Investissement and Calao Finance. These same investors reinject one million in early 2022 for a “bridge” operation (a kind of emergency funding).

At first, the young shooter wants to count on big names in the sector. “Our business model is service by the kilometre, explains Jean-François Guiderdoni. We are targeting large strategic pipelines, such as those that carry water from a treatment plant to a neighborhood. These are the ones that cost the most to repair, around 300,000 to 800,000 euros per kilometer. Our price is less than 2-5% of that cost. »

This year, the company will start rolling out its tracked robots for pilot projects, in collaboration with Société du Canal de Provence in particular, before moving into a marketing phase in late 2023-early 2024.

international ambitions

But Acwa Robotics doesn’t intend to stop there. “The most sophisticated water utilities tell us that, eventually, we must help them build and improve a digital twin of the pipes”, enthuses Jean-François Guiderdoni. Which would mean hiring a fleet of robots, with a monthly subscription, that would always be ready to inspect the networks when necessary.

Why this move to CES? The company seeks visibility in North America, a promising market. “This allows us to find big American companies in the water sector and big investors,” notes Jean-François Guiderdoni, who notes in passing that the water environment in France is “a bit closed off.”

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