Corsican start-up Acwa Robotics, a star on the world stage of innovation

The Corsica-based start-up has won three Nevada Innovation Awards for its advanced autonomous robot capable of inspecting pipes and tracking leaks. An unprecedented solution, born from a post-Grenelle environmental reflection, which will be commercialized at the end of 2023.

Corsican start-up Acwa Robotics stunned at CES* in Las Vegas. Selected by the South region to represent the french technology in Nevada, the island start-up won three awards. In particular, it received the best innovation award for its 90 cm autonomous track capable of moving through pipes to trace leaks.

READ TOO. Innovation: Acwa Robotics robot wins multiple awards at CES in Las Vegas

An unprecedented solution, state-of-the-art technology at the service of preserving resources and people’s safety, which really caused a sensation. What counts for him, in the world of technology, the title “deal not to be missed”.

“We were also cited by forbes as one of the top five companies to watch and we are the most successful start-up in CES history,” book Jean-François Rossi, President of Acwa Robotics, has just returned from Las Vegas. It evokes the effervescence of the show, meetings and fruitful exchanges with the main economic actors. “Many people are interested in this technology. Several French communities came to meet us and even the Los Angeles Water Authority officials. We also have contacts with Japan, Turkey and Taiwan, all countries that have studied our robot. But, for now, no contracts have been closed because marketing will only attack at the end of the year.” If the start-up, which has one foot in Bastia and the other in Aix-en-Provence, is currently overwhelmed with orders, the impetus was given almost two years ago.

An unprecedented technological solution

Water management giants like Suez or Veolia are already in the game. We also recall that in February 2020, the two men at the head of this project, Jean-François Rossi and Jean-François Guiderdoni, opened the doors of its workshop located in the industrial zone of Bastiato unveil this high-tech product capable of mapping water pipes and collecting data.

READ TOO. Haute-Corse: drinking water, the great confusion

Tests were even launched on the Acqua Publica network. In the room, there was then a model of a tube – it is still there – in which the prototype presented as the solution of the XXIand century could evolve in tracking. This robotic solution was therefore a response to the challenges of Grenelle de l’environnement and the lack of a tool to correct the situation. Since then, everything has accelerated. Raising 2 million euros in 2020, funding from BPI, a double prize in the 2019 Innovation Contest of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Development and a sesame for the large Made in France exhibition illustrating Corsica’s know-how. Since then, the autonomous robot has continued to improve in performance and accuracy. Design and programming is managed in-house at Bastia’s workshop.

The leak tracker at the service of the environment

The high-tech solution from Acwa robotics caused a sensation at CES in Las Vegas, piquing the interest of global players in water management.  - Document CM

High definition camera, 21 Mpx sensor, automatic lighting and ability to withstand strong pressure. “Once inside the pipes, we can no longer intervene, nor communicate with the robot. There is no 5G, there is no WiFi and it is total darkness. Everything is played back during programming. This is where we determine all the data to be collected”, continues Jean-François Rossi, president of Acwa Robotics. Turning then to his team of developers, he adds: “It’s supposed to anticipate any constriction in the pipes and back off. But we all know that one day it will get stuck and not come back. We are working on solutions.”

That is why each component used in its design must comply with food standards”in order to avoid any risk of water quality degradation”, explains the ex-director of Sitec, at the head of Acwa robotics. The other peculiarity of this robotic caterpillar is to track leaks without requiring cuts in the water network. “That’s really the point.”

“By the end of 2023, we will be ready”

In addition to the environmental component, the promoters also highlight, in a situation of fragility, the economic issue. “The renovation of a pipeline is estimated at between 150,000 and 1 million euros but, on average, 30% of the changes made to the pipeline are not relevant. Some sections do not need to be replaced. This allows the manager to save money”, continues Jean-Francois Rossi. For an Acwa robotics service, between €5,000 and €20,000 are required per kilometer of pipeline to be covered, depending on the data to be collected. The key, a share of the water agency that can reach 70%. The next episode, of the start-up, will take place in the next few weeks, with a forecast of raising around 10 million euros to finance the commercialization and internationalization of the technology. Over the next three years, no less than a hundred people will be recruited to reinforce the workforce, to the current number of fifteen. Future partnerships could be concluded soon, in particular with Mitsubishi for Japan.

“By the end of 2023 we will be ready.” On that date, around fifty robots managed to penetrate the water networks among the 50 million pipes identified around the world.

* Consumer Electronics Show: annual fair held in Las Vegas that presents the latest technological innovations in the areas of consumer electronics, automotive and industry.

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