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Robots invade Kansas City's sewers

A fleet of eight small robots is mapping Kansas City's sewers in hopes of preventing future leaks.

This robot spends its time in the sewer looking for problems with pipes.
KC Water Services

Urban legends tell of all kinds of creatures in city sewers -- giant rats, alligators, even talking, anthropomorphic turtles.

What's living in the sewers in Kansas City, Missouri, sounds equally fantastic, though it's totally real. Kansas City's Water Services has a fleet of robots in its sewer system.

The robots, which are equipped with cameras, are tasked with mapping the entire system. They're looking for problems with the infrastructure like cracks in pipes that could cause leaks above ground. And the city has reason to monitor: The pipe that runs under Main Street, for example, is 160 years old.

"When a person flushes their toilet or runs water down their sink, they want it to go away and never come back," Andy Shively, chief engineering officer for KC Water Services, told Fox 4 News.

Operators drive the robots through pipes using remote controls. There are eight robots in the pack. The robots plus eight trucks with closed-circuit television systems cost about $2.5 million.

KC Water Services told CNET the robots are pressurized internally and sealed with gas to keep the sewer contents out.

Water Services started the mapping process before getting the robots. So far, it's mapped a third of the sewer system. With 2,800 miles of sewer lines in the city, it will take about eight years to finish. Officials hope the robots will expedite the process.

Other municipalities including St. Louis and Kansas City, Kansas, are also using this technology, KC Water Services said.