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

Posted January 6, 2023, 8:45 am

Acwa Robotics wasted no time at CES. The young startup, which has offices in Aix and Bastia, won three innovation awards at the cutting-edge technology fair for its autonomous robot that checks to find water pipes and detect possible problems.

“We have developed the first intelligent machine that can operate in a fully autonomous mode in the water network”, confirms its co-founder Jean-Francois Guiderdoni to Echos. “From that moment on, ‘the sky is the limit.’ The first obvious thing to do is to check the state of the market networks. But behind it there is great potential to do other things. »

“Caterpillar with Arms”

Underground, Acwa Robotics robots “move autonomously with a pre-programmed mission,” explains its founder. The device, which has an articulated arm that can be bent in half to match the shape of the tubes, knows it has to travel this far and collect data at such a frequency.

When an obstacle is encountered, the robot is programmed to stop on its own. “The risk is that it gets blocked for x or y reason,” said the entrepreneur. For example, if there is » loss in pipe diameter due to limestone deposition, the device may become stuck.

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

High resolution images

Once the robot enters the pipe, its task is to find the exact route, but above all to collect information about the condition of the pipes. Therefore, it takes high-resolution images to identify any problems: for example, joint defects, peeling and rusting cement mortar.

It is also covered with sensors to measure wall thickness and identify external corrosion. Ultrasonic sensors allow detecting rust on the outside of pipes. Finally, they also detect leaks, even if this is not their primary mission.

Pilot projects

The startup, founded in 2018, won two innovation competitions, which allowed it to develop the first prototype. At the end of 2020, Sofimac raised €1.8 million from Région Sud Investissement and Calao Finance. The same investors put down a million again in early 2022 for a “bridge” transaction (a kind of emergency fundraising).

The young shoot first wants to rely on the big names of the sector. Jean-François Guiderdoni explains: “Our business model is service by the kilometer. We target large strategic pipelines, such as those that bring water from a treatment plant to a neighborhood. These are the most expensive to repair, they cost 300-800 thousand euros per kilometer. Our price is less than 2-5% of this cost. »

This year, the company will begin deploying its tracked robots for pilot projects, notably in partnership with the Société du Canal de Provence, before moving into the marketing phase in late 2023-early 2024.

International ambitions

But Acwa Robotics is not going to stop there. “The most sophisticated water services tell us that we need to help them build and improve the digital twin of the pipes,” enthuses Jean-François Guiderdoni. This means hiring a fleet of robots with a monthly subscription that are always ready to scan networks as needed.

Why this switch to CES? The company is looking for visibility in North America, a promising market. Jean-Francois Guiderdoni notes that the water environment in France is “a bit closed”: “This allows us to meet big American companies and big investors in the water sector.”

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