According to MIT News, today’s water distribution systems lose an average of 20% of their supply to leaks, even as demand for this precious resource is climbing. Leaks also cause damage to surrounding structures and pollutants may enter the system through breaks in piping. Current leak detection technology is expensive, slow and unreliable in systems using wood, clay or plastic pipes. MIT’s new PipeGuard leak-finding robot has won several prizes and proven its worth in tests in Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Shaped like a badminton birdie, the device’s flexible rubber skirt expands to touch pipe walls. Sensors detect pressure changes caused by even the smallest leaks, and onboard electronics map their position. Its ability to find very small leaks means breaks can be repaired before they create serious service, environmental or financial problems. The system might also be adapted for use in gas and other pipelines. The MIT team even envisions equipping the robot with a mechanism to carry out on-the-spot repair of small leaks.