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How would you feel if this came out of your kitchen tap? It's not as far-fetched as you might think. The weird gizmo was developed for experts at United Utilities - and might even be lurking in a water pipe near you. The unique £50,000 machine is designed to float on drinking water surveying the deep tunnels linking Haweswater reservoir, in the Lake District, to Manchester, taking pictures along the way.
"The machine is called an automated pipe inspection vehicle and it floats on the surface of the water inside the tunnels taking 360 degree high definition video footage of every millimetre of tunnel wall," said project manager Paul Anderton.
"It's the most extensive survey ever carried out on the 90-mile long Haweswater Aqueduct, which is one of our most prized assets and has taken considerable skill and careful planning.
"One of the best things about it is that we don't need to shut down the aqueduct to use it so no-one's drinking water supply is affected for an instant."
The APIV is thought to be the only one of its type and is the result of a world-wide hunt. United Utilities engineers couldn't find ready-made equipment to do the job so they commissioned UK specialists at Water Services Group to create something specifically for the Haweswater Aqueduct's unique conditions.
"At the front, six very high definition video cameras spring out and take a constant stream of footage above and below water. The quality of the images is amazing. We can pick up the tiniest defects."
Engineers are surveying the aqueduct as it passes through Cumbria and Lancashire and into Greater Manchester so they can plan future maintenance work to keep it flowing for another half a century or more.
"There are no motors on the APIV. It is just carried along by the water as it falls by gravity towards Manchester at about walking pace. We lower it into the pipe at one end and extended stabilising arms keep it central. When we want it out we catch it with a net and hook it," said Paul.
Picture shows From left, Director of Water Services Group Paul Hope-Darby and United Utilities' Derek Shaw and Steve Hazon