Pipeline Inspecting COllaborative Swarms for Maintenance And Repair Tasks

The PicoSmart idea:

Pipeline integrity management based on a swarm of intelligent small robots that inspect, maintain and repair a pipeline network from the inside.

The PicoSmart project:

An innovative project in the north of the Netherlands. A collaborative effort of local Government, educational institutions, research institutes and commercial companies.

The PicoSmart principle:

Innovation by collaboration.


Pipeline inspection, as part of the Pipeline Integrity Management System in the gas industry, is at the moment mainly based on inspecting large diameter pipelines with ‘pigs’, large cylindrical robots that move through the pipes with large velocities. However, a substantial part of the gas pipeline network is not ‘piggable’, due to practical issues like the reduced pipeline diameter, sharp bends, valves and other obstacles.

The solution of PicoSmart is to split up the functionality of pigs over a group of smaller robots, ‘pico pigs’. There will be various types of pico pigs, each with their own purpose, like inspection, detection, energy management, communication, data storage, maintenance, prevention and in the future even repairs.

There will be a ‘swarm’ of pico pigs and both the individuals as the group will have intelligent behaviour. The swarm will live inside the pipeline network and move through it autonomously. The group takes care of malfunctioning members and adapts itself to changing circumstances. The swarm can for example redistribute the various types of pico pigs and it can ask the outside world for additional pico pigs of a specific type. Moreover, it is also possible to add new types of pico pigs, for example ones with newly developed detectors.

Our project is an ‘open innovation’ project running in the north of the Netherlands. Collaborating parties are research institutes, universities and commercial companies. We are currently in the research phase, during which amongst others a number of ‘proof of concepts’ will be implemented. The collaborating parties share relevant knowledge and expect to be able to commercially exploit the PicoSmart concept in the future. The majority of the research is performed by students and their work is managed within CGI’s Working Tomorrow initiative.

PicoSmart is a promising concept. Although the scope is currently limited to gas pipelines, the idea is also useable for pipelines carrying other gasses or even fluids and for environments other than pipeline networks.

The multidisciplinary team that works on PicoSmart accepted the challenge of open innovation. We are open for others to think along with us, to provide knowledge, to provide students or places for students, to provide parts of the solution, and to maybe even act as a launching customer in the future.

If you are interested then please contact Jacob Mulder via +31 622 404 830 or Jacob (a) PicoSmart (dot) nl

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