Bat echolocation inspires engineers to create new pipeline detection system

Engineers are turning to bats to learn more about how to protect the pipeline that travels thousands of miles across the planet,media reported. A team from Lancaster University, the National Physical Laboratory and technology company Hybrid Instruments is studying how to use nuclear radiation to simulate the sonic hunting system that bats use to locate prey.

Bat echolocation inspires engineers to create new pipeline detection system

Bats and pipes don’t seem to have much in common, but when it comes to checking the installed pipes for potentially damaging corrosion, engineers are in a situation like a bat looking for dinner, all in the dark, at a certain distance.

Most people who have seen several nature documentaries know that bats navigate through ultrasonic slugs, but these sounds are much more complex than simple eavesdropping outside the human hearing range. They are a complex combination of sounds that interact with the target and send back a lot of information to the bat.

The new pipe detection technique mimics the bat’s approach, but it replaces sound waves with fast neutrons and gamma rays. The idea is to be able to detect pipes buried underground or wrapped in thick insulation.

This is a large-scale version of a technique commonly used in laboratories called backscatter, in which a beam of radiation is aimed at an object and the rays reflected from that object reveal its properties. According to the team, the mixture of neutrons and gamma rays is complementary because neutrons interact with plastics and other low-density materials, while fast neutrons have a strong penetration, and gamma rays interact more strongly with metals but do not penetrate high-density materials.

The new backscatter technology uses a new device called Mixed Field Analytics — developed by Lancaster University — and Hybrid Instruments, which records electrical signals returned by pencil-shaped neutron beams and gamma rays.

According to the team, the lab tested carbon-steel samples of different thicknesses in real time, and the technology could even measure the thickness of plastic or concrete insulation. This will make it possible to deposit defective steel and more general corrosion to become a major problem before they are found.

The research and development team says their next step is to test the technology on the pipe cross-section and create a faster neutron detector.

The study was published in Scientific Reports.