Tracking down the source of a leak in water pipes can be a tricky business. Current techniques rely on acoustic sensing with microphones often used to identify noise resulting from pressurized water escaping the pipe. In plastic pipes in particular, that noise can fall away quickly, making leak detection difficult and time consuming. Researchers at the University of Sheffield claim to have developed a much more accurate system that locates leaks by sending a pressure wave along the pipe that sends back a signal if it passes any anomalies in the pipe’s surface.

The system, which can be fitted to a standard water hydrant, consists of a valve that is opened and closed rapidly to generate a pressure wave that is sent down the pipe. When this wave encounters any unexpected features, such as a leak or crack in the pipe’s surface, it sends back a reflection that can be analyzed to reveal the location and size of the leak. The system can be calibrated onsite, factoring in the size of the pipe and the speed of the pressure wave, to reliably and rapidly locate leaks.