This summer, Pittsburgh welcomes a visitor to its sewer system—a small, robotic squat inspector called “The Solo.”

On June 22, “The Solo” became the first robot to explore Pittsburgh from the pipes, beginning beneath the neighborhoods of Beechview and Brookline. “The Solo” is the product of a partnership between the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) and Pittsburgh-based RedZone Robotics.

“Robots have been to Mars, the moon and the ocean floor, but until last month they’d never visited Pittsburgh’s sewer pipes,” writes Rachel Dovey in Next City.

Dovey reports, “The Solo, which looks like it could be R2-D2’s accessory dog, is an invention of RedZone Robotics, and while its journey may only represent one small step for robots, it’s one giant leap for the field of unmanned pipe condition assessment.”

According to the article, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection requires the PWSA to inspect its sewage pipes for various breaks and leaks. The PWSA has customarily completed these inspections with “a cabled truck and operator.”

With “The Solo,” the PWSA will be able to examine its pipes at a faster and more cost-effective rate. The helpful robot needs no human supervision and can inspect hard-to-reach spaces in the sewage system that have gone without inspection in the past.

What is most exciting about this robotic inspector is its ability to collect important data. The Next City writer notes, “Sewage is a kind of smelly next frontier for researchers trying to collect numbers on everything from drug use to health. Because self-reported surveys are notoriously unreliable, a burgeoning field of “sewer epidemiologists” has taken to measuring and assessing samples of flushed waste. Sewage can reveal information about a city’s disease patterns, medication use and even obesity trends.”

“The Solo” will begin by inspecting a 17-mile area of Pittsburgh’s vast sewer system.

Read the full story here.