Harrogate-based Synthotech has won contracts worth £5.8million to find leaks in the water mains.

The company, along with its innovation division Synovate, received the work from the fourth round of Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge.

The utilities engineering company will use its latest robot technology to identify and repair links from within live water mains without requiring extensive excavations and minimising interruptions to water supplies.

Project partners include Thames Water, Yorkshire Water, Affinity Water, SES Water, Anglian Water, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, Uisce Éireann Irish Water, and Southern Water, alongside the University of Sheffield, WRc, ALH Systems, and Arcadis.


Robots equipped with advanced sensors will also be deployed in rising mains to predict failures and make repairs before they burst to prevent environmental pollution. The water industry already uses human-controlled robots to assess its partially filled sewer tunnels and sewers, which use gravity to move sewage.

The project will pave the way for autonomous robotics technology to be used in fully pressurised sewer pipes. Project partners include Thames Water, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, Wessex, and the University of Sheffield.

Ofwat’s Water Breakthrough Challenge will make approximately £40 million available for highly collaborative water-sector innovations to benefit customers, society, and the environment. The previous round, Water Breakthrough Challenge 3, concluded in 2023, with 16 finalists awarded a total of £38 million.

Mark Tindley, managing director of Synthotech, said: “Our team has worked hard to advance this technology to create a more efficient and sustainable way to identify and repair leaks. We look forward to working with Ofwat, water companies and partners across the industry to roll out the robots.”

Synthotech’s technology allows for high-definition images to be relayed to the operator. It allows for the accurate assessment of the issue and the selection of the most appropriate fix. The robots can be deployed remotely for long distances, which speeds up the investigation process to improve health and safety and reduce environmental impact.

The robots serve as a platform for sensors and repair technology that can adapt to each situation. Several spray liners, structural lining and sealants can be used to make repairs. The robot can operate in a pressurised environment, which boosts efficiency in the repair process.

A team of two can be deployed to investigate and repair. The robots are small enough to access a pipe through an access point, reducing the need for excavation.

Synthotech is based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire and operates internationally. It is a leader in robotics-as-a-service and works with utility companies to deploy the latest technology in pipeline maintenance.

Simon Langdale, engineering director at Synovate, concluded: “Over the next decade, robots will play an increasingly important role in the economy and society. The water industry is taking significant strides to ensure that it benefits from opportunities that robots can play in maintaining infrastructure with the next generation of trenchless technology.”