Capstone project addresses sewer pipe crack detection

A graduate student’s semester-long research project could point the way to improvements in detecting cracks in aging sewer pipes. Rainier Mendoza, who earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 2019 at Loyola Marymount University, chose to address a vexing problem facing many cities with aging infrastructure.

Detecting cracks in sewer pipes is performed with decades-old, labor-intensive video technology. Mendoza’s project capitalizes on previous research, performed at Cal State Long Beach, applying an artificial intelligence program to the labor-intensive video data.

“We were trying to see, with the current data collected from this aging technology, can we do better detection and monitoring using AI,” said Lei Huang, Mendoza’s faculty adviser on the project and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science. “With AI technology, we were hoping it would be much faster without losing accuracy.”

Mendoza was able to make those improvements. “When you inspect pipes manually, with a human eye, you can spend hours looking at the images over and over again. There are a lot of potential errors,” said Mendoza. “With an automated system, people can have more consistent results.”

Huang says she hopes the project becomes the impetus for a larger, multidisciplinary project at LMU to refine the program. “This project is a first step toward that big goal,” said Huang. “With potential change in the hardware technology, better cameras and better designed movement of the cameras, I think there is very big potential for the technology.”

The project is one of several that Mendoza says enhanced his LMU education and prepared him for success in his current job as a video systems engineer at AT&T/DirecTV.

“The sewer pipe project was data driven,” said Mendoza. “I work at a video company, and the work is very data driven. I want to see if I can bring machine learning into any platform I’m working on here, such as improvements in image quality.”

Mendoza also earned his undergraduate degree at LMU with a major in electrical engineering and a minor in mathematics. His seven years at LMU helped him personally and professionally, he says, citing the heartfelt encouragement he received from faculty and fellow students.

“LMU focuses on your happiness and your success, and that is something really valuable,” Mendoza says. “They know how to promote growth in a student.”