Letting the Light Shine

The Explorer Zoom pan-and-tilt camerafrom UEMSI includes onboard LED lighting that makes it easier to see in large pipes
Letting the Light Shine

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Technology has produced continuous improvements in sewer video cameras, enhancing their capabilities. Larger pipes especially challenge inspection crews because they require far more light for inspection operators to see defects adequately. UEMSI has introduced the Explorer Zoom pan-and-tilt camera with three noteworthy features:

  • Advanced lighting to inspect larger-diameter lines without auxiliary lighting.
  • Capacity for an extended cable, allowing inspection runs up to 4,000 feet.
  • A universal electronic interface that allows the unit to be connected to most other camera manufacturers’ video systems.

That third capability means communities can use the camera without also investing in a separate new control system and inspection truck.

Frank McGuinn, national sales manager for UEMSI, and employees of customer Pipe-View LLC demonstrated the camera in Ingleside, Ill., on Nov. 11.


The Explorer Zoom pan-and-tilt camera is 16.25 inches long with an outer diameter of 3 inches for the body and 4 inches for the rotating camera head. The camera head can rotate 360 degrees continuously and can pan a 270-degree arc.

The 380,000-pixel imaging system is equipped with 10:1 optical and 4:1 digital zoom capability. The camera also has an auto-focus lens with a manual override and an auto-iris with manual override to control the light level of the images.

A key feature of the camera is a system of four LED lights that surround the lens. The lenses for the lights can be easily interchanged in the field by removing the faceplate on the camera with a Torx (star-shaped) screwdriver. As demonstrated, the unit had two clear lenses (the equivalent of high-beam lights on a car) and two lenses with a diffuser pattern that scatters the light (essentially a low-beam setting).

When in operation, the camera can be run with all four LEDs on, enabling a much clearer view in larger pipes than is usually possible without auxiliary lighting. The operator also can shut off two of the lights at a time, such as to prevent the light from washing out an image when at very close range to the pipe wall.

The unit comes with a handheld wired remote to control the camera’s functions, including zoom, pan, tilt, focus and lighting. A home button brings the camera back to a straight-ahead position after the operator has used the pan-and-tilt functions to inspect all around the pipe. The unit also can be wired to control whatever tractor or crawler the camera is mounted on.


The demonstration was conducted during work on a contract in which Pipe-View was hired to do a routine preventive maintenance inspection of about 60,000 feet of sewer lines in the Village of Ingleside. An inspection crew led by operator Todd Bates of Pipe-View lowered the Explorer unit into a manhole on a sewer line running parallel to a road just south of State Highway 138. From a single entrance point, the team planned to inspect a 1,000-foot stretch of 30-inch concrete sewer, without stopping to remove the camera.

“We’re doing anywhere from 8- to 36-inch sewers,” Bates said. “There’s a big portion of 30-inch sewer that we’re on right now.” The camera was mounted on a 60-pound UEMSI Prowler crawler with four 10-inch balloon tires and elevated to a total height of about 15 inches on a gantry, bringing the camera to the center of the pipe.

Bates ran the inspection from a truck Pipe-View originally acquired as part of its purchase of another company’s camera system. The functions of the camera were controlled with UEMSI’s handheld remote, connected to the camera via cable.

To control the motor of the crawler, meanwhile, Bates used the system control board already mounted at the truck’s workstation. The camera’s imaging cable was hooked into the truck’s onboard video monitoring system — it did not require its own monitor. Using the control board, Bates sent the camera forward through the pipe, running 30 feet a minute.

The light from the camera flooded the sewer line, producing clear, well-defined images. Passing through a segment of the line where steam clouded the image because it scattered the bright light, Bates cut the illumination back by shutting off two of the four LED lamps. The reduced lighting gave a sharper view, in the same way dimming a car’s headlights can make it easier to see on a foggy night.

At 390 feet down the line, Bates paused the crawler to examine a lateral service entering the line from above at about the 2 o’clock position. Using the remote control, he panned the camera up to look at the opening, rotating the camera head as well to better orient the image. He zoomed in closer to get a thorough look at the connection.

The image adjusted itself with the auto-focus, and Bates used the remote to refine the image for optimal sharpness. Then, hitting the home button, he quickly restored the camera lens to look straight down the line again.

Using the remote, Bates zoomed the lens deep down the line. The image darkened some because of the degree of zoom. Bates then brought the zoom lens back to its normal setting as the camera continued down the line.

As the inspection progressed, Bates continued to examine each lateral and junction, alternately panning, tilting and zooming the lens, then returning it to its normal position. Throughout, the lighting proved more than adequate to return clear, sharp and detailed images, which Bates recorded in the MPEG file format to save on the truck’s hard drive.

Observer comments

Pipe-View LLC co-owner Tony Duffy said his company had been using two Explorer pan-and-tilt cameras for several months and was impressed with their hardiness. “We haven’t had any problems with them in terms of reliability, which is a big thing,” he said.

Bates said he has found the home control on the remote unit particularly handy, making it easier to resume an inspection quickly after pausing to examine a lateral junction. “I can hit that home button and go,” he said. He also liked the camera’s weight, which he said is about half that of some comparable units he has used.

Bates said the camera’s lighting has lived up to its promise. The lights themselves don’t get hot in the manner of some other units he has used. And he found the camera to work adequately without additional lighting in larger pipes.

Manufacturer comments

McGuinn said the unit has been successfully used in pipes as large as 72 inches without auxiliary lighting. “When it comes to camera pictures, lighting is everything,” he said. Because the lighting in the camera has its own circuitry, if auxiliary lights are used, they can be controlled separately from the control room in the truck, independent of the camera’s onboard lights.

McGuinn said the camera also works well in smaller pipes when matched with a suitably sized transporter. He noted that the camera head has a very small profile.

He also observed that the auto-focus feature can be disabled from the remote control. This makes it easier to get high-quality pictures under conditions that confound auto-focus systems, such as when mist and steam are present — a common occurrence in larger pipes.

“In really large pipe, that’s a nice feature,” said McGuinn.


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