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Robot under Snoqualmie

Deep under Snoqualmie, a tireless machine is crawling, peering down the sewers or peeking up at manhole covers.

No, the city's not under attack by monsters - the robotic machine is totally under human control. It's called a "Night Owl" and is piloted by technicians who are looking to see what kind of shape the city's sewers are in.

The Night Owl, one of two different machines scooting around Snoqualmie drains this week, has a set of headlights on a camera, which rotates like a head, and drives forward on rubber-tipped tank treads.

The camera feeds the view from narrow sewer pipes up to monitors in a truck parked by an open manhole. Footage from the camera resembles a video game, or maybe a science fiction movie, as the machine scoots down the sewer.

"I'm paid to watch TV," joked operator Jerry Hyatt of Renton-based Pro-Vac Telescan as he sat at a console, piloting the 35-pound, remote-controlled camera.

Hyatt's monitor shows the pale green walls of the stormwater pipe along 384th Avenue Southeast, with rainwater flowing past.

"We see all kinds of animals," Hyatt said. Salamanders and rats make the sewer their home and are occasionally confronted by the rolling camera. "Some rats walk up and sniff it," while others take off running.

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