Drone technology used to inspect Scotland’s sewers

September 28, 2022

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How drones are replacing people in Scotland's sewers

Scottish Water is pioneering the use of drones to inspect Scotland's sewers.

The utility said the technology will save workers from having to conduct inspections, provide more accurate readings about conditions and help reduce emissions.

In July, the UK's first drone inspection was carried out on a sewer on Bath Street, Glasgow.

Similar inspections are expected to be introduced in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and some rural areas.

Scottish Water said the more detailed inspections would reduce repair and maintenance costs and reduce the risk of flooding and pollution.

The high-tech drones are equipped with cameras and laser technology called Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), which scans sewers for problems such as cracks, holes, partial collapses, infiltration and root invasions.

Two workers control a drone that flies along pipes and can inspect the area via video.

image source, Scottish water

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Workers monitor the condition of the sewers via video

This method replaces 15 staff members who would have traditionally carried out inspections – however this method continues to be used in other parts of the network.

Scottish Water says the drones will help reduce the amount of staff working in dangerous conditions and in confined spaces with the risk of hazardous gases.

It added that the technology would not have a negative impact on the jobs, pay or conditions of the workers involved.

A spokesman added: “It will actually create more work because the introduction will allow us to carry out more sewer inspections on parts of our wastewater network that we have not been able to achieve using traditional 'worker entry' methods.” Sewer inspections are also only part of these workers’ responsibilities.”

image source, Scottish water

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Two workers are required to operate the technology

The technology, including its software, was developed by Environmental Techniques, a surveyor based in Northern Ireland.

Scottish Water said the drones would be flown to parts of its 33,000-mile network that cannot be reached using traditional surveys.

It added that this method could reduce CO2 emissions from sewer surveys by up to 80% by reducing the number of site transport and vehicle deliveries.

Iain Jones, the company’s risk and lifecycle planning manager, said: “Drones have been deployed into sewers elsewhere with limited capabilities and limited success. But the specific customization of both the drone and the 3D LiDAR modeling makes this special.”

“The 4K quality output combined with precise modeling is what’s innovative. This quality is four times better than an HDTV and is certainly a first in the UK.”

“Some of the sewers predate the Victorian era and are more than 160 years old. We need information that allows us to make good decisions about how to remediate them when necessary.”

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