Drones and lasers will be used by Scottish Water to inspect sewers

For the first time, drones and lasers will be used together to inspect Scotland's sewers.

The technologies are used by Scottish Water to scan the network for potential problems.

The drones fly through the tunnels to sections that cannot be reached using traditional survey methods, allowing the water utility to more accurately assess the condition of the sewers and make maintenance decisions.

Scottish Water said this would make sewers more resilient, improve services and reduce the risk of leaks, collapses and pollution, while reducing repair costs and improving worker safety.

Where does this take place?

The technology was first used together in July in a large brick sewer on Bath Street in Glasgow city center.

It will now be rolled out and used in other locations in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and some rural areas.

How does it work?

Using the new technology requires only two operators with one drone and takes much less time than traditional techniques.

A worker controls or controls the drone as it flies along the pipe and uses visual inspection and ranging video equipment (LiDAR) for the measurement. The records are then manually reviewed by operators to identify deficiencies.

Scottish Water says replacing teams of up to 15 people with just two employees would reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% and help the company reach its net zero target by 2040.

Scottish Water confirmed that no jobs would be lost as a result of the introduction of the new technology.

A Scottish waterworker operates a drone.

The drones and LiDAR offer significantly better video quality and error accuracy than traditional techniques and were developed for use in previously difficult-to-access sewers.

LiDAR is a laser scanning tool that measures distances before the software creates an accurate 3D computerized image that can be displayed on the screen. The drone carries the LiDAR and camera on board as it flies through the pipe.

The drones have been specially adapted for sewer use and are made of carbon fiber to reduce their weight and extend battery life. They were designed with ducted propellers to protect them from the canal walls, and the operator's skills ensure that they avoid the sewage.

Why is Scottish Water doing this?

Many of the sewers, some of which date back to the Victorian era, have previously been difficult to access for surveys.

The technology will enable Scottish Water to more accurately survey its network of more than 33,000 miles of sewers.

Sewer inspections aimed at identifying issues such as cracks, holes, partial collapses, infiltration and root invasion are required to enable Scottish Water to make investment decisions. The sooner repairs and maintenance are carried out, the lower the costs for the company.

What do bosses say?

Iain Jones, risk and lifecycle planning manager at Scottish Water, said: “This is the first time we have used drones adapted for sewer surveys and LiDAR together for sewer surveys and we are really excited about it.”

“We want to improve the accuracy of our surveys and, for safety reasons, reduce the number of workers required to carry out survey work in sewers. The drone does both and will also help us achieve our goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

“Traditional inspection techniques, still used in some parts of the network, often require teams of up to 15 workers using CCTV tractors and working in hazardous conditions in confined spaces, with the risk of hazardous gases.

“Factors such as depth, currents and debris can significantly slow down a work inspection without impacting the drones.

“Reducing the number of workers involved eliminates a large number of site vans and vehicle deliveries, thereby reducing CO2 emissions.”

The drones will improve worker safety and provide access to hard-to-reach areas of the network

He added: “Drones have been deployed into sewers elsewhere with limited capabilities and limited success. What is special about it, however, is the specific adaptation of the drone and 3D LiDAR modeling.

“The 4K quality output combined with precise modeling is what’s innovative. This quality is four times better than an HDTV and 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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