Skyports tests automated drone water quality inspections in U.K.

Jan. 18, 2024
The automated aircraft does not need to return to base between tests and can collect data from multiple test locations in a single outing and on a single battery charge.

Skyports Drone Services announced that it has successfully completed maiden test flights for a new drone inspection service to help water companies monitor the quality of river and coastal water.

The service launched in a pilot study with United Kingdom water supplier Northumbrian Water. The new service combines Skyports Drone Services’ remote drone operations and winch technology with Makutu’s water testing solutions.

The test flights explored how beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) electric drone operations can help to automate water quality surveys. Automated drone surveys can improve access to hard-to-reach areas, reduce carbon footprint, gather more data over a larger area and obtain results much faster.

The service aims to provide an alternative to current labor-intensive data collection processes which require personnel to manually collect water and return it to a central lab for testing. In rural locations, over large expanses, or during poor weather, this manual process can be difficult, dangerous and time consuming.

Skyports Drone Services deployed its Speedbird Aero aircraft, a recent addition to the U.K. company’s fleet, for phase one of the flights. The aircraft has been fitted with specialist winch technology which enables Skyports Drone Services to carry Makutu’s unique water sensor technology to testing locations. The winch lowers the sensor into the water to collect test samples, with data fed back to Northumbrian Water in near real-time for analysis.

Richard Warneford, Wastewater Director at Northumbrian Water, said: “We’re just as passionate as our customers about protecting the environment and improving river and coastal water quality so to have these test flights underway is really exciting,” said Richard Warneford, wastewater director at Northumbrian Water. “There’s a lot of hard work gone into understanding how UAV technology can be used to collect data efficiently, and these successful test flights have proven the validity of it as part of our huge water quality monitoring program.”

The automated aircraft does not need to return to base between tests and can collect data from multiple test locations in a single outing and on a single battery charge.

Phase one proof-of-concept flights in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Bishop Auckland and Blyth in the northeast of the UK have focused on testing Skyports Drone Services and Makutu’s solution, supported by visual ground observers. The next phase will scale operations and see Skyports Drone Services operate remotely operated BVLOS sample collections.

“Water quality is a hugely important issue in the U.K.,” said Alex Brown, director of Skyports Drone Services. “The unique solution we’ve developed with Makutu provides water companies with critical real-time data, enabling better monitoring, maintenance, and faster response to issues. With Northumbrian Water alone covering an area of 9,400km2, the potential positive impact to the environment, to field personnel, and to the communities that access these river and coastal locations is enormous.”