A NORTH East water company is set to explore how the use of flying robots can help it improve the quality of the region’s rivers and coastal waters.

Northumbrian Water has teamed up with cloud data experts, Makutu, to begin a desktop study which could see cutting-edge drone technology used to routinely sample and carry out at scale, in-situ, real-time water quality assessments.

This research will look at how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones which are flown semi-autonomously without a pilot, are used to harness Sensing, AI and Data Analytics capabilities, to carry out remote water quality monitoring of key coastal and inland locations.

Currently, the company is only able to survey water quality by sending people to manually take water samples from sites. Northumbrian Water said this can prove difficult when sites are long distances away, in very rural areas and in inclement weather conditions.   

The water company said it expects to see a number of potential benefits from the drone study, such as improved access to hard-to-reach areas, reduced carbon footprint, more data over a larger area, and much faster results.

Researchers also hope that this will mean once the monitoring programme is in place, local water quality results can be made available to the public, in near real-time.

Angela MacOscar, Head of Innovation at Northumbrian Water, said: “Protecting the environment and improving river and coastal water quality is a top priority for us.

“UAV technology is very exciting and harnessing the power of UAVs to collect data efficiently and accurately certainly appears to be a promising one. Data on what is happening in our environment is crucial to making informed decisions.

“We’re proud to be leading the way in the global water industry to look at how we can use drones in this huge water quality monitoring programme.”

Once the study is complete, the first drone flight tests are expected to take place later this year and throughout next year, with a potential full roll-out in 2025.