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.

North East Rivers.JPG


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


This ground-breaking 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. This can prove difficult when sites are long distances away, in very rural areas and in inclement weather conditions.   


Northumbrian Water 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.


With more frequent and detailed monitoring, 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.


The study will have several avenues to explore before the pilotless drones are flown, including how the drones will collect the samples, how they will measure a range of water quality indicators, and crucially, how this knowledge can be used to help the company identify and respond to any potential issues.


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.”


James Sumsion, Chief Executive Officer of Makutu, said: “We are thrilled to have been selected by Northumbrian Water to explore how innovation, UAV’s and Ai data capabilities can help them execute on their ambition to have the cleanest Rivers and Beaches in the country.

“The provision of near real time data to the public will further serve to build public trust and confidence in the excellent bio-diversity progress being made.”


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.