Anglian Water is using drones to detect underground pipeline leaks

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Anglian Water is one of the most significant water utilities in the UK. The company has used drones since 2017 to collect data about the condition of pipelines. Now, the company is updating its drones and widening its drone operations.

The utility provider will use drones equipped with thermal sensors which collect data along pipeline routes around Colchester that allow Anglian to create maps whose temperature differentials signalled likely breaches. Chris Utton, Anglian’s intensive leak delivery manager, said analysis using FLIR software produced a colour or greyscale diagram of the surveyed zone, with warmer spots surrounded by cooler areas (or vice versa in summer) usually indicative of network seepage.

The wider deployment of drones was urged by the drought that threatened the UK’s water supply during this summer. The company will deploy drones to monitor and detect leakage in the 24,000 miles of largely underground mains that serve communities across the southeastern part of England.

Our drones are looking for unusual flora growth which, during periods of dry weather like we’ve seen this summer, can indicate leaks on our water mains. These leaks are usually really difficult to find. In the past, drones have helped us find and fix leaks on sections of pipe that we had previously planned to replace. This technology can save us up to £7,000 per flight in water lost through leakage, and tens of thousands of pounds preventing unnecessary pipe replacements, helping us keep customers’ bills low.

Chris Utton, intensive leak delivery manager of Anglian Water
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