in Aerospace / Security

Skyports and Makutu launch water quality drone flights with Northumbrian Water

Posted 15 January 2024

Skyports Drone Services in collaboration with Makutu, has successfully completed maiden test flights for a new drone inspection service set to help water companies monitor and improve the quality of river and coastal water.

Image courtesy Skyports

The new service, which combines Skyports Drone Services’ expert remote drone operations and winch technology with Makutu’s water testing solution, has launched with a pilot study for UK water supplier Northumbrian Water.  

The test flights demonstrate how beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) electric drone operations can be used to automate water quality surveys to 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 labour-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 process can be difficult, dangerous and time consuming.  

Skyports Drone Services’ deployed its Speedbird Aero aircraft, a recent addition to the UK 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.  


 
The highly 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.

Alex Brown, Director of Skyports Drone Services, said: “This project exemplifies our commitment to improving sustainability, safety and access with our electric drone services.  

“Water quality is a hugely important issue in the UK. 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.”

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.

“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 programme.  

“We’re proud to be making history with this project and we can’t wait to begin rolling it out officially across the North East – it’s just another step towards having the cleanest rivers and beaches in the country.”  

James Sumsion, Chief Executive Officer of Makutu, said: “The collaboration with Makutu, Northumbrian Water and Skyports Drone Services in this pioneering project marks a significant milestone in environmental stewardship and technological innovation.  

“The successful test flights represent not just incredible technical innovation but are testament to the power of partnership and forward-thinking in addressing ecological challenges. By harnessing the capabilities of UAV technology, we're streamlining data collection and analysis paving the way for more informed and rapid decision-making in water course management.  

“This project is an excellent example of how cutting-edge technology can be leveraged for the greater good. We're excited to see how this pilot study evolves and contributes to setting new standards in environmental monitoring and sustainability across the country."

 

 

 

 

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