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SWW tests drones with thermal sensors to detect water leakage

South West Water (SWW), working with the University of Exeter, is test the use of drone technology and thermal imaging for leak detection. Laboratory tests of the thermal cameras have proved positive and field-scale trials are planned for 2017.

The technology works by attaching a thermal sensor to a drone which is then flown along pipeline routes particularly in rural locations. The thermal sensor can detect differences in soil temperature which can be caused by an escape of water.  

SWW said that with 18,000kms of pipe, much of it in rural and remote areas, and more than a million service connections to customers the technology could help reduce the cost of leak detection and repair by pinpointing more exactly the location of a leak, particularly in rural locations where traditional methods are less effective. 

The company is a leading company for tackling leakage, with performance twice as good as the UK water industry average for water lost per kilometre of main. Leakage has reduced by 40% since the early 1990s and nowadays most visible leaks are repaired with 72 hours.  

Bob Taylor, director of drinking water services, said: "Water is part of our region’s natural capital. It is a precious resource and, especially once it’s been treated, we all need to use it wisely and not waste it. Finding a cost-effective method of finding large escapes of treated water has the potential to help save water and make our service more efficient, which is why we're continuing this trial with the university to test the technology on a landscape scale." 

The pilot is one of several projects that will be led by the new South West Partnership for Environment & Economic Prosperity (SWEEP), funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.  

The new institute will allow experts and businesses to work together to solve some of the challenges facing our natural environment and use the latest research and technologies to boost our economy, create and defend jobs and enhance wellbeing in the region. This will drive sustainable economic growth, help create new products and services, safeguard jobs and create new employment, improve policies, and enhance the health and wellbeing of people living in the South-west.  

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