Drones, robots, virtual reality and 3D printers join forces to cut water waste

A drone takes to the air with the aim of spotting changes in soil temperature possibly produced by l

A drone takes to the air with the aim of spotting changes in soil temperature possibly produced by leaking pipes. Picture: Tim George - Credit: Tim George

All across East Anglia, new technology is being used to reduce water use as Anglian Water drives innovation to cut waste.

In Norfolk's rural communities, for example, thermal imaging drones are helping to detect leaking water pipes.

Laid end to end, the company's water pipes would stretch all the way to Sydney and back (37,000km), so any reduction in the cost and time taken to find a leak and pinpoint its location more precisely is welcomed.

A sensor and camera on the drone can identify differences in soil temperature, which could be caused by water escaping from the pipe, so the job can be carried out more quickly and accurately – so less digging, less water lost and less disruption to customers.

Anglian Water's Sarah Dobson said: 'In 2015-16, we achieved our lowest ever level of leakage, beating the target Ofwat set us by 3pc. Our 200-strong leakage team now includes new detection teams tasked with uncovering hard-to-find leaks, which have specialist training to use the drone technology.'

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In Newmarket, meanwhile, a sewer robot has been trialled to track hard-to-spot water leaks. The new kit is small enough to fit inside sewers and comes with a high definition camera.

Controlled by an engineer above ground it transmits images back to a computer, giving a better insight than ever before into the condition of the sewer.

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At the same time, in collaboration with the University of Sheffield, engineers working in partnership with Anglian Water to develop ways in which 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, could be used to produce vital parts more efficiently and at a lower cost.

An initial early test was carried out using a filter nozzle – a small but essential part of the water treatment process; now the team is testing other key spares.

Equally innovative, Anglian Water is claiming a first for a water company by using technology developed by the gaming industry to design new engineering projects, as virtual reality is used in the design process of a new water treatment works before construction, saving time and money.

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