INTERVIEW: Thames Water on Drones, Health & Safety, and Their £4bn Tunnel

This blog is the first in an occasional series of interviews featuring people who are using drones in a wide range of industries to save time and money and improve safety and productivity.

Thames Water logo

John Lorimer is a security specialist with Thames Water. Jon’s personal drone gave him the idea to use UAVs in his industry.

Jon Lorimer & DJI Inspire 1

Thames Water’s Jon Lorimer on a mission with their DJI Inspire 1.

What was the Eureka moment for you when you suddenly decided that drones could be used by Thames Water?

We hired a helicopter to take aerial shots of our estate and assets at a significant cost during the floods in early 2014. I thought that this could be done using a drone and at a fraction of the price.

How did you get to test the idea? What was it used for?

I had a Blade 350QX with a Gopro at home and offered to take the same shots but for free. Capturing geographical areas that had been flooded and shots of some of our pumping stations to identify the extent of the damage caused by the flooding.

What was the reaction of your bosses? How much convincing did they need?

They were very impressed with the results and when they found out how much a drone was, it was sanctioned almost immediately to go out and buy one for the company.

When you started trials what equipment did you use and what was the scale of the operation?

Initially, we purchased a DJI F450 with a GoPro and the capability to feed back live images on a monitor. The first time it was used was to take video imagery for a promotional project Thames Water wanted.

Reservoir in Walthamstow

A Thames Water reservoir in Walthamstow, London. Taken with DJI Inspire 1.

How did the range of jobs you used the drone for expand as you went on?

I have done numerous aerial inspections of water storages, reservoirs and catchments, water and wastewater treatment facilities and other infrastructure, which have provided excellent results, identifying any potential issues regarding the processes involved. In addition, I have also carried out numerous roof inspections.

Was there any resistance from any departments during the trials? If there was, why?

Quite the opposite, by entirely removing the operator from hazardous work situations, the use of UAVs has reduced health and safety risks and in particular, risks associated with working at heights and above water. The operations side of the company as well as the health and safety department are keen to utilise this technology.

Sewage works, Thames Valley

A small sewage treatment works in the Thames Valley

How did your aircraft and their payloads change as the trials continued?

We have moved up to a DJI Inspire 1 and the difference is incredible. The flight characteristics are far superior to that of the F450. We are now anxiously awaiting the release of the thermal imaging camera in the pipeline for the Inspire. (The XT camera for the Inspire 1 is due to be released in the first quarter of 2016 and can be pre-ordered now.)

DJI Zenmuse XT thermal imaging camera

The DJI Zenmuse XT thermal imaging camera

Is the future of drones assured in Thames Water’s plans?

I would like to hope so. The applications for technology such as this is limitless and we are getting regular requests asking for us to fly down shafts and tunnels for inspection purposes. The information gained from aerial surveys can prove useful for planning upgrades and troubleshooting treatment issues on both clean and waste sites.

How do you see their use developing in the future?

We are still going through the ‘proof of concept’ stage in the organisation but I know there is a lot of interest with other water companies as to their uses and applications.

What sort of aircraft and payloads will you be deploying in the future?

I would like to progress with a more sophisticated platform with a thermal Imaging camera, which has so much more potential for detecting and identifying leaks.

We are looking for ways to use the drone to carry out inspections of the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a £4bn project which will help to significantly reduce the discharge of effluent into the River Thames, due to be completed in 2023.

Largest sewage treatment works in Europe

The largest sewage treatment works in Europe which will handle waste waster from the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Picture taken by Thames Water’s DJI Inspire 1 drone.

If you have a story to tell about how drones have changed the way you work then please get in touch with us here at Heliguy. Call us too if you’d like advice about how drones can be used to save time and money in your industry. 862 298 5964 or e-mail [email protected] .

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