AUTONOMOUS DRONES TO INSPECT LARGE COLLECTORS - AUTONOMOUS DRONES TO INSPECT LARGE COLLECTORS
AUTONOMOUS DRONES TO INSPECT LARGE COLLECTORS
Although the use of drones in underground spaces might at first seem very difficult, thorough research
has shown that they can have major competitive advantages over more traditional solutions. However,
it is true that there are major challenges due to the nature of the operating environment. But Canal de
Isabel II is committed to investing in research and development to find a solution suitable for its
inspection needs and, at the same time, easy to implement. We are looking for this development using
the pre-commercial public procurement (PPP) procedure.
Canal de Isabel II presently manages 15,600 km of collectors. Due to the characteristics of this
network, 84% is inspected with small remotely operated vehicles. However, in order to inspect the
remaining 16%, which includes large, human-accessible collectors, field brigades are needed –a
minimum of three people– to walk the pipes, there is no other option. During the inspection,
personnel may be exposed to potentially toxic environments, and some sections are simply
inaccessible. On the other hand, the data collected by the brigades is subject to human error as data
collection criteria may vary between inspectors.
HOW WE ENVISION THE FUTURE
The environment in sewage collectors is aggressive for electronic equipment and it often has to go
deep down where the satellite positioning signal is out of range. Also, the geometry of large pipes may
not be fully mapped and there may be junctions, height variations and unexplored sections. In this
context, a drone must be able to overcome all these limitations by itself unaided and guide itself,
without any kind of remote guidance during the flight.
The data collected along the route will be analysed to identify all cracks, intakes and obstructions. This
homogeneous analysis will make it possible to classify the necessary maintenance work, but above all,
it will make it possible to prioritise it within the context of the overall sanitation system. The data will
also be used to update the network characterisation. The device must be equipped with a redundant
security system to allow easy recovery in the event of a breakdown.
The objective is that by the end of 2020 the inspection of the entire collector network be carried out by
remotely operated robots, in the case of non-human-accessible sections, and by unmanned aerial
vehicles or drones, in the case of accessible sections. And although our drone fleet will inspect mainly
large collectors, it will sometimes also inspect other infrastructure.
The intellectual property shall remain the property of Canal de Isabel II, although any company shall
be able to benefit from using a similar drone. After a thorough market survey and consultation with
developers, we found that there is no existing solution with all the functionality we require. All the
terms and conditions and functional requirements for development of this drone are available at the
Madrid Regional Government Public Procurement Portal.
Signed by: Antonio Lastra, network innovation coordinator.