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East Anglia has become the focal point of redoubled efforts to cut water waste using a range of advanced technologies, including virtual reality. The initiative has been launched by Anglian Water that holds the franchise for the area. With a network of water pipes stretching some 37 million meters (almost equal to the circumference of the earth) Anglian knows that any leak is costly because it takes time to locate and large volumes of water can be lost in the meantime.
So the company has brought in a range of state-of-the-art technologies to tackle the problem. Included among them is VR, along with drones and robots. Thus in the rural area of Norfolk, drones are being used to identify water leaks from Anglian’s subterranean pipes.
The drones have cameras and sensors. But the cameras do not need to see any actual water to identify a problem. Instead the sensor can identify variations in the soil temperature that can indicate leaking water from a ruptured underground pipe. This makes it possible to pinpoint the burst pipe more quickly, without having to engage in exploratory digging over a wide area. This makes the process less costly – as well as less of a burden on residents of the affected area where the leak is taking place.
Anglian Water’s Sarah Dobson said: “In 2015-16, we achieved our lowest ever level of leakage, beating the target Ofwat set us by three percent. 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.”
In Newmarket, a “sewer robot” reminiscent of the pipe-welding robot in the James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever, is being used to spot cracked pipes and sewage leaks. However, unlike the welding robot in the Bond movie, the sewer robot does not function with complete autonomy. Under the control of an engineer above the ground, and armed with a high definition camera, the robot transmits images back to a computer that can analyse them.
Anglian Water is also working with engineers at the University of Sheffield to develop ways of using 3D printing to produce low-cost customized parts, such as filter nozzles.
But most significantly, Anglian Water is using VR technology to design entire engineering projects in 3D for water treatment plants, to test run them in simulation mode and identifying design flaws before commencing construction. For the water industry, this is an historic first.