The job of sewer workers in Barcelona could be about to become much easier with the aid of a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles tasked with inspecting the city's vast network of underground tunnels.
Drones could take over the tricky inspection work within two years, if a scheme in Barcelona gets the go-ahead
The plan is to launch a fleet of flying "sewer drones" which would
inspect the state of the city’s sewers, as well as measuring air and
water quality and keeping track of the state of the walls and blockages.
The drones would, at least in part, replace sewer workers, who do an
unpleasant and, often, dangerous job patrolling the city’s dirty
As well as limiting the risks to people working in the sewers, the
drones would provide more precise inspections and even reduce the cost
of cleaning, according to the project’s founders.
"This is the first time we have researched the profitability of using
drones in this kind of activity," Daniel Serrano, of Eurecat, one of the
companies taking part in the project, told Spain's El País newspaper.
Other groups making up the team include German robotics company Ibak
and drone operator Simtech Design, as well as the FCC, which currently
looks after Barcelona’s 1,500km long network of sewers.
Drones would be controlled from a van on the surface and people would
only have to descend into the sewers to change the flying machines'
The first trials of the project took place on December 1st, which will
be followed by more rigorous testing in the coming months.
But there could be a hitch. The drones that are currently available are
too big to patrol the majority of the narrow tunnels of Barcelona’s
sewers: experts estimate that at the moment they could only fit through
39 percent of the network of tunnels.
The challenge now for the companies behind the project is to make
smaller, lighter drones, that could fit through the narrow gaps in the
sewer system and could work for longer periods without needing a change
Sewer workers currently use cables and tiny robots to access the
hard-to-reach spaces in the underground tunnels. Those robots can access
around 55 percent of Barcelona's sewerage network.