Surf’s up in Edinburgh: Aussie ‘Platypus’ inspects city’s aqueduct
Utilities Europe Digital Solutions

Surf’s up in Edinburgh: Aussie ‘Platypus’ inspects city’s aqueduct

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

High-resolution imagery from surfboard inspects water flow

Marrying automated inspection technology to a surfboard might sound a little like an undergraduate engineering project.

Yet such a solution is helping to analyse utility Scottish Water’s Talla Aqueduct in Edinburgh, which is vital to the supply of the city’s drinking water.

Called the Platypus, the device is the work of Australian-based robotics firm Abyss Solutions, that combines remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with data analytics.

Specially created for Scottish Water and working with water quality specialists Panton McLeod, the Platypus has been designed to detect and analyse cracks and other faults in this aqueduct and potentially other assets owned by Scottish Water.

The Talla Aqueduct carries water from two reservoirs to Edinburgh, operating since 1905. For most of its 45km length, it runs as a tunnel, split by several bridges and siphons. It is capable of taking up to 127 megalitres of water in a day.

Six metres below ground in places, in the past sections would have to be fully drained for inspection, a logistical challenge while supplying Edinburgh’s water. Inspections were difficult and potentially dangerous, needing a team of up to 200 people and hundreds of hours.

Today, with the Platypus, Scottish Water can inspect with the aqueduct remaining fully operational.

How it all works

High-resolution imagery can now be gathered from above and below the water inside the aqueduct. The surfboard acts as the platform (autonomous surface vehicle, or ASV) to support this specialist recording equipment.

High definition cameras and lighting were fitted along with sensors to steer the Platypus along a pre-programmed alignment while moving it around obstacles.

The Platypus uses sonar, gathering data below water level and a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges above water level. The data generates three-dimensional models of the internal surface, which are recorded on the device.

The footage is then passed through software which cleans up the images and is then able to identify and categorise defects within the asset. Once detected, engineers can carry out more detailed inspections and necessary repairs in these areas.

The Platypus was first trialled along a 1.5km long section of the Talla Aqueduct before getting the green light to inspect the whole water route.

Technology used in driverless cars

The team at Abyss Solutions came to the attention of Scottish Water after successful reservoir and dam inspection projects in Australia, Wales (at Lisvane Reservoir and Craig Goch Dam) and at Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US, in Southern Nevada.

David Brady, head of global water at Abyss Solutions, said: “On each project, we design and build survey vessels to suit the specific conditions. For Talla, precise positioning of any defects identified was a must as well as the accurate mapping of the tunnel's route between access points. For this reason, the same technology used for the navigation of driverless cars was incorporated into the suite of sensors – and this time a surfboard."

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