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Singapore’s Water Agency to Deploy Drones for Reservoir Monitoring

Image credits: www.pub.gov.sg

Singapore’s National Water Agency PUB will deploy Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drones to conduct monitoring at six reservoirs across the country, starting from the end of this month.

Equipped with sensory systems and a camera for near real-time video analytics, the drones will initially be deployed at MacRitchie and Marina, before being rolled out progressively at Serangoon, Kranji, Lower Seletar and Lower Peirce later this year. They are specially programmed to observe water quality and will also be used to monitor water activities.

​PUB is a statutory board under the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE). It is the national water agency, which manages Singapore’s water supply, water catchment, and used water in an integrated way. PUB also took on the responsibility of protecting Singapore’s coastline from sea-level rise as the national coastal protection agency.

PUB has ensured a diversified and sustainable supply of water for Singapore with the Four National Taps (local catchment water, imported water, NEWater, desalinated water). PUB leads and coordinates whole-of-government efforts to protect Singapore from the threat of rising seas and the holistic management of inland and coastal flood risks.

Currently, PUB officers conduct daily patrols to look out for excessive growth of aquatic plants and algal blooms, which could affect the water quality in the reservoirs. During these patrols, data is also collected on water activities – such as fishing and paddling activities – in and along the reservoirs’ edge, to ensure they are conducted safely.

Every year, a total of 7,200 man-hours are spent on these tasks. By tapping on unmanned drones to carry out monitoring operations, PUB expects to save about 5,000 man-hours which can be redirected to other works. The drones are capable of surveying large areas of the reservoir, collecting comprehensive data, and triggering alerts when it detects activities such as illegal fishing.

The agency’s director of PUB’s Catchment and Waterways Department said that with 17 reservoirs – which are an important water supply source for Singapore, under their care, it can be a challenge manpower-wise to effectively monitor what goes on at each reservoir and ensure the reservoirs are in optimal condition. The usage use of drones is in line with PUB’s commitment to leverage technology as part of the SMART PUB roadmap to improve operations and meet future needs.

With drones, the agency can channel manpower to more critical works such as the inspection and maintenance of reservoir gates, as well as pump and valve operations. The drones also act as an early warning system that enhances our response time to the myriad of issues that officers grapple with daily.

There will be one drone deployed at each reservoir. At MacRitchie and Marina, the drone will be housed in an automated pod, capable of taking off and landing autonomously. It will embark on pre-programmed flight paths within the reservoir compound and will be monitored remotely by an operator. The drone is programmed to carry out the following tasks:

  • Monitoring water quality: The drone’s water quality remote sensing system analyses the water for turbidity and algae concentration – these measurements provide a good correlation to actual water quality. If necessary, PUB officers will be deployed on-site to collect water samples for further laboratory analysis.​
  • Monitoring aquatic plant growth: Using video data collected during earlier trials, a video analytics algorithm will identify aquatic plant overgrowth in the reservoir via the drone camera’s live video feed. The algorithm is also capable of differentiating between plants that are breaking the water surface and plants that are submerged.
  • Monitoring water activities such as paddling activities (e.g., kayaking) and fishing: Drone camera’s live video feed will capture these activities – a video analytics algorithm will flag potential concerns such as anglers fishing in non-designated areas or overcrowding of vessels in a particular area.

PUB’s officers will be able to monitor the statistical data and live video feed from the drone via an online dashboard. Near real-time alerts on illegal water activities will also be sent to a dedicated Telegram channel that officers can access via their mobile phones. They will then be able to prioritise urgent cases that pose a potential danger to the public and respond promptly.

PUB calls on everyone to play a part in conserving water, keeping Singapore’s waterways clean, and caring for the country’s precious water resources.

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