PUB deploys drones to enhance reservoir monitoring

Advanced drone system will aid in PUB operations, including management of aquatic plant growth and monitoring of reservoir activities

Singapore’s national water agency PUB will be deploying Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drones to conduct monitoring at six reservoirs across the republic, starting from the end of this month. Equipped with remote sensing 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 four other reservoirs later this year. They are specially programmed to observe water quality, and will also be used to monitor water activities.

Presently, 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 collected on water activities – such as fishing and padding 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, PUB reported. By tapping on unmanned drones to carry out monitoring operations, PUB projects 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 data and also triggering alerts when it detects activities such as illegal fishing.

Yeo Keng Soon, director of PUB’s catchment and waterway department, said: “With 17 reservoirs – which are an important water supply source for Singapore – under our 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. Our use of drones is in line with PUB’s commitment to leverage technology as part of the SMART PUB roadmap to improve our operations and meet future needs.

“With the drones, we can channel manpower to more critical works such as 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 our officers grapple with on a daily basis.”

The contract was awarded to ST Engineering to utilise the group’s drone operation system, DroNet, which has been customised to meet PUB’s requirements.

One drone will be deployed at each reservoir. For instance, at the 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 flights paths within the reservoir compound, and will be monitored remotely by an operator.

PUB officers will also 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 potential danger to public and respond in a timely manner.