3D Robotics

Using drones to monitor water use? Why?

Fast Company has an article about an Israeli water-use monitoring company, and for some reason they tie it into drones. I've read the piece twice and visited the company's website, but can for the life of me figure out why you'd use drones for this. Surely you'd use direct wireless links for this? If they're too far apart for wifi meshing, just use GPRS. The data size is tiny; it?s a perfect app for texting on cellphone networks.

Can anyone explain this?

Excerpt from the article follows:

"The word drone may conjure thoughts of sci-fi flicks, or images of attacks carried out remotely on hostile lands, or even your high-school biology teacher's voice. You certainly don't expect a drone to help save water, but that's what Arad Metering Technologies intends to do. The Israeli company's battery-operated drone is one of the novel tools it's deploying to help consumers and companies conserve H2O -- and to make money.

That such an idea would come out of Israel is no coincidence. The country is poor in water and rich in tech innovation, much of it born of constant military conflict. Israel pioneered the use of unmanned aerial vehicles after it lost many fighter jets in the 1973 war. But Arad's drones don't fight: They read data from the company's patented water-meter system to detect leakage or, in irrigation systems, drought.

The World Bank estimates that water wastage costs utilities $14 billion a year worldwide; in developing countries, 200 million more people could be served by the water lost to leaks and theft. Arad CEO Dan Winter says this is largely a consequence of how the business works in places where water is cheap or untaxed: "You train people to abuse water because they pay very little."

This broken system created an opportunity for Arad, which has deep green roots. Its parent company, the Arad Group, began making water meters in 1941, after prescient members of Kibbutz Dalia saw how the devices could help save water. Winter says his tech-centric unit seeks "to bring an added value" to both the core business and customers. Its technology can find irregularities -- a pipe failure, an unusually low flow rate, or a too-constant one that could indicate a leak -- in a few hours, rather than every 60 days as with a typical meter reading.

Arad's system is built around what looks like a standard meter. The difference is on the inside, where you'll find 3G wireless technology, a microcontroller, and 20-year batteries. Every 11 to 30 seconds, the system transmits data, which can be picked up by a drone (best for quickly covering big distances in remote areas) or by a drive-by or fixed-base reader. The data are then analyzed by computer to gauge how much water has been consumed, how much was lost, and even where tampering may have taken place. As a result, companies can save both water and man hours.?

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  • Admin
    I can't imagine a decent reason for using a Drone for such application( water metering !! ?) except Drones is a cottage industry( it seems) in Israel , so if it is being used to sheep herd there, I won't be surprised.
  • This kind of solution seems to make little sense here in North America but in the developing world or war torn countries it may not be a bad fit.

    Yes, it's easy to envision cell phone or even satellite comms as the appropriate tech - mind you, I come from a place where people regularly steal copper telephone lines to make bracelets to sell to tourists. In Isreal, the cost and risk associated with getting a guy out in the field to do meter reading, especially in remote areas, could be prohibitive. Any kind of infrastucture left unattended is considered fair game by some.

    I'm not familiar with the laws regarding airspace in that region but the risk of collateral damage is reduced in these outlying areas.

    Other utilities may be managed differently but water is very political. Governments tend to be very sensitive to the rates being charged and prefer a "flat" rate system versus charging the real cost. This kind of metering may be another step in managing the "illusion" rate vs the real one. The $ needs to come from somewhere - usually from overcharging the ones who can pay (businesses, whomever) - the trick is, how much do you overcharge them? Get the real answers using drones..
  • 3D Robotics
    BTW, apols for the typos (? instead of ') in my post. I was using Ning's new feature that will let you use desktop blog authoring tools, like Windows Live Writer, and it clearly still has issues.
  • I had to reread the exerpt again for this to make sense. Normally 802.15.4 based mesh networks work well in the city where they can hop data down the line. This is for more isolated areas, but allow them to use the same technology. The key here is large area, low density and 10-20 year lifespans from integrated batteries. You can't get that with a GSM modem. Instead of paying for guy in truck to drive up to the area (which could also be behind security fences, stopping this), you use a drone. No traffic, no one to get shot at, and it can probably cover the distances better. I could see this being useful anywhere there is distributed population but metered water. This isn't a combination you'd see in the US, but rural power metering would be a good stateside use, for instance, if there wasn't powerline data available.
  • May be this is meant for remote areas with no or unreliable GPRS? There you could use a drone to collect the data as indicated in the text.
    Or, even more likely it is just a matter of battery life. 20 years is quite a lot considering how often I need to recharge my mobile phone.
  • Can anyone explain this (i.e. why not just use wireless links)?

    I think what the article fails to convey well to readers, Chris, is the geo-political background to Israel – a background which has resulted in the development & usage of drones for monitoring in areas and circumstances where it’s just not practical to locate, leave and maintain ground-based monitoring solutions.

    The one piece of monitoring hardware its hard to get your hands on, or otherwise intefere with is an airborne monitoring device!
  • I dunno, the guy in China said you don't need a patent to clone an idea!?! Besides, we'll never run out of water here because of all the golf courses. And we don't have to whip out a credit card for a weather briefing like you guys!
  • Moderator
    A US Company patented the theory about six months ago, I also thought the man in a van was a more robust less weather dependant solution. Of course regulation everywhere will stop you flying over towns to read meters and if you want to fly that in the UK the pilot will need appropriate training and they will have had to have made a good enough safety case for the CAA

    Oh hang on a minute, its the same system https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ4zf3sHxhY and the airframe is from Bluebird, they flew it at Farnborough after me ;-) It was launched from a speargun sort of thing. So you guys in the USA need to speak to Master Meter. How can they apply for a patent on an Israeli invention?? You types in the new world confuse me more and more.
  • This would be a good technology for detecting water rationing cheaters (are even house #'s on one side of the street only watering on even # days?); they could get a drone ticket like photo radar!
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