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Safeswim turns up the technology with drones

Reporting for work for the first time today, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone started collecting water samples at Auckland swim event beaches.

Auckland Council’s Safeswim programme is again leading innovation, this time utilising a drone to sample swimming sites for water quality. The council collaborated with Pattle Delamore Partners (PDP), an engineering and environmental consulting service who developed the methodology to carry out the sampling process.

The move away from the traditional sampling method of using a boat to drones will significantly benefit the programme by improving logistics and efficiency while reducing risks and hazards, and costs.

According to PDP’s environmental science service leader, Ed Clayton, “PDP estimates the use of a drone will reduce operating costs associated with sampling by up to 30 per cent when compared with traditional methods.

"It has the additional benefit of keeping staff safe as they do not have to work from a vessel when water conditions can be stormy and hazardous”.

Using the drone will improve the accuracy of Safeswim’s water quality predictions and allow Aucklanders to make the most of their beaches.

“Heading to the beach to enjoy the summer is part of our birthright as Aucklanders,” says Mayor Phil Goff.

“As a council, we’re committed to improving the water quality at our beaches and enhancing the Safeswim system to achieve better accuracy and reliability, is a priority. It gives Aucklanders the information they need to swim safely and paves the way for better, more cost-effective water quality testing going forward.”

“It’s also an example of Auckland’s innovation and last month I announced Auckland Council’s partnership with another tech company to offer Safeswim to regional authorities worldwide. Not only will it help other cities to protect their environment, but it will also provide the council with the opportunity to realise a multi-million-dollar revenue stream,” Phil Goff said.

Safeswim monitors for water quality in knee-deep water, in keeping with New Zealand guidelines. Real-time predictions on the Safeswim website represent the expected public health risk at this same knee-depth, within the surf zone of the beach where children and families swim and play.

Previous studies have indicated that while water at the shoreline provides the poorest water quality, improving progressively as the water gets deeper, the question is often where the clean zone begins.

The drone will take cross-samples at various distances more frequently, enabling Safeswim to get a more accurate picture of the quality of water beyond the surf zone and support tourist operators and swim event organisers in making decisions on whether to hold their events if the shallows are indicating 'high risk'.

“Auckland’s swim events are very popular across Auckland,” says Safeswim Programme Manager Nick Vigar.

“We’ve worked with organisers of the programmes to understand how we could better support them.

"The introduction of drone sampling is a win, win for Aucklanders, Safeswim, swim event operators and participants.

“Technology should allow us to be able to build a reliable predictive model of the offshore water quality – potentially enabling swim events to continue without interruption even after rainfall,” he says.

Auckland Council’s Head of Innovation, Matt Montgomery says technology-based solutions, are an important part of the council’s commitment to protecting the environment and are an essential part of future-proofing our city.

“The promise of new technology is exciting. Utilising drones to further improve Safeswim makes our sustainability work easier and more efficient by automating physical and time-consuming activity.

"As our city's population grows and our urban spaces intensify, we will rely on smart city technologies like drones to help us solve Auckland’s unique urban issues to improve the quality of life for Aucklanders.”


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