Smart Drains – The Improving Technologies

Technological advancements offer immense scope for improvement in life. However, not all conceptual designs are viable, safe, cost-effective or sustainable. Still, the world is definitely getting smarter, thanks to programmable components, devices and systems. Sensors, for example, have found their use in a myriad of applications, ranging from detection of heat, light and motion, and now into gauging water levels across static and dynamic water bodies.

Sensory Drains

Emphasis, a recent €4.5 million research experiment funded by the European Union, focuses on the use of sensors in drains to detect the type and level of chemicals getting into waste water. The prime objective of the program is to spot home-based drug and bomb-making units, by tracking domestic effluents for traces of bomb and drug production residues in both liquid and gaseous forms, and alerting the authorities on the location of such activities.

Programmed Sensors

Sensors used for the research each house a 10-cm long, ion-sensitive electrode. When submerged in drainage water, it detects the different chemicals that are commonly associated with the production of drugs or bombs, with the help of software specifically developed to check the concentration of chemical ions. On the other hand, infrared rays are used to sweep the terrain for gas leaks, typically found in production sites.

Development and testing of Emphasis is currently carried out under a controlled, waste-rich environment and is expected to go on a trial run in the real drains sometime next year.

Tracing the History of Drainage in London

We’ve come a long way from the first meticulously designed and executed drainage system in the city of London during the early 19th century, which still stands testimony to the great minds of yester years. The extensive structure that diverts waste from the city into the Thames Estuary, still in good shape, was the brainchild of a civil engineer by the name, Joseph Bazalgette.

Since then, new drainage infrastructures on the Isle of Dogs and Royal Dogs, put in place during the 1990s, have helped carry excess rain water to the sea with ease. The latest effort to increase the capacity of the drainage system to meet the demand of an increasing population – The Thames Tideway Scheme – is expected to be complete by 2020.

Progressive Improvement

The drainage infrastructure in the UK relies on a variety of materials, ranging from earth, stone, wood and clay to lightweight PVC and durable cement and concrete in recent times. While clay structures from olden days are still functional, they tend to weaken due to tree root ingress, water erosion and impact forces. Vitrified clay pipes and cast iron pipes now lined with cement or PVC to delay corrosion are better geared to bear the brunt beneath the ground. Adopting suitable techniques to bed these drain pipes, however, is expected to increase the longevity of the structure and minimise possibility of impact damages.

Given the fortified array of materials and new techniques available for constructing drainage networks, and technological advancements to sense water/airborne chemicals, it is now very much possible to apply this learning to:

  • Avoid health hazards
  • Track anti-social activities
  • Protect the environment

With the LOTUS Project (Localisation of Threat Substances in Urban Society) aimed at sensing improvised explosive devices (IEDS), and Emphasis sniffing drugs and bombs in drainages, London city may well emerge as a safe and healthy place in the future – courtesy smart devices and drains!



Express Drainage Solutions are the leading providers of drain cleaning and maintenance services in London and the South East.

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