Drones, jellyfish and nuclear reactors. Three things I never thought would be together in a sentence prior to talking to Dr Monica Rivas Casado, Senior Lecturer and Environment Programme Director here at Cranfield University. She sat down with me (over a video call of course!) to talk about a new research project she was working on in partnership with EDF, one of the largest energy companies here in the UK.

Monica spoke about how they are using drones to detect jellyfish blooms and marine ingress in the ocean. They can cause blockages in the intake water pipes around nuclear power plants meaning the reactors cannot cool down at the same rate. To fix this, they are working on a warning system that will allow them to detect these blooms and marine ingress before it reaches the power plant.

This is where drones come into the mix!

Drones can be used to detect these jellyfish blooms but as legislation stands there is a limit on the distance from the pilot to which drones can fly. The limit is currently 500m or until an individual pilot loses sight of their drone (usually around 200/300m).

If you were to fly up to 500m, spotters placed in different areas are needed. This is to maintain visibility of the drones and identify difficult problems that might arise. However, this does restrict the work that can be done because you are limited to an area of a 500m radius around the deployment point.

But we hope to be able to extend this!

The UK Drone Pathfinder Programme, sponsored by the UK Department for Transport (DfT), will allow our team to expand the use of drones beyond the current 500m limitations.

Whilst taking part in this Programme, Monica and her team are working towards gaining permission to fly beyond the current legislations and if successful they will be able to fly the drones up to 3km. This will enable the team to fly drones to see when the marine ingress is coming up to a distance of 3km which allows enough time to prepare the reactor if there will be a restriction of water.

This area of research is a fantastic achievement for the research teams at Cranfield University but also for the students on our MSc programmes. We pride ourselves on having up to date, industry-led content taught across all our programmes. This research project will enable students to get involved through their group or thesis work, or even be at the core of this world leading research. For example, within our Geographical Information Management MSc course, you will be able to learn the exact techniques which will be used on research projects just like this one.

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