We investigated the feasibility of using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to improve mapping of the extent of flooding events. This technology could also be used to validate insurance claims for property and infrastructure damage.

Key Facts

    • The Drone Watch project brought together commercial flood modelling and risk specialists Ambiental Ltd and UAV imagery specialists Caintech Ltd, working with ourselves and the University of Leicester, Loughborough University and Imperial College London.

    • This is the first time the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had given permission to carry out survey works over any congested space in the UK with a range of 1000m from the pilot and up to a potential altitude of 400ft AGL (height above ground level).

  • Funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and collaborative work with the Milton Keynes-based Transport Systems Catapult.

Impact of our research

The beginning of this project coincided with the UK winter storms of 2015 which severely impacted Cumbria. The researchers were able to prove the feasibility of using UAVs in emergency flood situations with the production of timely, on demand and high resolution photography comparable to satellite or aircraft imagery.

Near real-time accurate mapping of flood extent, property and infrastructure damage in urban areas is required for the estimation of insurance loss and insurance claim validation. With the 2007 UK floods costing £3billion, and an average house claim of £40,000, flood mitigation and damage assessment are a priority for the government and insurance industry.

Why the research was commissioned

Current methodologies rely on the use of satellite data (SAR or optical) or aerial imagery collected from aircraft. There are several limitations to these approaches. Optical satellite data may be impacted by low cloud cover. SAR satellite data can penetrate through clouds but in urban areas the viewing angle causes difficulties in separating water from other urban features. Aircraft can be expensive to deploy.

We sought to solve this issue by investigating how UAVs can help to meet the needs of the insurance market. We are also looking at integrating UAV data with satellite imagery to maximise data usage.

Why Cranfield?

We were selected to undertake this research due to our expertise in environmental monitoring and in the use of emerging technologies. In other areas such as soil mapping, our datasets are already widely used in the insurance industry.

Aerial flythrough of flooding by drone
Low resolution flythrough of areas affected by Cockermouth flooding December 2015.