Founded by electrical engineer student Dale Colley, Altitude Thinking Ltd is on a mission to tackle marine pollution by using innovative technology in rivers and canals, capable of monitoring water quality and collection of marine waste.



Scotland’s rivers, canals and waterways represent an irreplaceable, high-value resource to the Scottish economy and make a major contribution to the tourism industry and biodiversity.

An electrical engineering graduate from City of Glasgow College, Colley was keen to tap into academic expertise to seek help in applying technology to tackle water pollution. He was looking for an innovative solution to develop, construct and test a prototype of a programmable drone that will be able to be deployed and subsequently safely navigate Scottish waterways and produce accurate, real-time reports on water pollution levels and in the future to remove litter and other pollutants from waterways using suction pumps.

Although Colley had no previous experience of drones or the marine sector, as an engineer he knew he could invent a device that could monitor water quality and tackle marine pollution.


The City of Glasgow College is one of Scotland’s largest Further and Higher Education colleges and the UK’s number one college for WorldSkills UK, which is a partnership between business, education and governments to accelerate the development of young people’s skills from national to world-class standards.

The College is renowned for its work in the areas of Nautical Studies, Engineering and Maritime studies and has a mix of skills, workshop facilities and expertise required for this project such as electronics, electrical systems, marine engineering, navigation and propulsion - under one roof at the college's Riverside Campus.

City of Glasgow College's STEM and Innovation Lead, Douglas Morrison had the necessary academic expertise and was keen to work in partnership with Altitude Thinking Ltd to develop, construct and test a prototype of a programmable drone. The suggested prototype will be a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) equipped with motors making it capable of being deployed to a Scottish waterway alongside a range of sensors and data gathering and transmission facilities, allowing it to report back on pollutants detected.

Most people think of drones as craft that fly in the air but his is designed to travel on the surface of rivers and canals to monitor water quality. Altitude Thinking hopes to develop it even further to have the capability to collect litter, cleaning up Scotland’s waterways and freeing them of blockages – rather like the little robot vacuums that can be programmed to clean floors.

This collaboration project was successfully awarded a £5000 Scottish Funding Council (SFC) Innovation Voucher, administered by Interface to allow partners to look at engineering development for subsequent drones with enhanced capabilities to remove litter and other pollutants from waterways using suction pumps.

This innovative project combines portability with pollution detection, as well as data gathering and transmission, allowing for larger models to be built up over a longer period.

Business benefits

  • Increased knowledge of engineering principles applied to prototype design
  • Insights into using drones to benefit environmental sustainability
  • Plans for further developments with litter extraction capability
  • Potential new job opportunities

An award of an Innovation Voucher has taken Coley from the design stage to making a physical prototype which, with the help from Scottish Canals, is currently going through field trials monitoring water quality in canals.

Dale Colley profile picture

I started to build a drone because you can’t buy one that can monitor water quality. Right now, it concentrates on surface water monitoring, but it would be beneficial if it could regulate the whole body of water as not all pollution rises to the top. Ultimately, I want to build a drone that can both monitor water quality and also extract rubbish from the waterways. It could have a really positive environmental impact. 

Dale Colley, CEO, Altitude Thinking Ltd

Academic benefits

  • Staff development/ Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunity for staff working on an innovative project
  • Involvement in testing and deployment of mark 1 prototype: field work opportunity
  • Increased knowledge of drone technology for use in Scottish waterways
  • Increased awareness of environmental sustainability that can be communicated through updates in lecturing and teaching materials
Douglas Morrison profile picture

City of Glasgow College is a keen supporter of SMEs within the local economy. Driving innovation adds to the economic value of the local economy and the social value that products like this bring.

The Innovation Voucher Scheme has opened up new opportunities to support the College’s SME (small to medium-sized enterprises) partners in realising productivity gains and improved performance through innovation.

The scheme rightly recognises the vital role that colleges play in supporting local businesses to develop their workforce and introduce new products and services. Our academic teams are also finding these collaborations incredibly valuable, with learning from project activity being integrated into curriculum delivery for our students.

Douglas Morrison, Associate Director of Innovation and STEM, City of Glasgow College