Connected Water – How sensors and IoT protect a precious resource

Today, we are featuring a guest post by Charles Dasher, Design Lead, Atlanta Idea Factory, Ericsson, published on the Networked Society blog. As a kid growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, I always took our Chattahoochee River for granted. I camped next to it, swam in it on hot Atlanta summer days, fished from its banks, and marveled at the wildlife that make it their home. I was unaware of how fragile it was then and is now. As a kid, the idea that a company would knowingly dump pollutants into my river never entered my mind. I had no idea that municipal sewer systems could and would overflow into the river introducing highly toxic bacteria. Like many kids, I was not aware of the relationship between the river and myself. Until two summers ago.

Connected Water – How sensors and IoT protect a precious resource

In the summer of 2014, I had a conversation with the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (Jason Ulseth). He mentioned what an enormous task it was to manually collect water samples in order to measure the quality of the water in our Chattahoochee River. He mentioned that his organization takes weekly measurements at 70 locations throughout the watershed and that he would like to have more data. I mentioned that I worked for Ericsson and explained what we do and suggested that I take a look into what it would take to “connect” his sensors to the Internet. This was the start of what we call Connected Water. After a couple of weeks, I brought the idea to (my boss at the time) Ken Durand. He liked the idea as well. There was however a major problem with connecting the Riverkeeper’s sensors to the Internet: the cost of the sensors.

Most, if not all, of the sensors used to measure and monitor water today come from the industrial and scientific community. While they are highly accurate, they are also very, very expensive. We realized that if we were really going to make a difference in monitoring water quality, we needed to lower the cost of the sensors. We began to put together the concepts and initial prototypes of “Riverkeeper”.

We had lots of interest from within the company (even showing the concept at CES), but no one was willing to own and fund the idea. Narayanan Rajan saw the potential impact this idea could have as both a catalyst for sustainability and as an area of ICT and the IoT where a business could be grown. Our printed circuit boards for measuring the water quality are our own in-house design as is the sensor housing. Our first prototypes were minimal by design. We spoke with many customers and potential stakeholders to gain an understanding of what needed to be accomplished and how we could grow the business.

We have come a long way since the first hand cut PVC and hot glue prototype. Our iterations have moved the design from PVC pipe from the hardware store to 3D printing to manufactured injection molding. We have had our prototypes in and out of the river, and now, this week, we are shipping the first 10 to Ottawa for a field trial. We will also deploy five new sensors into the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta next week. And anyone attending CTIA Super Mobility 2016 in Las Vegas (September 7-9) is welcome to come see our Connected Water demo.

As an adult, living in Atlanta, I no longer take the river for granted. I see it not only as a place to play, but as the source drinking water for 4 million residents. I see it as a vital resource that must be protected. I see the day-to-day work that organizations such as the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper perform to protect it so that it can be enjoyed by everyone living in Atlanta.

It is our hope that Connected Water can drastically lower the cost of monitoring source water, lakes and streams throughout the world.

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