Going hunting for water leaks
A British entrepreneurial start-up involving a pianist and a physicist has secured £1.5 million in investment to scale an innovative sensor and AI system used to help pinpoint leaks.
Called Free Intelligent Domain Observers, or FIDO for short, the sensors can be used as either in-pipe or on-pipe technology to help detect leaks down to one metre.
According to co-founder and CEO Victoria Edwards, the FIDO “goes hunting for leaks” and the system eventually “deep learns the voice of the leaks”.
MicroMega Holdings, wholly owned by Sebata Holdings SA, has invested £1.5 million into the company for 25 per cent to help it continue UK trials and grow internationally.
Currently, the technology is in an extended trial and phased development with UK water company, United Utilities. This includes an agreement over the next asset management period (AMP7), running to 2025.
Partnership with United Utilities
Edwards pitched the solution at the Dragon's Den-style 'Technology Showcase' at the recent World Water Tech Summit in London.
Other companies included WaterSign from Israel, as well as UK firm 8power, which pitched its self-powered wireless sensors for wireless asset monitoring.
Speaking to Aquatech Online on the sidelines of the Summit, Victoria Edwards, a former professional musician, said: "I really got behind FIDO because I understand the difference it can make in places like Sub-Saharan Africa where the issue of non-revenue water is huge, and it's critical that every drop gets to the household.”
The next phase for the company is to run trials with water utilities in South Africa, through introductions by the investor, Sebata Holdings.
Kieran Brocklebank, head of innovation at United Utilities, told Aquatech Online: “Our experience with FIDO has been very successful and fast-paced; from first meeting to the first adoption was less than 12 months through our Innovation Lab process.
“The FIDO team have been very responsive to our feedback and have lots to offer the global water sector – that’s why we’ve signed them up to a long term partnership where we can quickly adopt their current technologies and continue experimenting to develop new ones.”
How does the sensor work?
The first step is for the company to analyse a utility’s acoustic logger data, with the FIDO AI system using the ability to “detect, by noise, the difference between a leak, a generator noise or rainwater”.
After technicians are sent to the leak position, the hockey puck-shaped sensor can be attached to a converted traditional listening stick to detect and analyse both vibration and audio to “give instant detection of a leak”.
By connecting the ‘puck’, it can then pick up vibrations down to one hertz, which the human ear cannot detect.
Using vibration, it analyses in real-time from the library, taking in continuous sound, sending the result directly to the App on the engineer’s smartphone.
To then help to pinpoint the leak further, the FIDO can then be tethered to a lead (hence the canine name) and sent into the network via any hydrant.
Now called a TIDO, the neutrally buoyant sensor then flows down the pipe with the force of water and attaches itself at the leak point. A signal is then emitted, with the data collected to tell the exact location and size of the leak.
Data from every deployment will be fed into the FIDO AI library, eventually using deep learning to “improve the sensors’ ears”.
“By applying the latest machine learning techniques to the growing FIDO library, the algorithm is very clever while allowing the actual use to be as simple and as rugged as possible,” added Edwards.
“And that's the key. That's why I think we're getting a lot of traction because we're not telling people or asking people to change their current work process, we're enhancing what they already do.”