Utilities Digital Solutions Europe
Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Autonomous vehicles to smart valves: Meet UU’s latest Innovation Lab cohort

Six companies have been selected to join United Utilities Innovation Lab. From autonomous vehicles to valve monitoring apps, Aquatech Online looks at this year's finalists.

Innovation accelerator

United Utilities (UU) has announced the six finalists of its fourth Innovation Lab, an accelerator programme designed to give companies the opportunity to test their new technologies in live environments and lay the foundations for long-term commercial partnerships.

This year's programme saw 30 companies from across the globe submit their innovations to one of four categories:

  • Digital network business
  • Energy efficiency
  • Net-zero and natural solutions
  • Wildcard.

Kieran Brocklebank, head of innovation at United Utilities, said this year suppliers new to the water sector are participating.

Speaking to Aquatech Online, he said: “This is now our 4th Innovation Lab – where we set challenges and invite solutions - and we are getting good at this. We have learned what works and what doesn’t, which is yielding better results. We’re pushing the boundaries and getting more adventurous, so I’m really excited to see where it takes us this year.”

This year’s Innovation Lab has seen a change in format. A two-tier approach will give more suppliers an opportunity to develop their ideas. The first six suppliers will undergo UU’s trademark agile sprint, and a further six suppliers will do a more traditional, longer trial with the utility.

Brocklebank added: “We’re always mindful that innovation is all about cooperation and building upon successes and failures. So, as ever, when the time is right we are going to share the results of the Innovation Lab trials with other water companies to help those suppliers keep up the momentum. Watch this space!”

Notable alumni of the Innovation Labs include Transcend, a Software as a Service (SaaS) company, as well as leak detection start-up, FIDO.

This year’s participants includes:

Smartvalve

Based in Lincoln, Smartvalve has developed an app to manage and monitor manual valve operations.

The app ensures all valve operations are carried out efficiently by reducing the creation of transient pressure leading to fewer bursts, leaks and discolouration events.

Using a smartphone, it connects to any valve key and accurately records the number of turns, speed of turn, direction of the turn, valve location, time and operator. SmartValve has a patent pending for the improvements in the technical process of manual valve operations.

The app also utilises Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to tag the assets (valves) for quick identification and to ensure the correct valve is being operated.

Previsico

Founded at Loughborough University, Previsico is the developer of a warning system for surface water and ordinary watercourse floods using live hydrodynamic modelling software to generate flood forecasts using cutting edge forecasting technology.

In 2014, following floods in Somerset, the UK Cabinet Office approached Loughborough University to help develop flood forecasting technology.

The forecasting technology FloodMap Live uses live modelling to produce actionable forecasts which enable people and organisations to proactively mitigate flood impacts.

These forecasts are remodelled every three hours and updated using the weather data from a partnership with IBM’s Weather Company.

This 2D flood simulation software uses high-quality topographic and hydrological data to produce fast and accurate representations of flow routing across flood plains including surface water, river, and coastal flooding.

ClearWater Sensors

The Southampton based company has designed portable battery-powered submersible chemical sensors which can be used for long-term and real-time water chemistry monitoring.

The ClearWater Lab-on-Chip series sensors use wet chemical analysis methods combined with cutting-edge microfluidic technology.

Sensors can be deployed for up to one-year to conduct high-quality laboratory-grade measurements. The range currently consists of sensors for phosphate, nitrate, silicate, dissolved iron and pH.

Featuring a pressure compensated deep-sea housing that is rated to 6000 meters, sensors can be deployed on the surface, at the bottom of the ocean, or anywhere in between.

VBact

A bacterial water scanner developed in Israel can provide real-time continuous automated biomonitoring for water quality and safety applications.

VBact's technology integrates the patented Direct Imaging method and artificial intelligence image processing capabilities together with 24/7 in-line liquid sampling.

Direct Imaging uses sub-micron resolution, coupled with inducing each object's special properties. The Scanner products sensitively differentiate bacteria from general particles and classify between main micro-organisms types and micro-particles.

Altitude Thinking

Based in Grangemouth, Scotland, Altitude Thinking has developed a series of autonomous, remotely operated vehicles to collect water quality samples and data.

Founded by electrical engineer student Dale Colley, he created a programmable drone that can navigate Scottish waterways and produce accurate, real-time reports on water pollution levels.

In the future, the company is looking to remove litter and other pollutants from waterways using suction pumps.

Automutatio

Automutatio has developed a data management tools to drive improvements in safety performance.

Its tool consolidates and structures information from multiple sources to enable rapid understanding, analytics and appropriate action.

The data it provides can be used to increase value, reduce cost, reduce carbon and manage risk.

In addition to the companies picked to take part in Innovation Lab, United Utilities has also announced that an additional six firms will be invited to collaboratively explore their ideas further.


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