Friday, 22 October 2021

AI in the sewer.

Millions of litres of wastewater generated by households and businesses flow unnoticed through the sewer system to their destination, the wastewater treatment plant. Identifying and locating problems in the underground system has been challenging, but now a system created by the Finnish start-up, Neuroflux, generates automatic alarms when they detect sewage in the wrong place.

A small start-up is an exceptional operator in a field that has traditionally been only for water utilities and their large automation providers. Working simultaneously with many water utilities comes with certain benefits: good ideas spread quickly from one utility to the next.

"The small and agile team has also been our strength", Julia Kariniem smiles. "You can easily chat with us, and we are able to react to changing needs in stride. European water utilities do amazing work to keep water flowing smoothly for all of us, and it is very rewarding to be a part of it."

Inspiration for the idea was originally sparked by an innovation competition organized by the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority HSY in 2016. The event took place at a local wastewater treatment plant, where water engineers and programmers gathered to think about how to best take advantage of the utilities' network measurements, such as water flow and energy data.

"Data visualisations for water utilities began to take shape during the hackathon, and the results were considered so interesting that the development continued in a project with HSY", explains Julia Kariniemi.

Sewers go quiet at night
Sewer infrastructure consists of hundreds of pipe kilometres as well as pumping stations that push wastewater forward until it reaches its final destination, the treatment plant.

Even sewers follow our daily rhythms: morning showers increase the amount of wastewater, and at night the sewer goes quiet too. Because wastewater also follows these familiar patterns, visualisation is a useful tool for water utilities, offering valuable information about unusual events in the network.

Visibility under the ground
Analytics developed quickly alongside the visualisations, providing the water utility with automatic alarms for patterns that indicate problems in the network. "There are hundreds of pumping stations in the Helsinki region alone", Kariniemi points out. "It is impossible to monitor each measurement manually."

Growing interest from other water utilities led to the foundation of the new company. Today, almost half of the Finnish population is covered through the Neuroflux service through their water utilities. This year, the system was adopted by the 2021 EU Green Capital Lahti.

Problems in the sewers have direct consequences for the environment. If there is a blockage in a pumping station, wastewater does not move forward in the network and may spill uncontrollably in the surrounding environment. Sometimes it works the other way: water leaks into the sewer from rain, lakes, or other bodies of water, stretching the treatment plant's capacity and wasting resources. "Improving wastewater management is a motivating goal, because it has significance for both the environment and the community", Kariniemi describes.

@neurofluxltd @hsy_fi @GreenLahti2021 #PAuto #Wastewater

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