Saving Municipal Water Systems with Sensors and AI

Imagine being tasked with running a municipal water system that you know is old, leaky, and prone to waste. You know the system is losing money via leaky pipes and water meters that do not work properly. You are also aware that you probably don’t have the complete picture. What do you do? For some cities, the solution is investing in new sensor and artificial intelligence (AI) systems designed to identify waste.

Atlanta is one city hoping to solve its municipal water problems with technology. They are working with engineers who have designed a system of smart sensors for monitoring the entire water system. Data collected by the sensors is analyzed by AI software in real time. The end result is a system that more easily identifies problems so that the water department can fix them.

Discovering Defective Water Meters

A big area of waste in municipal water systems is related to defective water meters. It has been estimated that upwards of 40% of all high-volume commercial meters do not accurately reflect the amount of water consumed. If this is true, cities are giving away a lot of water for free.

Installing state-of-the-art sensors allows water managers to identify water usage that is not being accurately reflected in meter readings. A significant disparity in sensor and water meter data tells engineers to look at one of two things. Either there is a leak somewhere in the system ahead of the meter in question, or the meter itself is defective.

Coupling sensor data with artificial intelligence makes figuring out what is going on a bit easier. Engineers spend less time guessing and more time identifying real problems in need of immediate solutions.

Sensors Improve Infrastructure

Rock West Solutions, a California company that offers engineering services for sensor and signal processing development, explains that sensors deployed in municipal water systems can improve infrastructure. And at a time when towns and cities do not have a lot of money to spend on infrastructure upgrades, any help is welcome.

The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card from ASCE suggests that municipalities waste more than 2 trillion gallons of drinking water every year due to infrastructure problems. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the pipes that provide people with clean drinking water are reaching end-of-life.

Replacing old and worn-out infrastructure seems the logical choice. But digging up and replacing hundreds of miles of pipe is no easy task. It is time-consuming and costly. So in the interim, sensors and AI can be deployed to help identify and address waste.

Broad Applications for Sensors

Saving municipal water systems is just one example of how state-of-the-art sensors can be deployed to improve our cities. For the record, a sensor is any device capable of measuring some sort of signal or data stream. A smoke detector is a sensor inasmuch as it monitors for the presence of smoke by measuring infrared light.

A video camera is a type of sensor that records visual signals and translates them into data. A water sensor measures water flow while an air sensor can measure airspeed. Cumulatively, there are broad applications for sensors of all types. Most of us encounter dozens of sensors every day without even knowing it.

In cities around the country, sensors are becoming the go-to solution for eliminating water waste created by aging infrastructure. If sensors and AI can save enough money by reducing waste, perhaps cities and towns will be able to direct the savings toward infrastructure repairs and upgrades. At the same time, sensors and AI installed with new infrastructure will help extend its life, leading to more savings.