Artificial intelligence helps water utilities make decisions
As climate change ushers in more intense storms, Waterloo startup EMAGIN uses AI for more accurate and timely information that saves money and water
As climate change ushers in more intense storms, Waterloo startup EMAGIN uses AI for more accurate and timely information that saves money and waterBy Heather Bean University Communications
In Canada, 2017 may have been a year of floods, but Thouheed Abdul Gaffoor still has his eye on the long-term, global picture: fresh water is a scarce resource, and it’s getting scarcer.
“California and the Middle East are dealing with drought; India and China deal with large amounts of pollution. Here in Canada we have an abundance, but it doesn’t mean we’re immune to some of these challenges,” says Gaffoor, who holds an MASc from Waterloo’s Faculty of Engineering.
Gaffoor is the co-founder of Waterloo-based EMAGIN, which builds artificial intelligence-supported software to help water utility systems become more efficient and resilient.
Currently, human judgment still determines most decisions in a water management chain. Gaffoor notes the AI he’s developing is designed to assist engineers, not replace them. EMAGIN’s software works with sensors – developed by companies such as Siemens or Hach – to offer facility operators more accurate and timely information: about the kinds of pollutants in water, or about volume. It also makes recommendations for treatment. During a sudden winter thaw, for instance, EMAGIN’s software can allow operators to more effectively clean incoming wastewater and manage the system to prevent overflows.
Water is the one of the last utilities to be digitized, says Gaffoor: “we’ve stagnated in comparison to other sectors, like oil and gas or manufacturing.” He says that’s changing quickly. “Water rates are the fastest-growing utility rates in North America,” he notes. “As the impacts of urbanization and climate change start to increase, we’re going to be feeling it more. As it becomes more difficult to extract and treat water, society is going to become more acutely aware of the challenges this sector faces.”
When Gaffoor started his BASc. with Waterloo’s Department of Environmental Engineering, he already knew he wanted to do something that had “a measurable impact on society.”
After just two years on the market, EMAGIN already works with several US-based food and beverage companies and a few Canadian municipalities. By late 2018, Gaffoor expects his company will have doubled in size: “We’re looking to be the main software technology provider in the water sector.” But Gaffoor says that his top priority is to expand EMAGIN’s work with utilities in Canada: “I’m very passionate about that. I want to see our local utilities improve their efficiency for our communities. I’d like to see us grow in our own backyard.”
Feature image: Giorez/iStock/ThinkStock