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Northumbrian Water is making waves in innovation

Northumbrian Water information services director Nigel Watson previews the Innovation Festival 2019, which will see attendees combining to tackle some of the biggest challenges faced by society and the environment today

One of the biggest festivals of innovation the world has ever seen takes place in July, with thousands of people from across the globe expected to get involved.

Northumbrian Water’s Innovation Festival, held at Newcastle Racecourse from 8 to 12 July, is a five-day extravaganza with industry experts, academics, engineers and scientists coming together with students, artists and customers, to champion new thinking and come up with clever ideas to change the world.

Returning for a third year, we have once again joined forces with some of the most influential and innovative organisations from across the globe to help host a series of sprints, challenges and quests.

Festivalgoers will spend their week learning, sharing and innovating alongside the likes of Microsoft, IBM, CGI, Ford, Wavin, O2, Reece, Aiimi, Wipro Topcoder and the Institution of Civil Engineers, plus many more.

Their mission is to deliver a year’s worth of work in a week, combining to tackle some of the biggest challenges faced by society and the environment today.

They’ll begin on the Monday, scoping and unpacking the nature of each problem, working each day to develop key ideas and create working prototypes of their ideas and innovations, before presenting them back to everyone at the end of the week.

People taking part in the ‘design sprints’, ‘hackathons’ and ‘daily dash’ challenges will focus on key issues and challenges such as the impact climate change will have on communities, the changes 5G networks will make to our lives and what the vehicles of the future will look like.

A number of real-life projects are already flowing from Northumbrian Water’s Innovation Festival 2018 and being developed, ready to change the world as we know it.

One of those is the Underground Mapping project. Led by Ordnance Survey, the project is being trialled in Sunderland to map out the pipes and cables which run underground, showing where water and gas pipes, and electricity and phone cables are buried.

In less than 12 months, the project has gained support from the government, other utilities and local authorities, and plans are being made to extend it across the country.

Now, Ordnance Survey will return to this year’s Innovation Festival to take the mapping project even further, focusing on mapping out a streetscape for utility companies.

This kind of technology and response is also being used by the Digital Twin project, where we've teamed up with festival partners Newcastle University to create a virtual model of the real world.

It will allow us to run simulations for locations during an incident – like heavy rainfall events or flooding – and identify problems quicker and easier than ever before, keeping people safe during disasters and helping emergency responders.

Newcastle University are coming back to the Innovation Festival this year to go a step further and build a digital twin that overlaps data from other partners to help build a bigger picture.

While digital twin technology can help communities and large-scale areas, many of the projects coming out of the Innovation Festival have direct benefits on an individual customer level too.

One of these is the Barnacle project, with global IT and business consulting firm CGI. Nicknamed ‘Barnacle’, this tiny, smart device can be placed inside toilet cisterns to help detect leaky loos before customers are even aware there’s a problem.

Barnacle uses an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor to gather data at every flush and detect changes in key water parameters, such as flow, pressure and temperature.

Another idea being brought forward from Innovation Festival 2018 which uses an IoT sensor is the Smart Water project.

This innovative project with communications giant BT will see around 150 sensors deployed in pipes in the water network as part of a 12-month pilot study, to capture and process data such as water flow, pressure and quality. This will allow us to identify issues such as burst pipes, or leaks quickly and easily.

As we can see, we’re working with some hugely inspirational businesses, harnessing these powerful ideas and solutions, and turning them into real-life projects that we’re in the process of developing, and some of them are well underway now.

We’ll be demonstrating these projects at this year’s festival and talking about the amazing value we’ve got from them in our business. What’s really great about most of these too is that they’re not just exclusive to ‘Northumbrian Water’. They’re something that will benefit other water companies, other utility companies and in some cases, even emergency responders.

We’ve got some new challenges for our delegates this year and we’re aiming to make big strides with some of these ideas and projects that have emerged from the previous festivals.

We're expecting around 3,000 people to come to the Innovation Festival, including businesses and organisations around the world, as well as around 1,000 schoolchildren who will be taking part in various science, technology, engineering, art and maths (STEAM) activities. 

The young people, aged eight to 21 years old, will be challenged to use the STEAM skills they’ve already got, and understand how they can be used in the workplace.

It’s all part of Northumbrian Water’s NWG Academy, which inspires and develops people with talent, and helps to retain knowledge in the business. All of the sessions will be held alongside the main festival sprints.

As well as celebrating innovation and collaboration, the Innovation Festival will feature a daily programme of activities aimed at highlighting the importance of health and wellbeing, including relaxing yoga sessions and exhilarating workouts.

To sign up to Innovation Festival 2019 and keep up to date with the announcements, visit www.innovationfestival.org

Topic: Innovation

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