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Northumbrian Water trialling 'Barnacle' smart sensor

Northumbrian Water is trialling the first prototype of its 'Barnacle' smart sensor for toilets.

Northumbrian Water’s innovation facilitator, Eddie Wrigley, with the test rigNorthumbrian Water’s innovation facilitator, Eddie Wrigley, with the test rig

An automatic toilet-like test rig has been purpose-built by Reece Innovation to help develop and test the device, which is intended for use inside customers' toilet cisterns to identify potential issues with supply such as leaky loos.

Flushing automatically every 10 minutes using recycled water, researchers can alter the flow, pressure and temperature of the water in the test rig to check if Barnacle, which gathers data at every flush, will detect a difference from the norm.

If it detects a difference, this could indicate there is a problem with either the customers’ water supply, or potentially even a bigger issue on the wider water network, alerting customers before they’re even aware there’s a problem.

The idea for it came out of a design sprint facilitated by global IT and business consulting firm CGI and held at Northumbrian Water’s Innovation Festival in 2018, where industry experts and academics looked at ways to use smart technology to improve customers’ lives.

Leaking toilets are serious water wasters, losing up to 215 litres a day as well as adding around £200 per year to a metered water bill. They can be hard to detect as the water often runs from the toilet cistern into the back of the pan.

Barnacle could help customers save water and money by acting as an early warning system for problems that could affect a home. The device will also be able to detect discoloured water and identify risks of freezing pipes, by effectively gathering data on the water inside the toilet.

Following the testing process, Northumbrian Water plans to identify an area in the North East to roll out a pilot project on a number of Barnacles.

Eddie Wrigley, Northumbrian Water’s innovation facilitator, said: “We’ve taken a really clever idea from the Innovation Festival and turned into a physical object, a prototype that we’re actually testing now, using a purpose-built test rig.

“It’s so exciting to see it brought to life and to see this test rig in action, knowing that Barnacle is fitted inside and monitoring the data all the time, ready to let us know when we change the parameters of the water.

“Put into a real-life situation, this could prove massively beneficial to our customers, alerting them to leaky loos, saving them water and money, as well as any other potential problems we might experience on our network.

“Testing is going well so far and I’m looking forward to identifying an area that we can really put it to the test.”

Andy Baynes, CGI's director, consulting services, said: “This is a great example of how today’s smart technology can be leveraged to help tackle one of the water industry’s hardest challenges.

“Partnering with Northumbrian Water to take one of the exciting ideas from last year’s Innovation Festival and develop a working prototype has been a rewarding experience for all involved.

“With longer term water shortages becoming a cause for increasing concern, it is tremendous to be able to apply technology in a way that is so beneficial not only to Northumbrian Water customers but also to wider society.”

Author: Robin Hackett, Deputy Editor, WWT and WET News
Topic: Data, IT & Communications , Innovation , Leakage
Tags: Northumbrian Water , smart technology , leaky loos , Innovation Festival

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