From water scarcity and lead pipes to a $109bn a year infrastructure gap , US water utilities face critical challenges. Using AI to fast-track decision-making through actionable insight is the answer, explains FIDO CEO Victoria Edwards.

TRYING to find a figure for water leakage in North America is like trying to catch a shadow. Depending what you read, it could be anything from 14% to 50%.

In a country with more than 150,000 public water systems, no national standard, little district metering and water auditing in its infancy, it seems that no-one really knows.

In its excellent 2019 white paper on water loss control, the AWWA neatly sums it up in a single word: ‘staggering’.

One thing is for sure. Utilities are never going to have more water than they have today. In fact, if the terrifying drop in levels in the Colorado River basin are anything to go by, it will be considerably less.

Do more and go faster

The problem, as any water engineer will tell you, is that finding leaks is hard and expensive.

Ninety per cent never show above ground, and installing acoustic sensors is a big capital investment with equally big human resource implications.

As tools for finding leaks, sensors are pretty blunt. They ‘listen’ for sounds in pipes in the dead of night and, if a noise reaches a certain threshold, they send a recording of it back to the office. As more than 70 per cent of these sound files are not even leaks, each one needs to be carefully examined before sending an engineer.

So, covering your network with sensors means having the human resource to manage the vast data they produce too.

Even in the UK, home to some of the world’s largest best-funded and advanced water utilities, only a fraction of pipeline miles are covered. So, how will the US water sector fulfil UN-Water’s call to ‘do more and go faster’?

AI means actionable insight

Clearly, expensive proprietary fixed loggers, which have been around for years, are not going to bring about the step change the world needs on their own. Our best hope is artificial intelligence which instantly raises any network to the level of the best irrespective of size or its current level (or lack) of digital maturity.

How? Through insight-as-a-service and pay-as-you-go leak detection which includes the sensors you need for free as part of the package. With AI, you don’t need to waste your precious skilled talent listening to leak files. It eliminates false positives instantly, tells you leak size and will soon be able to identify lead pipes – all from clever analysis of an acoustic or kinetic file.

Being able to prioritise resources on your biggest leaks is one of the most effective ways to cut leak run time and save water. In one year, one of our clients halved the leak run time of all its leaks by doing just this.

That’s what I mean by insight. It’s actionable data which utilities can use to make a concrete difference.

Not just leak size, but exact leak location, even the location of lead pipes.

That’s the unique power of FIDO AI.

World-first insight from leakage data

By tracking leaks, AI provides auditable metrics for performance reporting but, more importantly, gives insight into where leaks are degrading or recurring on pipes in real time. With this, utilities build targeted infrastructure maintenance plans based on certainty rather than educated guesswork.

Leak-sizing is not the only world-first solution FIDO has developed. Our ultra-sensitive drop-and-go FIDO Bug sensors can also be used as correlators. Just tap two Bugs together and drop them either side of a leak to get instant accurate location.

You can leave Bugs in place for three years without needing a battery change. Or, you can move them between locations to sweep an area at a time. This generates reliable heatmaps of leakage points of interest as you go. Because FIDO’s leak size calculations are completely independent of flow data, there’s no need for district metering.

Why FIDO AI works

The reason FIDO works is because we built its unique algorithms on the cleanest of data foundations. Accuracy is already at over 92 per cent.

Through open data, FIDO maps and tracks leaks throughout the leak process and self-verifies its accuracy, learning as it goes.

Every leak FIDO finds anywhere in the world improves its performance for everyone else who uses it. FIDO is sensor agnostic and works with all your legacy estate too, if you have one.

We’re only at the start of the FIDO journey, with even more ambitious plans for the future.