A 13 foot high big green breathing tree, using data to bung water leaks and a robot that will tell you how to save water…welcome to the water industry′s future!

Innovation Festival

12.03.2018

The planting of England′s first ever pollution-reducing moss tree in the middle of Newcastle city centre.

Using gigabytes of computer data, the latest computer programmes and the skills of IT experts from across the country to end all leakage from water pipes deep underground.

The ability to pay your water bills, change your account details and get advice on your account all by chatting with ‘Alexa′.

This isn′t the far off distant future for water customers. This is now. And it′s all as a result of Northumbrian Water Group′s first Innovation festival.

The Innovation Festival was held in July 2017 at Newcastle Racecourse and was the first of its kind that had ever been held by a water company.

It was the brainchild of NWG′s Information Services director Nigel Watson and the unique event was aimed at pushing boundaries, challenging the ‘business as usual′ approach to the industry and changing the world for the better.

So for five days in July thousands of people (including 140 local, national and international businesses) all got together to tackle a number of environmental, societal and industry issues.
There are currently 25 projects running that came out of the festival, here are some of the best bits…

England′s first EVER air purifying Moss Tree

A 13-foot-high Moss Tree is coming to save Newcastle city centre. The big green breathing ‘machine′ is one of the most exciting things to come out of the festival.

The Moss Tree idea has been developed in partnership with Ordnance Survey, Newcastle City Council and supplier Evergen and in March this year it will be placed in Newcastle′s bustling Haymarket, next to the city′s bus station.

Moss cultures involved in the "tree" have the ability to filter certain pollutants, by binding them to the leaf surface and then integrating them permanently into their own biomass, making them ideal air purifiers.

Data gathered by technology in the tree "structure"will be made available for universities and other bodies to feed into their own research on tackling pollution. Built-in sensors will gather information on pollution including Nitrogen Oxide, Nitrogen Dioxide and Carbon Dioxide, as well as monitoring air humidity, temperature and rainfall.

‘Hacking′ away at leakage

Leakage and losing water in our pipes is a real issue and concern for us, and indeed the whole water industry! That′s why it was high on the agenda at IF17.

Work to reduce the levels of water leakage could transform the way the industry addresses the problem, with the development of a new data-driven technique to most efficiently identify and tackle the most problematic areas.

Using a wide range of information sources, Essex & Suffolk Water, part of Northumbrian Water Group, will work with data professionals to identify areas across Essex that can be targeted to deliver the best possible reductions in water loss.

In partnership with two companies, PA Consulting and 1Spatial, the company has identified that focusing its efforts on only 50 of the company′s 450 locations - known as district metered locations (DMAs) - could reduce leakage by 9% - 6.3 million litres per day!

RIGHT NOW! The three companies are working on this idea and are now starting work on creating a "heat map" that will direct the most effective resources more efficiently, prioritising the finding and fixing of the biggest leaks.

Alexa Skills for water customers

Hey Alexa…is there a problem with my water? Hey Alexa…give me some advice on saving water?

Although slightly terrifying, Artificial Intelligence can be used for good! And we are doing just that by working to develop skills that will allow customers to fire water related questions at their Alexa AI system, used as part of the Amazon Echo home products, to get it to do things like check their account or find out if there is a supply problem in their area.

Led by 19-year-old Degree Apprentice Mark Ireland, working alongside Head of Strategy and Enterprise Architecture Martin Jackson, the idea to develop the skills came out of the NWG Innovation Festival′s Tomorrow′s World activity, run in partnership with CGI Group.

These ‘Skills′ might seem gimmicky at the minute but advancements in SMART homes of the future mean that it could be a part of everyday life for customers in the future, and we want to be leading the way!

Nigel Watson, Group Director of Information Services, said: "This first-of-its kind festival was all about pushing the industry forward. Breaking the rules, thinking outside of the box and taking ‘normal′ and ‘everyday′ out of the equation.

"We are committed to being the best water company in the country and a huge part of that is about leading the way. Being the most innovate and forward thinking organisation that we can be is just that and so the innovation festival was born.

"The festival was jam packed full of fantastic ideas and creations, some of which may take some time to come to fruition, but we are really excited that the Moss Tree, our work to reduce leakage, and the development of our AI applications will soon be out there and making an impact on the world.

"The Moss Tree is really exciting, because it not only has the potential to reduce pollution, but it can also gather data that can inform further advances in cleaning up the air in our cities. Newcastle will love it.

"And with AI technology, such as Alexa, Cortana and Siri becoming a part of life in homes across the world, it makes great sense to be looking at how we can use that to make life easier for some of our customers.

"All of this is being made possible by us having brought 140 organisations together at the NWG Innovation Festival in 2017 and giving them free rein to come up with ideas. Nobody has all of the answers to every question, and collaboration like this is the way to deliver real innovation that makes an impact on lives and our environment."

For more information on NWG′s Innovation Festival visit https://innovationfestival.org/

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