Technological advancements in the water sector are not confined to treatment. The same advancements that are driving groundbreaking innovation in other business sectors are helping water utilities and their staff operate more efficiently. Here are three technological trends are expanding the scope of what is possible both inside and outside of the water utility:
The ability of virtual reality (VR) to create virtual environments has proven to be ideal for numerous applications, including virtual hands-on training in many industries. Using virtual reality goggles, water utilities can develop immersive experiences that provide staff with the opportunity to test new products, familiarize themselves with operating processes and respond to common mistakes that would be too dangerous or costly to replicate in real life. Utilities can tailor VR environments to their specific needs, and anyone can access the training at any time—regardless of where they are—as long as they have the equipment.
Augmented reality (AR) is another technology that changes the way people experience the world around them. Unlike virtual reality, which creates an entirely new immersive environment to surround the user, augmented reality overlays digital information onto the user’s existing reality via smartphoen, tablet or AR glasses. Such digital information includes holograms, data sets and notes, and graphics that blend seamlessly into actual reality. AR allows operators to take real-time information with them wherever they go. For example, an operator on the site of a project can use AR glasses to call up real-time holographic images and usage data for a network of underground pipes to help inform decisions about changes or upgrades to the infrastructure. There are several water utilities that have already begun integrating both augmented and virtual reality technology into their operations.
Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the science of programming computers to perform human tasks. Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence in which a system is fed data that teaches it to “think” by recognizing patterns. The system can then use these patterns to generate algorithms that either detect abnormal behaviors and/or predict future behaviors, even in the presence of changing variables. For smart water managers, AI/machine learning can process large amounts of data in real-time, providing them with the information needed to make strategic decisions about how to manage water resources both at the present time and in the future. It is suggested that utilizing AI could help protect scarce water supplies and greatly improve water management.