Solution provider GrayMatter is navigating the turbulent IoT waters, using its technical expertise and operational technology background to successfully deploy connected drinking fountains in public places like schools.
“We did a connected smart water fountain [with DC Water] – people think of that as a [classic] IoT application,” GrayMatter CEO James Gillespie told CRN. “That’s a good example because it combines a whole bunch of innovation.”
The Pittsburgh-based GE partner worked with the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority to create drinking fountains that monitor water quality and flow in real-time, which gives users more confidence in the water they are drinking while saving money spent on maintenance and testing.
The smart drinking fountains, which will initially be installed in hospitals, daycare centers and schools, are equipped with sensors that use real-time data and analytics to monitor water quality and flow levels. The sensors then send that data to the cloud and back with alerts if water quality measurements begin to deteriorate.
Gillespie said the flow and water quality sensors give an accurate indicator of when the lead filter should be changed compared to traditional filters – like refrigerator filters - that measure flow only.
If water quality begins to deteriorate, alerts are sent by text or email to water managers, while a “change filter” message alerts maintenance so they don’t have to estimate when lead filters should be changed.
“It’s IoT and the value of the network, so when you have multiple drops on the network you can now get like a Google map picture of the water quality instead of the traffic with blue, yellow and red signifying how the water quality is in different points of consumption,” said Gillespie. “At the same time we’ve made the devices intelligent so they check their own quality, and they try to clean themselves and let someone know if they need help being cleaned. It’s kind of a confluence of all these things that weren’t possible coming together.”
The connected drinking fountains are also programmed to shut off at a set water quality level until maintenance staff make the necessary corrections.
Gillespie said in many IoT projects, the solution provider is beginning to look at its customers as not just an end-user, but co-innovators: “When we work with someone like Washington DC Water, we’re really a co-innovation partner with them. So if you asked them, they’d say they come to us when they’re looking to solve a problem they couldn’t solve before, and they come to us to find out the art of the possible,” he said.
An essential part of the solution GrayMatter brought to the table was not only its knowledge of sensors, data analytics and cloud-based solutions – but its market expertise around digital utilities.
The knowledge of water and wastewater issues – like collection systems, regulations, water quality and utility management – helped the company better understand the outcomes that DC Water wanted and needed.
“It’s a conversation around the outcomes, so you really have to understand the right questions to ask and the right way to design [a solution],” Gillespie said. “We would weigh in with the client and design something that meets the outcomes they’re looking for.”