According to the United Nations, more than five billion people could experience water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, growing demand and pollution. Hence, potentially unhealthy waterways need to be kept under surveillance.
A smart device that can monitor water pollutants in rivers and lakes recently won first place in The Smart Water category of the Keysight Internet-of-Things (IoT) Innovation Challenge held in New York, United States last month.
The ingenious invention was the brainchild of five Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) Lee Long Chian Faculty of Engineering and Science students Lim Wen Qing, Au Jin Cheng, Yap Sheng Yao, Tan Kai Siang and Khor Jun Bin.
The team walked away with a prize of US$25,000 (RM104,000) and Keysight test equipment worth US$25,000.
Named the IoT Detachable Waterway Monitoring Device with LoRa (low-power wide-area network technology) and Self-Sustainability, the device comprises four major components for monitoring, reporting, analysis and sustainability.
The device first monitors the water’s quality such as its acidity, temperature, and turbidity. The data collected will be reported using peer-to-peer LoRa Mesh network and analysed in the cloud using machine learning algorithm.
Being community-driven, the invention has a feature allowing the public and community to report on any pollution found in waters.
By creating a massive monitoring network, the winning team believes that the system will be able to monitor checkpoints from all around the world. This can trigger an immediate response whenever the water quality reaches a critical stage.
According to the team, they were inspired by the water pollution and contamination incident in Pasir Gudang, Johor in March. Over 2,500 people were affected by gas poisoning and a total of 111 schools were closed.
Lim Wen Qing said: “The source of the toxic gas emitted was the chemical waste illegally dumped into the river. Because of this, around 55,000 students were unable to attend school.
“We started thinking of a way to prevent this incident from happening again, so that thousands of people will not suffer from the same tragedy.”
After discussing in great length, the idea for this invention was born. The team members worked independently with assistance from their advisor and UTAR lecturer Ir Danny Ng Wee Kiat.
Lim attributed their win to two possible reasons. “Firstly, this device was created in relation to an actual problem that took place in Malaysia. Secondly, this device is modular. We have incorporated three energy harvesting systems namely solar, hydro and wind energy to charge the battery.
“The solar panels as well as the wind and water turbines are detachable. Only the necessary parts will be installed on the device depending on the environment. For example, in the forest, solar and wind energy are not reliable. Thus, only a water turbine is attached to the device.”
He added that the device was put to a test and it was a success. “We spent one week to test out the device in the Kuala Selangor River. The judges were impressed that this device is very community-oriented. People can easily report on any pollution found in waters by merely using an app. They can easily gain access to the data on the water condition as well,” said Lim.
For Lim, the greatest part of achieving this feat was building the device from scratch with support from the university.
“The collaborative teamwork to design and put all the pieces together was truly gratifying.
“The challenge not only benefit society, but it also looks into sustainability. Personally, it was an amazing experience. My team members and I feel very fortunate to have won this challenge.”
Ng said: “The IoT Keysight Challenge presented an opportunity for the students to compete with others on the world stage. The opportunity also enabled our students to interact with students from other international universities during the time spent in New York.
“Through this challenge, our students also gained valuable technical knowledge that will enhance their employability.”
The Keysight IoT Innovation Challenge aimed to inspire and reward engineering students worldwide to innovate low-power IoT to address global issues.
Divided into two tracks, The Smart Land challenge and The Smart Water challenge were open to all countries in Asia Pacific and Greater China, Europe, and the US.
Attracting nearly 300 entries worldwide, the preliminary stage of the competition required participants to present their ideas online through written and video submissions.
Within the Asia-Pacific and Greater China region, more than 30 universities took part in the competition with 10 universities from Malaysia alone. The UTAR team was the only team from this region to be selected as a finalist.
Lim and another team representative Au Jin Cheng were sponsored for an all-expenses paid trip to New York for the final round held on 21 to 22 September.
The UTAR team competed against five other teams in the finals from renowned varsities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, US.
The live-streamed event saw the students demonstrating their design and system before a panel of esteemed judges which included United Nations public information officer Ariel Alexovich, LunaSonde founder and chief executive officer Jeremiah Pate, electrical engineer and YouTube star Mehdi Sadaghdar, Aspencore Media senior technical editor Martin Rowe, Keysight Corporate and Portfolio Marketing vice president Jeff Harris, Keysight Electronic Industrial Products general manager Christopher Cain, and Keysight Education and General Electronics Measurement Solutions vice president Ee Huei Sin.