New water industry tech unveiled at UU 'Demo Day'


Leak detection, sewer inspection and flood defence are some of the areas taking a technological leap forward thanks to some brilliant new thinking and cooperation at United Utilities.

The 2019 United Utilities Innovation Lab culminated in an exciting “Demo Day” for the eight suppliers which are taking part in the scheme. It was a chance for senior leaders at the Warrington, UK-based water firm to see the progress that the suppliers have been making over the ten week tech incubation programme. The audience also contained invited representatives from academia and equity funds.

This is the water company’s second Innovation Lab, run in partnership with L Marks, which gives potential suppliers unrivalled access and a supportive environment to develop their concepts and co-create new products and services for the water sector.

Kieran Brocklebank is Head of Innovation at United Utilities and he said the energy and enthusiasm of the suppliers has been “infectious”:

“Interestingly, all the suppliers we are working with would label themselves as small or start-up and five of them had never worked with a UK water company before  They all have a completely different energy to a large corporate like United Utilities, which is exactly what you need to disrupt the status quo.

"Of the eight companies we are working with, four already had a market-ready product.  The other four had concepts or prototypes, but in the space of ten short weeks we have taken all those prototypes to the next level so they are also market-ready. It can only be good news for our customers that innovation is going to be adopted faster.

“Before April we will be publishing the Lab results, after sharing with some of the UK water companies first.  We want to promote the fantastic work that these eight suppliers have done, we want to endorse them, make introductions for them, help them get equity investment – all the things that they are going to need to grow and meet the demand of the sector, here in the UK and globally. So watch this space in 2020!”

The suppliers involved in the Innovation Lab are:

AJEA Products Ltd - AJEA is a product design and manufacturing company based in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. Their core aim is to bring new and innovative products to a range of global markets. Working with United Utilities they have been testing their new concept in flood resilience - Quell™ - A passive barrier system, that doesn’t require any power source or human interaction to deploy.

Aqua Consultants - Aqua Consultants are specialist engineering and technology consultants operating across the Water, Energy and Environment sectors. Using the right mix of data analytics and water industry subject matter expertise, Aqua can help its clients secure savings by identifying minimum build solutions for Capital Investment and real time monitoring of assets. To ensure OPEX savings are identified, quantified and materialized through actionable intelligence

FIDO - FIDO (Free Inserted Data Objects) sees the insertion of three free-floating spheres that travel in any pipe size through the water network, first collecting, then uploading and analysing the data in the cloud using FIDO’s differential analytics algorithm. Analysed data is sent back to the engineer’s phone or tablet clearly identifying pipe anomalies such as leaks (size and location), air pockets and chokes to within one metre.

Emu Analytics - Emu Analytics provide software designed to ingest, analyse and visualise geospatial and temporal data assets, for the purpose of creating visual insights that are accessible to all within an organisation.

Headlight AI - Headlight AI is a sensory artificial intelligence (AI) company with a diverse team of scientists and engineers developing software and integrated solutions for robots and vehicles operating in harsh and complex environments. Their multi-sensor cross-learning technology provides improved perception and is currently being used for infrastructure inspection and monitoring within the water and rail markets. It is also being used to help develop autonomous vehicles (ground, water, and air based systems) that can operate in dark underground locations and in adverse weather conditions.

Introdus - Introdus is a mobile, cloud-based Pre and Onboarding solution which enables companies to create custom content to share with new starters, with the aim of improving employee time to performance, encouraging them to stay longer and making them feel part of the team from day one.

Neptune Solutions - Neptune Solutions has developed a system for retaining and containing water. This patented invention consists of a metal structure/frame which is built from box sections and machined bars. The metal structure rests on four screw piles. Side plates and clamps are fixed to the sides of the barrier to allow more barriers to sit next to each other, forming a retaining wall of individual barriers.

VAPAR - VAPAR helps water utilities speed up the repairs of their underground pipes. VAPAR's cloud platform automates the fault detection directly from inspection footage of sewer pipes turning a 2 week manual process into a 2 minute job.

The 2019 Innovation Lab at United Utilities builds on the success of last year’s scheme, which resulted in three long term contracts being awarded in the fields of artificial intelligence, chemical free treatment and asset condition monitoring.

United Utilities is the only water company whose business plan was ‘A’ rated for Innovation in Ofwat’s draft determination earlier this year.