Utilis takes top water innovation prize at Imagine H2O for tech that finds leaks underground

An Israeli tech startup called Utilis has taken top honors at Imagine H2O this year, for technology that can detect underground leaks in underground, potable water supply systems through analysis of satellite imagery. Americans waste 1 trillion gallons of water every year thanks to leaky faucets, faulty sprinkler systems and other small systems. Utilis’ tech can find leaks to systems that are much bigger, serving urban markets, and help utilities to repair them before the waste has a detrimental effect on people living nearby.

Each year, IH2O rallies tech startups to develop solutions for particular problems around our global water supply. This year’s theme was simply, “data.” IH2O President Scott Bryan said, “Data is a building block you must have in water. Communities cannot make big decisions around a desalination plant if they don’t have data about leaks, or how much energy it may takes to move water from point a to point b, for example. Without data you can’t plan, and you can’t do things, big things, in water.”

Judges at the IH2O annual event ranged from Silicon Valley venture investors to technologists from water utilities and large industrials, to sustainability experts and policy makers. All 12 companies invited to be finalists in this competition were accepted into the IH2O accelerator. But Utilis also scored a cash prize of $25,000 and will have the option of free business services and mentorship provided by partners of IH2O.

The announcement of the winning water tech innovators fell on a date when President Donald Trump sent an aggressive budget to Congress seeking to dramatically cut funding for the E.P.A., and the United Nations both of which are running multiple initiatives to study and conserve the world’s clean water supply. For example, the E.P.A. runs regional projects like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. And the United Nations recognizes access to safe and clean drinking water and water for sanitation are human rights.

That budget is getting pushback. But no matter the outcome, it’s at least heartening to know that if the U.S. government stops supporting such initiatives financially, and otherwise, some (if too few) private sector organizations are banding together to find technological approaches to water conservation, and protection.

Utilis co-founders at the Imagine H2O Water Gala 2017 in San Francisco.

A list of all the other water-tech startups participating in the accelerator follows below. Descriptions provided by IH2O.

  • Acoustic Sensing Technology (UK): Acoustic signaling hardware and analytical tools to measure and monitor the serviceability of sewers, pipes and ducts in real-time. With faster and cheaper performance than CCTV surveys, SewerBatt’s high-accuracy assessments generate actionable data for intervention and maintenance scheduling.
  • Utilis (Israel): Low-cost, high accuracy remote sensing technology for leak detection in urban supply systems. Using spectral satellite imagery to monitor drinking water in the ground, proprietary algorithms identify leaks in user-friendly GIS reports and quantify the financial implications of non-revenue water loss.
  • Triple Bottom Line Enterprises (Ethiopia): Smart phone-enabled tools for land surveying, pipeline design, and network management to develop affordable piped water infrastructure in rural communities. Flowius, the company’s latest product, converts geospatial inputs into pipeline design software for local engineers.
  • EMAGIN (Canada): Cloud-based, Artificial Intelligence platform to help water utilities proactively manage infrastructure operations. HARVI, the company’s flagship product, provides system-wide monitoring, generates alerts for anomalies, and creates GIS-based visualization of system KPIs.
  • Pluto AI (USA): Advanced predictive analytics platform for water management powered by Deep Learning models. Using proprietary algorithms, Pluto AI integrates available data into actionable intelligence to help users prevent water wastage, predict asset failures and reduce operational costs.
  • AquaSeca (USA): High-performance, non-invasive leak detection and remote monitoring system for plumbing infrastructure in buildings. Easy-to-install acoustic sensors are strapped onto water pipes to manage water consumption data, generate alerts and trigger automatic shut-off valves.
  • Flo Technologies (USA): Water monitoring and control system for single family homes that proactively identifies potential water risks and abnormalities, learns consumption habits and triggers alerts via wifi to a user’s smartphone.
  • FREDSense (Canada): Portable, cost-effective, biosensor and testing platform that can detect chemicals up to 1 part per billion in under 1 hour. The portable detector and single-use cartridge system transmits data and analytics to decision makers and can be customized for a range of different contaminants.
  • Sutro (USA): Broad spectrum colorimetric sensor technology and analytics platform to measure real-time water quality and chemistry. Its proprietary sensor is self-calibrating and does not require a human-testing interface. Broad application to a range of contaminants from nitrates to arsenic.
  • Arable Labs (USA): Proprietary in-field monitors and predictive analytics tools measure real-time microclimate weather data and plant growth drivers to generate actionable insights on yield, harvest timing, and crop quality. Initial focus on US specialty crops including strawberries, grapes and tomatoes.
  • Lotic Labs (USA): Hydrological risk assessment software and analytics platform eliminates costly and time-intensive data analysis and reporting for water-dependent industries. Lotic Labs enable users to manage multidisciplinary datasets for simulations and modeling, assess the performance of a business’ industrial assets, and integrate insights into existing workflows.
  • Hydromodel Host (Spain): Groundwater management solution delivers real-time visibility and accurate predictability to water engineers, city planners and other users. Field data and numerical models are integrated to provide a suite of planning, management and collaboration tools to manage groundwater sustainably.