Artificial intelligence technology could help protect water supplies

July 18, 2018, University of Waterloo
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Progress on new artificial intelligence (AI) technology could make monitoring at water treatment plants cheaper and easier and help safeguard public health.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed AI software capable of identifying and quantifying different kinds of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, a threat to shut down when it suddenly proliferates.

"We need to protect our supplies," said Monica Emelko, a professor of civil and and member of the Water Institute at Waterloo. "This tool will arm us with a sentinel , a more rapid indication when they are threatened.

"The exciting piece is that we've shown testing utilizing AI can be done quickly and well. Now it's time to work through all the possible scenarios and optimize the ."

The operational AI system uses software in combination with a microscope to inexpensively and automatically analyze water samples for algae cells in about one to two hours, including confirmation of results by a human analyst.

Current testing methods, which typically involve sending samples to labs for manual analysis by technicians, take one to two days. Some automated systems already exist as well, but they require extremely expensive equipment and supplies.

According to Emelko and collaborator Alexander Wong, a systems design engineering professor at Waterloo, the AI system would provide an early warning of problems since testing could be done much more quickly and frequently.

Moving forward, the goal is an AI system to continuously monitor water flowing through a microscope for a wide range of contaminants and microorganisms.

"This brings our research into a high-impact area," said Wong. "Helping to ensure safe water through widespread deployment of this technology would be one of the great ways to really make AI count."

The researchers estimate it may take two to three years to refine a fully commercial sample testing system for use in labs or in-house at treatment plants. The technology to provide continuous monitoring could be three to four years away.

"It's critical to have running water, even if we have to boil it, for basic hygiene," said Monica Emelko, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Waterloo. "If you don't have running water, people start to get sick."

Explore further: Economical technique removes pharmaceuticals, chemical contaminants from public water systems

More information: Chao Jin et al, Quantification of cyanobacterial cells via a novel imaging-driven technique with an integrated fluorescence signature, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-27406-0

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Pushing lithium ion batteries to the next performance level

December 13, 2018

Conventional lithium ion batteries, such as those widely used in smartphones and notebooks, have reached performance limits. Materials chemist Freddy Kleitz from the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Vienna and international ...

Uber filed paperwork for IPO: report

December 8, 2018

Ride-share company Uber quietly filed paperwork this week for its initial public offering, the Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.