Novel AI technology could help protect water supplies

Friday, 20 July 2018, 04:12 Hrs
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Researchers have developed a novel artificial intelligence (AI)-based software that could make monitoring at water treatment plants cheaper and easier and help safeguard public health.

The new technology is capable of identifying and quantifying different kinds of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, as a threat to shut down water systems when it suddenly proliferates.

"We need to protect our water supplies. This tool will arm us with a sentinel system, a more rapid indication when they are threatened," said Monica Emelko, Professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

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

The AI system would provide an early warning of problems since testing could be done much more quickly and frequently than current existing methods, said Alexander Wong, Professor at the varsity.

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

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," Emelko said.

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