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Aqua Robur Technologies

Aqua Robur designs and develops IoT devices with build-in energy harvesting technology and software solutions: The case study shows, how IoT is used to secure water resources and monitor water...
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May 05. 2021
ID: 3189

Aqua Robur Technologies

Aqua Robur Technologies AB started in 2015 with developing and manufacturing smart and wireless measurement systems that helps water utilities to gain control of their water networks. Since then, the company has grown to ten full-time employees at the physical location in Sweden and is equally cooperating with consultants and distributive intermediaries internationally. The smart measuring system offered by Aqua Robur is now commercialised and available across Europe.

The company was among others proudly awardee of the EU Horizon 2020 Prize for their Fenix Hub solution with its potential to help solve the key challenges of reducing waste of our precious water.

Today, the company is exploring the solution’s potential to cater the needs and demands of a variety of markets, for example in the wider smart city domain and in industrial settings as well, and Aqua Robur is in the process of upscaling.

Illustration 1: Aqua Robur's plug-and-play solution enables monitoring and management of water networks.

Illustration 1: Aqua Robur’s plug-and-play solution enables monitoring and management of water networks.

IoT incentive

The incentive of Aqua Robur to develop their IoT solution derives from the societal concern of resource scarcity, which, in the water venue, relates to a common issue in the water networks. Today, leakage levels are about 20-25% in public fresh-water pipelines, causing huge amounts of the planet’s livelihood, and billions of Euros, to be wasted each year.

“It is really key for the water utilities, and for the society as a whole, to have a good understanding about what is going on in these water networks. That is something that we want to be able to contribute to.”
Niklas Wicen, CEO at Aqua Robur

In order to detect these leakages and address the issue, water utilities are increasingly seeking to add intelligence to the comprehensive and aging water networks. This is done by deploying sensors around the pipeline system that facilitate smart and wireless metering. The so-called intelligence of a water network will rely on two key characteristics: high sensor density and real time data transfer. However, the operational functioning of such sensors puts high expectations on the power supply.

In order to produce an electrical signal, which is capable for measurement and use, a sensor generally requires an external supply power supply and signal amplification. The solutions that are available in the market today require changing batteries and digging for grid connections, which is expensive and inconvenient for the water utilities. Hence, an essential hindrance to the development of intelligent water networks is the power supply of the sensing systems, which ultimately impedes the ability of utilities to gain greater control over their water networks.

Illustration 2: On the European water supply grid, up to 30% of the pure water supply is lost before reaching the taps.

Illustration 2: On the European water supply grid, up to 30% of the pure water supply is lost before reaching the taps. 

 

 

The IoT solution

Aqua Robur provides an IoT solution in terms of a sensor node facilitated by an innovative approach to power supply in the environment of water infrastructure: a micro-hydro-system, which converts the water flow to a stable supply of power. A turbine generates and stores electrical energy, which enables customers to power sensors locally and measurements to be carried out at strategic locations around the pipeline system. Data is continuously collected from these spots, and fresh-water leaks in pipelines are tracked remotely without the need for batteries or grid connections. The Aqua Robur offering is a flexible and cost-efficient solution tailored to the specific requirements of the customers. The Fenix Hub, which is the name of Aqua Robur’s solution, may simplistically be defined as a self-powered RTU data logger [1] with the sensor node and the hydro-based energy management system being key components.

Illustration 3: Video introduction of Agua Robur’s Fenix Hub.

A sensor node is made up of four basic components: sensing unit, processing unit, transceiver unit and a power unit. The sensor node is a device with the capability of sensing the physical parameters and processing, and communicates the processed data to the external peripheral wirelessly. This enables the utilities to capture a multitude of parameters from the pipes, such as flow, temperature, pressure, turbidity and PH values. The data is dispatched through multiple nodes that, with a UDP [2] gateway, connect to other networks as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) [3], which ensures a superior connectivity ability of the Fenix Hub. This creates a network of devices that communicates information gathered by the strategically located sensors through wireless links across all parts of the water network.The elements og the IoT solution

 Illustration 4: Technology architecture for the Aqua Robur smart measuring system
(please go to endnotes for explanation of abbreviations used in the illustration).

The data collected by the sensor nodes is visualised live (5 min. delay) on a dashboard, which is accessed either directly on Aqua Robur’s platform or distributed to SCADA [4] systems and/or to web-based platforms depending on what the customer requires. The sensor and meta-data may be aggregated with other open data, such as rainwater, outdoor temperature and terrain information, and instant analytics enables the utilities to monitor water balance and track for deviations and leaks within specific zones of the water network.

Based upon the insights derived from the data, the Fenix Hub enables autonomous behaviour with regard to abnormalities: Trigger and threshold levels can be set for abnormal values of the different parameters, and if the sensors encounter those levels, alerts and notifications are sent to utility field workers encouraging reaction (e.g. in the case of leakages and inadequate energy consumption). This enables options to alter behaviour of devices autonomously as well (e.g. for regulation og temperature, pressure, turbidity and PH values).

The solution is deployed in a variety of applications, for example leak-detection in water and heating networks, monitoring of sewer overflows and storm water sewer infiltration, readings of groundwater levels and calculation of flow volume and pressure (e.g., for hydraulic models creation and pressure optimization in water networks).

Illustration 4: The LS-7389 ultrasonic level sensor ensures trouble-free maintenance of sewers, as it is not in contact with the water.

Illustration 5: The LS-7389 ultrasonic level sensor ensures trouble-free maintenance of sewers, as it is not in contact with the water.

The journey

The initial focus of Aqua Robur’s solution was the energy harvesting technology, and the first prototype for this technology was developed late 2016. During the following years, the company learned that no single solution would be able to fit the entire market, and customization for connectivity – to some extent – was inevitable. To enable this, and respond further to the requests of utilities for operational intelligence of IoT in the solution, Aqua Robur expanded their focus and integrated into the value chain.

“We actually sold off the initial technology that we started to work with, to start working with customer needs. So, it was a pure market pull venture!”
Niklas Wicen, CEO at Aqua Robur

Illustration 5: The enabling component of the hydro-based energy supply, the turbine, is offered in a variety of versions.

Illustration 6: The enabling component of the hydro-based energy supply, the turbine, is offered in a variety of versions.

In 2018, Aqua Robur had the first prototype of a plug-and-play solution with combined IoT and hydro-based energy management. In 2019, the solution was commercialised as the Fenix Hub. Hence, over time Aqua Robur pivoted from being solely a provider of connectivity hardware to facilitating the entire data collection process, and now they also offer analytics and business insights.

Today, most of the hardware production is outsourced to partners and sub suppliers, and Aqua Robur focus on the R&D activities, sales and support, which includes helping customers to get the software operational and occasionally facilitating hardware installations.

Outcome of the IoT solution

The development of Aqua Robur’s IoT solution is an obvious contribution to the societal ambition of fostering intelligent water infrastructure. By rethinking the operational functioning of embedded intelligence with the contemplation of a local supply of power, the solution enables increased control over water networks. Utilities are thereby able to address issues they were not able to identify before, as well as solve known issues in better ways with regard to cost and performance. This progress directly impacts the concern of resource scarcity.

“We hope to be able to see ourselves as a key partner to not only the water utilities but to the societal development.”
Niklas Wicen, CEO at Aqua Robur

The ambition of the solution and the journey of the company is manifested as outcome in the business operations. By nurturing the IoT element of the solution, Aqua Robur has cultivated an additional business model by selling data availability and business intelligence as a complementary service for the utilities.

“IoT is definitely an enabler for our central business case and also a never-ending lane of additional future features.”
Alexander Ohm, Product Developer at Aqua Robur

This has reinforced an expansion of the revenue mechanisms, enabling the company to capitalise not only on the hardware, but also on subscriptions for Software as a Service and business intelligence.

For users of the solution, the direct outcome is a functional intelligent water network. Ultimately, this solves the main issues currently experienced by utilities in terms of water leakages and lack of data driven decisions for pipe and infrastructure renewals. The end-to-end high-impact potential is driven by the distinctive traits of Aqua Robur’s solution:

  • Compatibility and versatility of the sensor nodes
    A valuable feature of the solution is that is deploys the so-called multi sensor node, which is able to physically connect to any external sensor and/or data loggers of the customers’ choice, for them to be in charge of use elements and deployment.
  • Hydro-based energy management system
    The technology ensures local and stable charging cycles and load for the continuous and stable operation of the sensors. This enables widespread information options in otherwise inconvenient location spots of the water network.  
  • Connectivity with 5G technology
    The use of NB-IoT ensures superior bandwidth, speed and responsiveness for increased data capability and value, for example visualised as actionable and insightful information in a monitoring system online.  

Data collection has been present within the water sector for a number of years, but The Fenix Hub has made the process a lot more cost effective and easy to deploy for the customer.

“It is super interesting to collect and analyse data from one location, but when you can combine many different locations, then you can draw even smarter conclusions.”
Niklas Wicen, CEO at Aqua Robur

Best practice learnings

Aqua Robur is still a young company, and the early learnings derived from the start-up journey are fresh in mind. Some of them even with the potential of transmissible value for other actors in the IoT ecosystem.

“We have learned the hard way that the cutting edge can also be the bleeding edge.”
Alexander Ohm, Product Developer at Aqua Robur

The NB IoT deployed by the solution is such a novel connectivity technology that when Aqua Robur started using it, providers were still in the process of developing it. This is an essential learning that stresses the importance of alignment between new technology and the maturity and readiness of the market.

Another essential learning derives from the early practised challenge of configurability, leading to the conclusion that ‘one size fits none’. Aqua Robur finds that building a very general solution to fit all only adds to the complexity, and, ultimately, that a significant factor of success is to keep a limited scope.

A final essential learning relates to the step from prototype to industrialization. Aqua Robur learned that they had underestimated this step, and that the process demanded much more time, resources, competencies and answers than they had expected and had available in-house.

Aqua Robur considers a number of points to be vital for the success of their IoT solution. Taking departure in the journey of Aqua Robur, these points are compiled into a list of recommendations below:

1. Find a unique and favourable solution to a general problem

From the very beginning, lots of people were able to see the benefit of the solution.
A fundamental recommendation of Aqua Robur is to rely on a solution that is a widely acknowledged societal issue.

2. Be quick!

The pace of development has been a deciding factor for Aqua Robur’s customers when comparing alternatives. This leads to a recommendation of deploying prototypes in real installations as early as possible, learning from trial-and-error in rapid iterations.  

3. Revisit the lean start-up methodology

Aqua Robur do not consider IoT much different from other value offerings, and stress that even though it is technology, success still relies on the essentials of business and product development.  

4. Listen to the customers

“What has been important to us is that we have always been very close to our customers.”
Niklas Wicen, CEO at Aqua Robur

According to Aqua Robur, this is the key to their success in creating sustainable IoT business models: Spending time with customers and collecting feedback as often and as early in the process a possible. Further, demonstrating flexibility, trust and courage to test out their ideas, while keeping focus on the central use case…

“…And stay open to how you define that use case! Let the users define the use case,”
Alexander Ohm, Product Developer at Aqua Robur

Digital maturity of Aqua Robur

Digital Maturity Radar Chart : Assessment of Aqua Robur by Niklas Wicen, CEO

Illustration 7: Digital Maturity Radar Chart: Assessment of Aqua Robur by Niklas Wicen, CEO.

Aqua Robur assumes a high level of digital maturity with an overall score of 4.68. The score indicates that the digital capabilities of the company are vastly mature, and that they perform above average for the sector.

The Digital Maturity Assessment Tool is copyrighted by Associate Professor and PhD Annabeth Aagaard, Director at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Digital Business Development, Aarhus University. To get the digital maturity of your company mapped out, click here.

End notes

[1] RTU (Remote Terminal Unit): Microprocessor based device that monitors and controls field devices that then connects to plant control, supervisory control or data acquisition systems. 

[2] UDP (User datagram protocol): Lightweight data transport protocol that operates on top of the Internet Protocol (IP) to transmit datagrams over a network without the need for an end-to-end connection.

[3] NB-IoT (Narrowband IoT): Wireless cellular technology standard that addresses the LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) requirements of the IoT. It is classified as a 5G technology, standardised by 3GPP in 2016.

[4] SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition): Centralized system that monitors and controls field devices at remote sites. The system gathers data on the process and sends the commands control to the process.

[5] CoAP (The Constrained Application Protocol): Specialized web transfer protocol for use with constrained nodes and constrained networks in the IoT. The protocol is designed for machine-to-machine (M2M)

[6] REST API (Representational State Transfer): Consists of a software architecture for data exchange between software systems. (Application Programming Interface): is the respective implementation of the REST architecture of a concrete system.

[7] OPC (Open Platform Communications): Interoperability standard for the secure and reliable exchange of data. Ensures the seamless flow of information among devices from multiple vendors.

[8] TLS (Transport Layer Security): Cryptographic protocol that provides end-to-end communications security over networks.

European Commission and EU-IoT logo

Copyright notice:  © 2020 – 2023 EU-IoT Consortium.

This material was produced as part of the EU-IoT project, grant ID 956671, and is funded by the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme under topic ID ICT-56-2020.

EU-IoT is the European IoT Hub. The EU-IoT project works towards growing a sustainable and comprehensive ecosystem for Next Generation Internet of Things.