Stakeholders of the UK water sector gathered at the House of Lords recently to discuss how technology can help negate leaks and improve safety.
The event, facilitated by Karl Simons OBE, took place on Monday 25 October and was attended by key leaders from the sector in order to share progress on what role technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) can play in modernising outdated infrastructure.
Working case studies around smart network-centres and real-time data use were presented, however, following recent well-documented issues around sewage, the CEO of Southern Water, Lawrence Gosden, admitted in a panel debate that despite progress made through new technologies, “transparency was key to win back public trust.” However, equally key has been the issue of not having an accurate picture of all underground assets.
Across the UK, there are over four million kilometres of underground assets, a vast tangle of working, damaged and redundant pipes and cables. A more worrying statistic is the 60,000 accidental asset strikes reported each year as workers operate in extremely challenging environments to maintain the fragile system.
However, a project designed to counter this lack of data alignment, and ultimately improve worker safety is the National Underground Audit Register (NUAR), a digital map of underground pipes and cable that can pinpoint any major or minor assets underground. The ambitious plan is a project being implemented by the Geospatial Commission, a Government committee set up to bring social and economic value to the UK’s location data, and ideally placed to deliver the lofty ambitions.
At the event, Stephen Thorp, NUAR Strategy Lead at the Geospatial Commission fed back progress made on the initiative since it began life six years ago. The project scope was vast and complex, requiring buy-in from every water company across the national industry. However, in a remarkable effort of collaboration, Thorp was able to report that the project is now nearing completion with an aim to have the software fully online by the end of 2025.
One key stakeholder in the development of NUAR has been Karl Simons. The former Chief Health, Safety and Security Officer at Thames Water is now spearheading the use of AI in the sector through his work with technology firm Fyld. He told SHP: “AI is now being embraced by organisations across multiple industry sectors and is clearly making a significant impact towards the prevention of harm. It’s fantastic to see progressive companies across the Water industry using FYLDs AI Algorithms to make predictions from a combination of structured and unstructured data, enabling actionable insights to surface that benefit productivity, quality and safety for their workforce.”
The event was hosted and Chaired by Viscount Camrose, Minister for AI and IP, who in his closing comments applauded the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, while affirming how the water industry is ideally placed to benefit from new technology. “Healthcare is the number one sector to benefit from AI, but a close second is geospatial,” he told the audience.
The sector is currently under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. However, in two years’ time, we will hopefully have a successful project that successfully utilises AI in order to help those that maintain the water infrastructure can do so safely.
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