IoT & AI Systems: the ‘Near Future’ of Water Management and Industrial Wastewater treatment

Jodi Martinby:

Technology

We have often heard people, companies or organizations putting forward catchy phrases and taglines about claims on their technologies or visions for the future, such as “ The future is here”, a claim made by the state of Florida in the US. I do not stand to contradict these claims but to bring light to the importance of evolution and how nature, we humans and our technology are a vital part of it. As we pass through this the technological boom, future inventions we are looking for should be termed as the “things of near future”, and two such wonderful technological marvels I refer to as “the things of near future” are IoT viz. Internet of things and AI viz. Artificial intelligence.

Readers must be wondering why lay this emphasis on the term “near future”? With all these inventions and technologies we see the future as too bright and advanced, but when we look at the other side of the coin we find it a bit gloomy too. Why? Because the biggest challenge of the “near future” is water conservation, proper industrial wastewater treatment, preservation and availability of water, with all the efforts we are making, they still prove to be miniscule. Even the vast availability of manpower is not of much help. So, why can’t the combination of these two sides of the near future be enhanced and evolved and make the far future brighter? When IoT and AI are applicable in almost all the sectors, its implementation will impact and make things very smooth for us in terms of water management and industrial wastewater treatment.

IoT and AI: The Definition

IoT is a network of Interconnected machines or interrelated device to device connections, including machine sensors and devices, functioning with the absence of any kind of human interference on the internet. In simple language, machines or commodities are connected to the internet rather than people.  The term internet of things was first coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 but its applications were first introduced in 1982 in a modified Coco- Cola vending machine to monitor whether the drink served is cold or hot.


Artificial intelligence is basically machines or devices performing as humans or with human intelligence and IQ, from voice recognition to driving cars, from machine operations to rescue operations, it can all be done by machines in form of artificial intelligence, which we ourselves experience every day in the form of “SIRI or Ok Google”. While ambient intelligence and autonomous control were later informed into the concept of IoT. Ambient intelligence and autonomous control do not necessarily require Internet structures.

IoT-AI and Water Management

As mentioned earlier, the near future is more automated and sophisticated, and AI and IoT are one of its essential drivers as it is a fact that the number of IoT devices increased 31% year-over-year to 8.4 billion in the year 2017, and it is estimated that 30 billion devices are expected to be ready by 2020. A projection of $7.1 trillion by 2020 was made for the IoT global market value.

IOT and AI are extremely useful in Industrial Wastewater Management.


The measurements of critical parameters of industrial wastewater treatment monitoring such as the physical, chemical and microbial properties are the main objectives for online water quality monitoring. Assessing and monitoring helps in identifying deviations in provide early warnings by identifying hazards as well as a real time analysis of all the collected data with suggestions of remedial measures.

The monitoring systems include 3 data management subsystems :


1)A transmission system consisting of a wireless communication decide with data from a data controller being transmitted to the data storage cloud.
2)A Management subsystem including an application to access and display the data storage cloud to the end user.
3)A Collection subsystem with parameter sensors and a wireless communication device that allows transmission to occur from the sensor information to the controller. Sensors include measurements for pH, DO levels, turbidity, water level sensing, Oxidation reduction potential, chloride levels, presence of organic compounds, conductivity etc.

For each parameter there are sensors connected to the controller, either directly using UART protocol or remotely using Zigbee protocol. The controllers are connected through GSM/GPS. Advanced systems even have voice recognition AI that function on the basis of commands given through voice or respective smart phones. This simple yet advanced system gives real time measurements of above discussed parameters making water management most effective and easy.

The Impact

A simple example given in the previous section explains how effective this system is, and in case of water quality and industrial wastewater treatment monitoring, this IoT-AI combination is now adapted almost everywhere and almost every other water quality management technology has incorporated such systems into their technology.
As EHS managers or environment engineers this concept can do wonders if utilized precisely. We all are aware that industrial wastewater treatment has the three tier treatment system of primary, secondary and tertiary to treat our water. However, we are also aware how challenging it is to regulate and monitor the ETP and make it run smoothly.
We have to manage the flow rates, maintain pH levels, estimate CODs, BODs, nitrogen levels which itself take its own time and hinders in taking a quick decision.


Even MLSS management and monitoring of organic compounds is a tough nut to crack in industrial wastewater treatment as we have to go through different tests to get things done. Management of Hydraulic loads and even estimation of DO in real time can be a challenge at times. This IoT-AI combination can be of great help to us to manage our ETPs and increase efficiency in industrial wastewater treatment as it gives us data in real time and empowers us to control the ETP through our PCs or cell phones, no matter where we are.


The IoT-AI system for industrial wastewater treatment is similar to the quality management system with different levels. Sensors for respective parameters of each level are installed with their controllers in place, which are then interconnected and connected to the main controller, which is further connected to an AI device viz. PC or cell phones. Such systems give us facilities to monitor and control nearly all the parameters through one click or one voice command. Even further advanced system have microscope connected to sensors as well as to monitor development of Bacteria and other microbes in biological tank in quick time.

This system has immense positive impact on water management as it enables:

  • Effective time management: one of the biggest advantage is estimation of CODs and BODs in real time which usually takes time from hours to days. Even the flow rate management becomes easier to control and monitor.
  • Power saving: Power saving becomes easier, for instance a common problem encountered by us is management of DO levels, and in order to manage them, we have to manage the aerators as well, also its estimation takes time . With this system involved, the aerators are functional as per the DO levels, for example, if DO levels are high, the aerators of a particular section get switched off as signalled by sensors thereby, saving power in huge amounts. Similar application can be served for pumps to control flow rate and recirculation rates.
  • Manpower: In order to maintain an industrial wastewater treatment plant, manpower requirements are huge and in these tough times getting trained manpower is challenging. With IoT-AI in place, manpower requirements become very less as it empowers us to control ETPs even through our cell phones. This system also helps us run ETPs during holidays, shutdowns or even in times of pandemic lockdowns.
  • Ensures safety: Any malfunctioning or mishap can be easily controlled in one go, and even continuous exposure to effluent can be minimized.

Easier Described Than Applied

The working of the system faces the following challenges :

  • Lack of interoperability
  • The unclear value propositions
  • Privacy and security concerns: Due to the internet usage involved, it is more prone to cyber hacks and attacks.

The requirement of the following security objectives is high :
1. Confidentiality of Stored Data : No access to unauthorized parties
2. Integrity of Stored Data: Detection of intentional and unintentional corruption of transmitted and stored
3. Non-repudiation: Denying of sender sending message should not occur.
4. Availability: Availability of Data to authorized parties even with the denial-of-service (DOS) attacks to all authorized parties.
5. Conventional structure: The system is adapted to reactive measure and operations rather than proactive ones, so it is a big challenge to avoid.

Conclusion

Overall the IoT-AI are the things of “near future” especially for industrial wastewater treatment and water management as the problem of water is increasing day- by-day, necessity of setting up institutions and models of water management and management of industrial wastewater treatment is increasing day-by-day, and it is practically getting very difficult to manage things conventionally. The system though in a nascent stage might prove to be a great breather to our entire water management universe, there are individuals putting their efforts day and night to ensure things are done right. Evolution is the tendency of nature as stated in the beginning of this article and this opportunity to evolve will make our near future.

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