VAPAR was privileged to attend the W-lab workshop last week, which is an innovative tech program run by Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), Isle Utilities and ThinkPlace. We were invited to provoke thought around new ways of looking at problems and overcoming challenges in implementing innovative tech.It was great to see that the Australian water industry is so focused on adopting change the right way.
Co-founder and CTO Michelle Aguilar had an excellent opportunity to share the latest developments we are working on with United Utilities last night at the 2020 annual SWAN conference. Presenting with James Devereux in the Wastewater panel, we saw plenty of incredible developments in this space and are excited to see innovative tech being adopted around the world to deal with the challenges. It is promising to see some of the giants of the water industry are busting through barriers for adoption. The insights that have come from working with UU over the past nine months have been invaluable!
We are very proud to announce that we’ve taken on investment and raised $700K in seed funding to accelerate the growth of our company. With the backing of the investment, we can now scale sustainably and provide quality support and service to our growing customer base.
After a successful financial year, focussing on providing condition assessment solutions to the Australian market, VAPAR is pioneering the application of artificial intelligence into the global sewer inspection market.
With the new financial year beginning, VAPAR plans to launch in New Zealand and the UK, tripling the company headcount from three people to nine.
In September 2019, VAPAR became one of 8 companies who were selected by United Utilities to take part in their second Innovation Lab, facilitated by L Marks, an investment and innovation advisory firm. United Utilities are one of the biggest water companies in the UK – for some context, their network size is roughly 3 times the size of Sydney Water which is arguably one of the largest water utilities in the southern hemisphere.
Over 100 ideas were submitted to take part in United Utilities’ second innovation lab, with only 8 making it through the selection process from the ideas phase to the innovation lab. The other 7 companies who were selected to take part were:
Emu Analytics: Cloud based data analytics & visualisation platform
introDus APS: Pre and onboarding for new employees and staff training
The lab was structured as 10 weeks with the opportunity to co-locate in the United Utilities offices in Warrington to get to know the business units, use cases and processes in as much detail as was needed to provide value add solutions. To make the most out of this opportunity, VAPAR CTO, Michelle Aguilar, attended the lab for the full duration. Since this was United Utilities’ second innovation lab, they had buy-in from all stakeholders up front. Prior to the lab commencing, the United Utilities innovation leads had undertaken a significant amount of ground work, understanding who could be impacted, which key staff members should be involved, and how much time might be needed from the staff to make the lab as successful as possible for each team. The day the lab commenced, there was a 2 hour project meeting held to raise all concerns, voice desired outcomes, potential blockers and to ensure the assembled team were the right people to be involved. Meetings were set up with people on the ground to explain how the existing process works within the multiple business units, and also the contractors they work with. We were able to go out on site with UU contractors on multiple occasions which provided the opportunity for us to map out the processes undertaken end to end and understand where potential efficiencies could be found. We delivered a report based on these findings to the UU Transformation team on how the end to end process works and what actions could be taken to improve it. This report also detailed how VAPAR’s automated defect detection system could be integrated to provide objective third party assessments in a fast, scalable, centralised way to benefit both UU and their contractors. United Utilities provided VAPAR with a significant dataset to prove and improve the accuracy of VAPAR’s automated defect detection system. This huge volume of data provided us with the opportunity to develop and test ways in which the dataset could be curated in a scalable manner, and used to validate the accuracy of our system in accordance with the UK standard, the MSCC (Manual of Sewer Condition Classification), written by the WRc (http://wrcplc.co.uk/). United Utilities facilitated a meeting for VAPAR with Peter Henley from the WRc to discuss the need for a way to accredit software like ours to the MSCC. Since the lab, United Utilities has taken the lead on driving the industry towards software accreditation to the standard, and VAPAR and WRc have worked together to develop such a specification. VAPAR had originally defined AI models to align with the Australian standard (WSA-05), and has since aligned its model outputs with the MSCC (UK standard) among others.
Through this process, VAPAR were able to make improvements to the AI models augmented by UU’s CCTV footage, gain insights on model performance across different datasets, achieve alignment with multiple standards, identify and understand several additional business use cases for the system, understand where our platform could fit into the end to end processes, and what additional capabilities we needed to add to streamline usage. VAPAR are now pleased to announce we will be continuing to work with United Utilities! Phase 2 of the Innovation Lab project is due to kick off in May and will be focused around:
Integrations to streamline process flow and optimise scheduling
Usability to increase visibility of data and improve process experience
Speed to provide quicker turnaround in multiple business units and keep customers happy
Accuracy and further granularity in defect classifications to improve data insights
“While technology is important, it’s what we do with it that truly matters” – Muhammad Yunus
There is a lot to be said about the way smart technology can be implemented in our public sector, and just as much about the efforts to do so. It’s a bold move, without doubt, for government organisations to invest public money into the emerging smart technologies, and many have been shown to provide a lot of meaningful value back to the taxpayer.
The City of Darwin, for example, is implementing “city-scale smart infrastructure, including smart services (lighting, parking, wifi) integrated through an open IoT platform. This smart technology will contribute to city rejuvenation and, together with open data, will help to stimulate new partnerships and business growth, creating new job opportunities and helping to combat social and safety challenges”. This is one of 49 federal government initiatives funded as part of Round 1 of the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program where the local government agency or body has 2 years to bring their smart initiative to life – meaningfully.
At VAPAR, technology is applied for a deliberate, value creating purpose. We streamline resource intensive workflows relating to asset management using machine learning so that employees are more responsive to critical tasks. For example, AIMI (Artificial Intelligence Maintenance Inspection) software allows local government and water authorities to manage the visual inspection data from their ageing assets through an automated defect review system. In other words, AIMI watches the backlog of CCTV inspection footage and automatically outputs a condition report that meets infrastructure reporting requirements, in a variety of accessible formats. In this way, engineers and operators are freed up to address more critical tasks in the delivery and operational plans whilst meeting their OLG Special Schedule 7 or Financial Reporting requirements. Check out a quick demo here.