Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Graduate student team SWIM’s into AquaHacking Challenge final

Beaty Water Research Centre’s student innovation team is developing a new technology to detect and track sewage overflow due to high rainfall events.

[Sensing Wastewater with Infrared Monitoring (SWIM) team]
The Beaty Water Research Centre's Sensing Wastewater with Infrared Monitoring (SWIM) team of, from left, Shuang Liang, Alexander Rey, Maraika De Groot and David Blair, have qualified for the finals of the AquaHacking Challenge. (Supplied Photo)

A team of students from Queen’s University’s Beaty Water Research Centre (BWRC) has qualified for the finals of the AquaHacking Challenge in Toronto.

The Sensing Wastewater with Infrared Monitoring (SWIM) team competed Saturday, June 9 in the annual event that aims to create innovative solutions for water-related issues in the Great Lakes region. After an entire afternoon of pitching to individual judges in related business, technology and water industry, SWIM was selected as one of five teams proceeding to the final pitching round later this year.

[BWRC Logo]
Beaty Water Research Centre

SWIM is developing a new technology, comprised of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) with an HD visible spectrum camera and an infrared sensor. It will be used to detect and track sewage overflow, providing rapid results related to sewage overflow and contamination.

During high rainfall events, untreated sewage is discharged into nearby rivers, lakes, and oceans through combined sewer overflow to prevent sewer back-ups and flooding. In Ontario, there are over 800 registered beaches to monitor and last year, within the Ottawa River valley alone, there were over 65 closures at local beaches. SWIM will work towards helping protect the public from exposures to sewage pollution through monitoring beaches and pinpointing areas impacted by sewer overflows.

The SWIM team is a student-led, interdisciplinary group comprised of four graduate students. David Blair is a master’s candidate in Civil Engineering, with a chemical engineering degree and a background in wastewater treatment. Maraika De Groot is completing her Master’s of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with previous experience in business development. Shuang Liang is master’s candidate in Civil Engineering, with an environmental science background and experience with UAV operations and procedures. The fourth member, Alexander Rey, is completing his PhD, with a background in hydrodynamic modeling and computer programming.

“SWIM’s vision is to empower municipalities by providing rapidly delivered sewage discharge data so that the public can make well-informed decisions about water-related activities,” says Ms. Liang.

SWIM uses the turbidity and heat signature of untreated sewer overflow transmitted from the UAV, to detect, quantify and monitor discharge events. The platform, in addition to providing close to real-time data, provides targeted and high-resolution data for the assessment of water quality. This technology will employ Watson’s Discovery API technology, developed by IBM, for visual recognition and data processing.

“The SWIM technology is novel and creative, with enormous potential for future application. It will assist municipalities through data collection, analysis, and reporting, allowing them to more easily locate and identify sewage overflows,” says Pascale Champagne, Director of BWRC.

The BWRC supports interdisciplinary research, education, and outreach. 

As one of the five finalists the team receives $2,000 in funding to refine their innovation and is invited to participate in a two-day, all-expense paid expedition on Lake Ontario to engage with various stakeholders. The team will compete in the AquaHacking Challenge finals Oct. 25. The winners will receive $25,000 towards initial capital and a spot at an incubator.