To Solve Urgent Problems Today, Unlock the Treasure of Existing Data

Food and water—what’s more fundamental to health and quality of life?

But for hundreds of millions around the globe, life is a constant struggle to secure those building blocks to survival.

Many of the best minds in technology see connecting the unconnected as a way forward.

Sensors and data could have a tremendous impact, for example, on the quality and efficiency of the food supply chain, while ensuring that water supplies and pipes are safe and free of leaks.

I applaud those efforts whole-heartedly, and look forward to that time when billions more “things” are connected.

However, I fear that retrofitting every pipe, pump, and agricultural asset is simply too slow a process, given the tough situation for so many who are in need of better water supply.

That’s why I’m so excited about a faster option: virtual sensors. This enables you to get more to get more value out of existing data.

Virtual sensing requires at least two sensors—even limited, low-tech ones—on a physical object or part of a system. It then uses advanced algorithmic analytics to fill in the gaps.

Let’s look at the impact that virtual sensors could have on water infrastructure.
Every year the United States loses 1 trillion gallons of water to leaky pipes.

Again, it would be great to see a sensor on every section of pipe in the world, monitoring efficiency and purity, and presenting a precise picture of the infrastructure at any given moment. But that’s not going to happen soon.

Virtual sensors extrapolate from a less-than-complete picture of the water infrastructure. Even a few sensors placed at strategic points in the water system can have a great impact. That is, if advanced analytics can extrapolate from that limited data.

Those sensors could be existing, low-tech meters that are already in place. With even a few metrics on, for example, water pressure or contaminant levels, the advanced analytics platform does the rest: narrowing down the potential trouble spots and directing maintenance workers.

Virtual sensing drives maximum value from minimum data. A big industrial company with expensive legacy assets such as locomotives, jet engines, wind turbines, earth movers can leapfrog the drudgery and expense of retrofitting every part of every machine. That’s because limited data streams—coupled with the right advanced analytics platform—can begin to impact operations, productivity, safety, and profits, quickly.

This would apply to water infrastructures as well. With only the data from existing low-tech meters that are already in place, could produce better outcomes for water access near term.

I love to imagine that beautiful connected future, in which everything and everyone is on the network, and technology creates a better life for billions of people on our planet.

In fact, the passion for changing the world and solving our biggest problems is what I love most about the technology industry.

But I’m impatient. I want results now.

That’s why I believe that if you really want to change the world, you have to innovate at speed. It’s not so much about connecting the unconnected. It’s about unlocking the treasure of data that already exists.

Innovation is invention plus execution. Virtual sensing enables you to dramatically accelerate your execution. After all, you are leapfrogging a big piece of the puzzle: retrofitting every single “thing” with sensors.

It may not give you the 100 percent clarity of the bright connected future that we all await.

But if getting 50 or 70 percent of the picture improves water conservation now, what are we waiting for?

Joseph Bradley is the President of Business Ventures at Uptake.