Artificial intelligence (AI) is dominating global conversations, as people question what it will mean for society and how to identify the best ways to put its transformative powers to work responsibly. We’re already seeing the incredible impact of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and ChatGPT on our everyday lives. How will AI shape the future of water?
In the water sector, AI has the potential to revolutionize water services, helping utilities and commercial users of water manage water more effectively, efficiently and sustainably. Xylem Innovation Labs, which partners with cutting-edge startups to bring the best technologies to Xylem customers, is helping Xylem identify and leverage proven, real-world AI applications to supercharge our offerings and expertise, and further strengthen the value we deliver to customers. Making Waves spoke with Max Storto, XIL’s Lead Innovation Analyst, about the water sector’s AI opportunity and Xylem Innovation Lab’s work to bring the benefits of AI to our customers.
Q: Why is AI important for the water sector and where is it being deployed?
A: AI is well-suited to help utilities and other users of water address a myriad of challenges they face today by improving performance, reducing costs, addressing the aging water workforce issue and more. In the water space, AI applications work by harnessing machine learning (ML) to ingest data, analyze and identify anomalies, and provide recommendations about how to prioritize and address problems – all the while freeing up staff to do higher-level work. What’s really game-changing for water managers is that ML can continually learn from the new information it’s taking in to constantly sharpen the insights and value it delivers.
At Xylem, a lot of our decision intelligence and digital twin work uses AI/ML to help utilities achieve transformative outcomes across their system at the asset, plant and network levels. For example, at wastewater treatment plants, we can optimize chemical dosing processes and minimize a plant’s energy consumption to lower costs and optimize performance. Xylem Innovation Labs is working with our business units to identify additional opportunities across our startup ecosystem for Xylem to leverage AI within our own operations and processes, so we can provide even greater value to our customers.
Q: Can you tell us more about that – how XIL’s partnerships are helping Xylem deliver the benefits of AI to customers in new ways?
A: Xylem Innovation Labs has already started working with innovative companies that are harnessing AI to create solutions that provide value to water customers. Transcend H2O is one of my favorite companies that has done so. The Transcend team has deep water industry expertise, and they’ve created an elegant generative design software solution that uses ML to reduce the manual effort in the plant setup process. We’re partnering with Transcend to automate Xylem’s treatment design and plant documentation practices. This can eliminate steps in the commissioning stage and significantly reduce Xylem’s response time to bids. In turn, we can help utilities build out and equip plants with the right solutions faster and more efficiently, so they can lower costs, reallocate resources and staff time to other activities, and focus on what they do best – solving water for their communities.
While Transcend has water industry expertise, we have not limited our partnerships to water experts, as there are a number of excellent AI-powered solutions outside of our sector.
DataRobot, a full-lifecycle AI platform provider, is one such company. Condition assessment in the water sector can include multiple repetitive steps that require human activity, like reviewing and classifying images as anomalies, and XIL is working with Xylem’s Service Solutions team to leverage DataRobot’s AI/ML platform to automate and streamline select processes for our PipeDiver® and SmartBall® pipeline assessment services.
This partnership enables Xylem to deliver faster and more precise results to our customers and free up Xylem experts to focus on higher-value activities.
The final partnership that I’ll highlight today is our work with RealWear, which provides assisted reality headsets that connect our Field Services team with Xylem subject matter experts anywhere in the world. This innovative tool, used by Xylem Services team members onsite with customers, is an integrated hardware and software-based mounted device that’s essentially a wearable computer with a high-resolution display. The XIL team calls this “Pokemon Go for Field Service.” Think of it as a mini tablet computer screen embedded in a pair of glasses that’s controlled by voice commands, giving our Service teams hands-free capabilities like remote video calling, document navigation, guided workflow and industrial IoT data visualization, along with a full library of training and troubleshooting materials at their fingertips. They can work in the field and connect and engage with any Xylem subject matter expert anytime, anywhere. This helps Xylem field service teams solve problems faster for our customers and decreases asset downtime.
Q: Any closing thoughts to share on AI and water?
A: The AI opportunities for the water sector are huge and growing. But AI tools are not one size fits all, and they require great care and deep domain expertise. When we look at solutions sold by providers from outside of the water sector, like from DataRobot or Realwear, it’s incumbent on us at Xylem and throughout the water sector to inform and work with technology providers on how to best leverage AI solutions for our customers. Water is the lifeblood of communities, so it’s essential to fully understand the implications, strengths and limitations of AI in solving water.
Learn more about Xylem Innovation Labs.