NICTA called-in to plumb depths at Sydney Water

water works

By Julian Bajkowski

Top boffins at Australia’s government-funded information technology research and development lab, NICTA, have been called in to help fix notoriously leaky plumbing at state owned utility, Sydney Water.

A statement released by the two organisations says that under a new agreement, NICTA’s machine learning capabilities will be applied to try and predict where leaks will spring before they happen.

“All water utilities with buried water pipes are faced with the issue of finding pipes that are at high-risk of failure before they fail and result in significant disruptions to the community,” managing director of Sydney Water, Kevin Young, said.

“To do this we need accurate models to identify high-risk pipes which can cope with the differences in age, pipe material, environmental conditions and urbanisation.”

The two organisations claim that the new technology could result potentially save “Australia’s water utilities and the community $700 million a year in reactive repairs and maintenance” by identifying dodgy pipes before they pop.

If achieved, big-ticket saving would be a welcome milestone for NICTA in terms of proving the worth of the investment of taxpayer’s money into technology research.

“Our approach draws on NICTA’s specialty in machine learning,” said Dr Fang Chen, NICTA’s Technical Lead on the project.

“We have developed a new computer modelling based approach to estimate the likelihood of pipe failure. Our approach could also be applied to other infrastructure failure prediction, such as bridges.”

Sydney Water has a rich history of pouring money into technology and failures.

A decade ago the NSW Auditor General bucketed the utility for sinking $135 million into the CIBS customer billing overhaul that was meant to cost just $38 million.

The canned project resulted in $61 million in write-offs being flushed down the S-bend.

Sydney Water’s latest boss is confident its latest venture will hold water.

“We need smart technology to help provide answers,” Mr Young said.

“NICTA’s approach is innovative and has the potential to have worldwide impact in pipe condition assessment. We have introduced the approach to our international colleagues, who are keenly watching the outcomes.”

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