Digitization of our most important resource - "The Internet of Water"
This term is adorned in large letters on the homepage of Droople, a start-up founded at EPFL’s incubator in 2018 above Lac Léman. Their distinct goal: to fundamentally challenge our perception, value and consumption of water and to re-evaluate at all levels with the help of measurement and information technology. Droople's business idea is actually more of a mission, which has its origins in the personal story of founder and CEO Ramzi Bouzerda. We visited him in Puidoux, Vaud.
Most of us know the consumption of fuel our cars take per 100 kilometers. Or the approximate battery level of their mobile phone - even without looking at the display. But do we know how much water we need to brush our teeth? To flush the toilet? How much of it we water the lawn in the summer? Or whether a pipe is leaking somewhere? Droople knows, precisely. As long as the small smart sensors are in the right place in the water distribution network, via water dispenser or other points of tap water, we can record all conceivable data. Via an interface, the measured values are transferred to a cloud platform, which converts them into liters, CO2savings, alternatives to plastic bottles, the energy required for heating or even replacement forecasting.
When you hear the head of the company speak, you think you're in an NGO rather than a young, technology-driven company. There is talk of unjust water distribution, the most important raw material on this earth, which per se costs nothing, but the gigantic infrastructure for its transport and treatment does. Bouzerda argues that the current situation shows the consequences of too long, too hot dry periods. Even in Switzerland, calls to save water are being heard in some regions. Cattle farmers are bringing water to the alpine pastures by truck or even helicopter. Agriculture uses around 20% of the available water more or less free of charge, industry 55% and households 25%. The "polluter pays" principle for fair cost-sharing is falling by the wayside.Tenants, for example, do not pay according to actual consumption, but according to living space. "With our solution, we want to give the most precious resource a (monetary) value so that the polluter pays principle can take effect," explains the Droople CEO.
One speaks of disruption
These detailed and sometimes astounding figures should help to change our relationship to water. This does not only address the end consumers, i.e. each and every individual. Rather, all conceivable stakeholders should participate in this turning point: Water suppliers, real estate managers, investors, manufacturers of drinking water installation systems, sanitary facilities and household appliances, industry and commerce, hotels and restaurants. It is no coincidence that Ramzi Bouzerda speaks of disruption and compares the current situation, for example, with the major upheavals in the financial sector 15 years ago. These were also due, among other things, to the rapid digital development, which the conservative banking world lagged behind for a long time. Today you can open a bank account within five minutes, nota bene on your mobile phone. "I also experience the waterworks as rather sluggish, critical and even dismissive of such far-reaching developments. Their attitude, to put it somewhat bluntly: we deliver up to the water meter, and we don't care what happens after that,"is Bouzerda's verdict. After Droople had initially concentrated on precisely this target group, the innovators from Puidoux found a much more sympathetic ear in the industry.
Recognizing the benefits
According to Wikipedia, disruptive technologies are "innovations that replace the winning streak of an existing technology, product, or service, or displace it completely from the market. [...] Often, disruption describes the process of a resource-poor company challenging large and established firms." Examples include the digital camera, CAD and smartphones. BWT Aqua AG, which among other things produces water dispensers, offers one of its products with Droople's sensor and iLink interface on request. BWT has recognized that not only the thirsty consumers benefit when they are informed via monitor about the effects of each glass filling and are thus positively sensitized. Among other things, the company receives information about the coming condition of the devices and filters, hence water quality and the need for maintenance. Overtime this allows for machine learning how the assets and consumables are being used and, if necessary, to optimise them or predict replacement deliveries. The same applies to other equipment and applications.
Droople's complete IoT solution includes a wide range of measurement functions (flow, temperature, pressure, water hardness, pH, conductivity, etc.), retrofit options from the main meter to the tap (toilets, taps, showers, appliances, filters, etc.). Beyond the hardware level, the "Water Intelligence Platform" provides customized modules and analyses for optimizing water and energy consumption in the building, locating leaks and monitoring water quality or cleaning intervals of restaurant toilets, all in real-time. All components are produced in Switzerland, are as small as possible and therefore low in material. Around1300 units are now in use, mainly in Europe, the USA and Asia, generating millions of data records.
A link in the sustainability chain
Lombard Odier Group, the Geneva-based banking institution, has long relied on state-of-the-art technologies to achieve its sustainability goals. The new construction of its headquarters on the right bank of Lake Geneva is in the final stages, and the client is seeking three different green building certifications (SNBSm, Minergie-P and BREEAM) to ensure the high standards of design and execution. In this context, the bank commissioned Droople to digitize the water resources at all points of consumption in the building. For larger companies in particular, it can be useful to incorporate such insights into their compliance and sustainability reports. Another example of the versatile application of Droople’s smart eco-system is the first "intelligent" public water dispenser in Switzerland, which dispenses free drinking water "with" and"without" gas filtered from the lake.Thanks to sensor technology, the joint project between the private sector andGeneva's public utility company delivered impressive measurement data after just two months: 15,147 liters consumed, corresponding to 30,294 plastic bottles saved; 55,365 users in total, or 390 per day, with peaks on Wednesday and Friday afternoons; 61 % of all consumptions were carbonated.
WaSTeLeSS: AI as a key technology
Collecting data only makes sense if it is then evaluated in a targeted manner. Droople has entered into are search cooperation with the Faculty of Engineering at EPFL and the ALTISGroup in Valais in 2021. In summary, the aim is to improve the performance of sensors, IT networks and AI technology in order to be able to analyze more measurement data more quickly and in a more energy-efficient way. The long-term goal of WaSTeLess: no longer sensors distributed throughout the house, but a single, adaptive measuring device at the residence’s water connection that uses pressure, flow rate and other measurements to detect whether a shower is currently being used, the toilet flushed or the garden watered. At first glance, this seems like a gimmick for technology fans, but at second glance were member keywords like "polluter pays principle" and "intended use". For Droople, the central question is what we use how much water in which ways. Only then can we answer, and change our behavior.
Droople is a word combination of a drop of water, Google and Apple. Google because of its data expertise,Apple because of its product performance. Numerous nominations and awardsconfirm that the young company is stirring things up.
When Ramzi Bouzerda's teacher turns on the tap in the school’s restroom and holds out a full glass for him to drink, the 6-year-old is taken aback. Having just arrived in Switzerland and barely speaking the language, he can't believe his eyes. Growing up in Algeria, Ramzi Bouzerda had the kind of experience with water that we only know from the media: It came from dirty wells, always "some color," tasted strange, and carried serious health risks. But above all, it was a very rare commodity.
After working in his father's plumbing business in Lausanne, Bouzerda studied computer science atEPFL in the early 2000s, configuring bespoke computers along the way and later working as a software developer in banking. In 2018, he founded Droople.