SmartEAR: amplifying your leak finding

Aimi Macready, the head of Sales and Marketing at WaterGroup, showing the SmartEAR, the next step in leak finding

Today, water utilities and local councils in Australia will lose more than 1.5 times the volume of Sydney Harbour, a staggering 800GL, of perfectly treated drinking water. A new product by WaterGroup aims to change this sad “tradition”.

Water losses are at the same rate today as they were 100 years ago despite significant technological advances, IoT capability, and affordable pricing. In addition, there is increasing pressure on our water supplies, thus the need to conserve available resources better.

“Sadly, these underground pipes and their leaks tend to be very much out of sight, out of mind,” said Guenter Hauber-Davidson, the Managing Director of WaterGroup.

Leaks can occur from any connection, whether a pipe joint, a bend, a valve or a hydrant. We also need to consider holes in ageing and corroding pipes. For eons, it has been a well-accepted industry rule of thumb to lose at least 10 per cent (and often much more, over 20-30 per cent, even 50 per cent) of precious potable water.

“We need to shift that paradigm,” he said. “We need to push and reach a point where this is simply unacceptable. This represents a clear call for action.”

WaterGroup and SmartEAR

WaterGroup has entered the pipe monitoring industry with its SmartEAR acoustic Internet of Things (IoT) logger for water networks. The SmartEAR is designed for Australian water utilities but could be utilised in a range of countries.

“By providing better monitoring and visibility, it makes it easier to step up and stop the worst leaks in a system,” said Hauber-Davidson. “If we look at crime as an analogy, we want to identify and lock up the biggest offenders first. Once security is improved, the organisation can refine their approach and cast a finer net.”

SmartEAR, in the opinion of Hauber-Davidson, is the quintessential technology that provides visibility relative to underground leaks.

“When people see how the platform operates, they immediately grasp its value,” he said. “Knowing that pipe leaks are detected when they happen allows network operators to sleep easily at night. Most critically, it prevents and avoids disruptive bursts requiring emergency repairs that make the evening news.”


One of the main features of technology is that it gets cheaper as more of it is rolled out. The savings arising from the increased distribution of IoT add to the increased value for water utilities and local councils.

“We’ve seen that increase in value from adopting new technology in an appropriate, practical, cost-effective, and results-driven fashion for our customers,” Hauber-Davidson said. “We’ve been able to demonstrate that over the past 15 years. In a recent audit, we showed that we have saved over $8 million worth of water for our customers just in the last three years. We can do exactly the same with our pipeline monitoring technology, supporting water supply networks for councils and utilities.”

Security risks from IoT and Benefits

As with any additional internet connection, risks need to be assessed. People are concerned about residential IoT devices being hacked, and this concern extends to commercial IoT data loggers. The water industry is no exception.

“Cybersecurity is obviously at the front of everyone’s minds,” said Hauber-Davidson. “There have been plenty of well-publicised cases. However, this should not be used as an excuse to not do something.”

Technology moves on, and very few advocate for the return to reams of paper full of hard copies of data. He pointed out that the benefits of electronic data far outweigh the costs (or risks). Hence, we have accepted those risks, and they are typically well-managed. As a result, we are now far better off than in the old days.

One way WaterGroup reduces cybersecurity is by keeping its monitoring solutions separate. For example, the SmartEAR does not interact with or control any asset.

“Even if somebody were to get into the monitoring system,” he said, “all they can see is where a leak might exist. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too bad. The important thing to remember is that in all the well-publicised cases, illegal access has been acquired through obtaining poorly secured repeated passwords, often from private social or shopping accounts. It seems almost inconceivable how people could hack a simple IoT logger with minimal bandwidth to create a pathway for back door access such as into the SCADA system.”

Safety in cyber

One of the most important aspects of cybersecurity and safety is to build in safety and security measures at every level and aspect of the data and communications chain. That extra effort makes it infinitely harder to hack a system.

Hauber-Davidson believes there are benefits in safely and securely sharing different types of data amongst different organisations.

“That data can be network monitoring data, including water usage, consumption data and perhaps some operating data,” he said. “We still need to put clear segregations in place so that at least the operational control is completely removed from the data.”

Hauber-Davidson looked at the work done by Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW). Five or six years earlier, NSW Trains (now TfNSW) allowed open access to certain types of data, including geolocation data, routes, entry and exit data across every station, station maps, occupancy information, and even parking lot capacity.

“This access to data has given rise to a whole raft of companies that have developed mobile apps,” Hauber-Davidson said. “Those apps provide excellent information at a fraction of the cost and much faster than the government could have ever achieved. It shows that data can be shared more openly if organisations and governments are confident in their security.”

Understanding data

The beauty of smart water meters and data loggers is that they help water utilities and local councils see where, how, and when water is used and where it is lost in near real time. However, this data needs to be analysed and acted upon to make it safe and create a benefit. Hauber-Davidson suggests that companies like WaterGroup can deliver a valuable resource for water utilities, local councils, and industrial water users.

“It’s important to remember that once our customers receive more data in a day than they previously received in a whole year, they must have resources to interpret it. We can help by triaging the data, turning it into actionable information, and assisting in taking the corresponding meaningful corrective action.”

In Hauber-Davidson’s eyes, the icing on the cake is to monitor the results of those actions, verify what has been achieved, report on it, and then drive even greater overall system benefits to close that feedback. Is it a case of having your cake and eating it?

“Once customers have all that data, they will see a whole range of potential issues,” Hauber-Davidson said. “The next challenge is prioritising those issues, as no organisation can deal with them all at once. It’s an opportunity to proactively deal with individual issues and systemic issues. A good dataset will help customers understand what is happening and allow them to pre-emptively deal with them.”

For more information, visit

Related Articles:

Send this to a friend