Stu­dents flush work away

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JOE DAW­SON

A tiny mi­crochip flushed down the loo could solve a long-stand­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem that has de­graded the Manukau Har­bour.

Sewage has been pol­lut­ing stormwa­ter which flows into the har­bour for years. It is caused by by the ac­ci­den­tal join­ing of what should be sep­a­rate pipes dur­ing re­pair work.

Find­ing and re­pair­ing those con­nect­ing points has been a dif­fi­cult task but a group of elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents may have cracked it.

They were put on the case by Manukau Har­bour and One­hunga stal­wart Jim Jackson.

Mr Jackson ap­proached AUT School of En­gi­neer­ing’s de­sign and cre­ative tech­nolo­gies lec­turer Boon-Chong Seet with the idea of de­ploy­ing the tags farm­ers use to keep track of cows to fol­low the sewage jour­ney.

De­spite the tech­nol­ogy never be­ing used in this way be­fore, Dr Seet says a trio of stu­dents made a break­through.

‘‘I had never heard of this us­age – tag­ging a body of wa­ter which is mov­ing – but the pro­ject worked,’’ Dr Seet says.

Jakov Biondic, Jag­mo­han Singh Jaura and Sean Whittaker used a 3D printer to cre­ate a light­weight case which holds a ra­dio fre­quency iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (RFID) chip.

The chip trans­mits data to a re­ceiver which can chart its progress and iden­tify it.

If one ends up in a stormwa­ter pipe the team can trace where it came from.

‘‘Jim wanted a so­lu­tion that could be less time con­sum­ing and sug­gested this pos­si­bil­ity and wanted us to help him to test the fea­si­bil­ity of it.

‘‘If this were to be re­ally de­ployed in a real en­vi­ron­ment there is still some fine tun­ing to be done, but over­all the ba­sic ob­jec­tive of this pro­ject has been met.

‘‘I be­lieve this pro­ject opens up a new ap­pli­ca­tion for en­vi­ron­men­tal sens­ing.’’

Mr Jackson says he is pleased with the re­sults and the po­ten­tial for its fu­ture use. The next ques­tion is how to fund it and he will cham­pion the de­vice to the Auck­land Coun­cil and Water­care.

‘‘This har­bour has been very badly ne­glected over 100 years, and the next gen­er­a­tion com­ing through is much more sym­pa­thetic to see­ing some bet­ter out­comes. We’ve treated it as a rub­bish tip for 100 years and the next gen­er­a­tion is say­ing that’s not ap­pro­pri­ate.’’

Mr Jackson says wa­ter qual­ity in One­hunga Bay can be bad as a re­sult of th­ese ‘‘delin­quent pipes’’. It could well make us­ing the new beach be­ing built there unattrac­tive.

‘‘If you’re go­ing to be a good cor­po­rate cit­i­zen you need to en­cour­age uni­ver­si­ties to look at th­ese re­ally ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

‘‘Some may fail but that’s the whole process.

‘‘There is a pos­si­bil­ity we could fin­ish up us­ing that tech­nol­ogy to iden­tify th­ese cross-overs by hav­ing peo­ple in the catch­ment area launch this thing – and they’re only a dol­lar each.’’

Photo: JOE DAW­SON

Sewage so­lu­tion: Boon-Chong Seet with a de­vice which could be flushed down toi­lets to iden­tify points of cross-con­tam­i­na­tion be­tween sewage and stormwa­ter pipes.

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