Water Security

Embracing Ambiguity in Cyber-Physical Systems

Understand how to bring the adaptivity and resilience of the Internet to the Water Network to minimize waste and maximize quality in an environment where ambiguity is the “norm” and must be embraced.

Algorithms, policies and protocols to affect (near) real-time control over wide area WSN and Internet networks
Self-organizing computing system allowing adaptive sampling and a combination of cloud and edge processing
A system allowing intelligent storage of historical information allowing for comparative analysis
A reliable and adaptable networking solution to work around failures and interference
Proof of concept with Thames water, London.

Impact: Creation of a “city platform” that is adaptable and resilient while embracing ambiguity during its operation and control

Looking to the next decade, we will see the use of actuation and therefore control as being core to many networks – controlling the infrastructures; allowing them to be elastic and adaptive to individuals, contexts and time. This brings with it a new set of challenges – below are the top two issues that this project will investigate:

The Cyber-physical is unknown – Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) consist of computation and physical processes that are integrated and interacting. These can be machines interfacing with complex human systems, however the term normally refers to embedded computers and networks that monitor and control the physical processes. Usually via feedback loops, the physical processes then, in turn, affect the computations and vice versa. This brings considerable challenges, as physical components of such systems typically introduce safety and reliability requirements qualitatively different from those found today in general purpose computing; and yet they are not well understood.

Unreliability is normal – Recognising that we do not fully understand the CPS behaviours of devices interacting in physical spaces, we can accept this and build systems that are robust to this lack of determinism and that which can adapt to change [McCann 2008].  That is, we need to build systems specifically to overcome problems with inaccurate time processing and lost actuation messages, and unreliable communications.

Research questions:

What are the computing technologies required to route water around a city in exactly the same way as resilient network protocols route packets around a communications network? Further can we build a scalable energy-neutral solution that can be retro-fitted to the current water infrastructure at low cost?

Water (and Waste) is fundamental to human life in cities. It is rated as top priority with food security and rising sea levels [OFWAT 2009]. Yet, water has a massive impact on the other two priorities. Water and waste are probably one of the most inefficient aspects of a city. Though it is highly political, 50%+ water leakage has become quite normal for many of our cities. London is no exception, its pipes are 150 years old and it spends £90M per year finding and mending leaks.

Currently there are many efforts investigating embedding real-time sensing into water infrastructures to find leaks early and to monitor water content. Other initiatives aim to reduce the amount of energy consumed in pumping water around the network. Many research and commercial solutions exist, however most of these systems are basic Telemetry (monitoring, with one way communications), are not able to determine leaks on new pipes, and have no notion of intelligent on-line adaptive sampling. Further, energy saving initiatives have resulted in the pumping systems sending bursty water supplies around the network, not only affecting service and quality levels, but causing transients that impact on valve and pipe lifetimes severely. However our aim is to take these notions much further; to build a water network that is robust and agile enough to minimise wastage, maximise qualities and lifetime and minimise maintenance costs.

The goal is to investigate how to bring the adaptivity and resilience of the Internet to the Water network?

In such disruptive yet retro-fitted system, the network lines and routers become the water pipes and intelligent valves. From this we could build a water network that not only routes water based on current and predicted demand, but we could route it around failure (minimising wastage). Moreover, with intelligent control we could carry out pressure testing at night to measure where weaknesses lie in the network, again to inform water routing but also to detect future points of maintenance [Papadopoulos 2011]. Core to such a disruptive system is sensing and control technologies.

Therefore this project is both an application that can have a large impact on the sustainability of a city and is an example of a highly cyber-physical system; allowing us to explore this area in a realistic setting.