Hiraya Water Systems brings machine learning to the Philippines’ small water utilities
When DJ extraordinaire David Guetta sang the words “I will never make it by without you,” he may well have been referring to one of the world’s most precious resources – water. A report by the World Bank states that nearly US$14 billion worth of non-revenue water (NRW) – water that is produced but never makes it to the consumer – is wasted worldwide per year.
This problem is particularly prevalent in the Philippines. It is one of the top three concerns of water utility authorities in the country, according to Stephen Larcia, who used to work at Maynilad Water Services in Metro Manila. One of his colleagues, Mark Stanley Cleto, was the head of electromechanical design, and his job involved evaluating all the equipment purchases of the company.
Through his work, Cleto became very familiar with existing technologies used in water management systems, both local and foreign.
“There was this advanced pressure management system that he evaluated, in which he saw real value for a lot of water utility companies,” Larcia recalls. “The system was developed by another UK-based company.”
The problem, however, was that the system was really expensive. “The UK company clearly targeted the big and developed water utility companies,” Larcia explains. “So Stan thought of doing a version that would target the less developed utilities.”
Cleto brought two other colleagues into the project – Larcia and Ann Margarett Marigondon. He thought that the trio could easily put together the system, but it turned out to be too complex for them to handle.
“We realized that we had some expertise gaps. Fortunately, we were able to engage Rafael King Ramos, the guy considered to be the gem of Maynilad’s water supply operations,” says Larcia. “Then the last addition was Gregorio Ortiz, who was recommended by a friend of Stan’s. It was actually just a fortunate coincidence that he was also working for Maynilad.”
Managing water distribution
The team of five formed Hiraya Water Solutions. Having identified the inefficient operations of pumps as one of the key culprits in water wastage, they devised a pump control mechanism called the Real-Time Adjusting Pump System (R-TAP) that helps water utility companies to manage their distribution.
R-TAP takes a predictive approach when it comes to optimizing the operations of pumps. It has a self-learning algorithm that identifies and enables the most optimum operation in real-time, continuously adjusting to provide the exact needed pressure in a network at any given time.
Larcia tells Tech in Asia that the system is “non-invasive and as simple to install as possible,” such that the five-person team can handle it with no trouble. “We just need the agreement with the water utility [company] to proceed with an installation,” he says.
Its first prototype went live in May last year, with good results, according to Larcia. “We had our successful prototype in one of the small villages in Muntinlupa, where we recovered 25 percent of water loss due to leakage,” he explains. The figure was calculated simply by taking the percentage of water that is lost compared to what is billed.
With this case study in hand, Hiraya entered a Philippines-based startup competition called IdeaSpace, and came out on top. It was also one of four startups chosen to join Impact Investment Exchange Asia’s accelerator program, as well as one of the top six startups in Southeast Asia which were invited to participate in the IBM SmartCamp ASEAN in Singapore. “At the camp, we met several potential investors, mentors, and connectors, some of whom have been helping us even after the camp,” Larcia says.
He reveals that some of its prospective investors include a large conglomerate, two construction giants, a telemetry company that has manufacturing and product development expertise, and a foreign angel investor. The co-founder hopes to close a round of funding by the end of May.
The team recently concluded its first demo installation in one of the towns in Bataan, a province north of Manila, with yet another promising outcome. “Based on the results, the annual water recovery – in terms of volume expected – would be more than four times that of the recovery in the prototype in Muntinlupa,” says Larcia.
They have also clinched agreements for demo installations with eight other water utility companies, which are to be implemented in the coming months. “Our target is to convert half of these demos into sales,” he adds. “Afterwards, we will execute an aggressive marketing plan for other target installations.”
The founding team has mid- to long-term plans of bringing their solution beyond the Philippines and into the rest of the region. It’s also looking to develop other water products. Right now, though, their focus is to get paying customers for the R-TAP locally, where there are about 70 to 80 water districts – each with about 15 pumps – that have compatible systems.
This post was originally published on Tech in Asia.
Featured Image Credit: Jim Wallace / Creative Commons