A service for global water level and river flow data based on pervasive sensor networks

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Civil & Environmental Engineering


Floods and droughts are among the most damaging and disruptive natural hazards worldwide. The development of adaptation and mitigation strategies such as flood forecasting systems relies on accurate observations of water level and river flow. However, the world's rivers are still very poorly monitored and existing monitoring networks are often very sparse in space and time. This is a major bottleneck for water resources management and risk reduction.

We have developed a "smart" sensor network that consists of a combination of novel, low-cost sensor technologies and computer algorithms to manage the network. With this network we can monitor and derive various river flow parameters in a way that is far more cost-effective, robust, flexible, and environmentally friendly than existing methods.

We have applied our technologies around the world and in a wide variety of applications, including groundwater well monitoring in Somalia, evaluating green infrastructure for water security in Peru, and supporting community-based flood early warning in Nepal. These applications have allowed us to test and refine the performance and robustness of the technology in real-world conditions, and has also exposed the technology to potential end-users. This has generated a broad interest, including various specific requests to purchase the sensors and related technologies.

Based on this experience, we see an opportunity to commercialize our technology by building an innovative global service for application-tailored water level and river flow data and analytics. Before applying for an Innovation Follow-On award, we intend to implement a set of activities to formalize our end-user engagement and analyse the potential market. This will allow us to understand end-user needs, and to identify an appropriate business model for the service.

Through the Imperial College MBA Connect programme, we have teamed up with the Imperial Business School student Henry Spethmann. Before embarking on MBA studies at Imperial College, Henry has been involved in several technology start-ups in Europe and the United States. As a result, he has extensive expertise on market analysis and business model development, which is highly complementary to the technological and scientific expertise of Dr Buytaert's group.

We intend to use the Pathfinder funding to contract Henry to develop a strategy for end-user engagement that will provide us with the necessary input in the development of the business model. Through our previous interactions and experience, we identified a set of potential clients (see section on "Beneficiaries" for more details). However, their requirements are diverse and suggest different potential business models, ranging from selling sensors to providing a set of services related to installation, operation, and data analysis. Therefore, we aim to conduct interviews with potential customers to understand the business context in which they operate, e.g. current needs, most difficult areas of operation, how much monitoring is already in place, and proportion of total budget allocated for hydrological data generation. This information will allow us to identify one or more suitable business models, as a first step towards the development of a business plan.

In conjunction to the end-user interaction and business model development, we also aim to explore the intellectual property context, implement a risk analysis, and identify relevant competitors.

Planned Impact

This pathfinder proposal intends to scope the market potential of providing services that are complementary or superior to existing hydrological monitoring. We want to understand how our customers' needs align with what our technology can achieve and estimate the size of a market that currently does not exist, using this pathfinder grant to identify the optimal business model.

If these activities are successful, we aim to apply for an Innovation Follow-on project to elaborate the identified business model into a full business plan, and to build a proof-of-concept integrated pilot for one or more specific clients. Specifically, the Innovation Follow-on project will focus on:

* Business development:

- Turning the business model identified during the pathfinder into a full business plan;

- Continued customer development, particularly around finding a suitable partner for an initial pilot

- Revision of the business plan & financial projections, creation of targeted versions of the business plan for different partners

- Development of a pitch deck for venture competitions. Pursuit & pitching of investors;

- Possible Incorporation & Pursuit of Patent Protection in our beachhead markets;

- Further market analysis & life cycle assessment of our proposed business activities to more fully understand what impact our business is having on the environment.

* Operationalization of the commercial activities:

- Operationalisation of the sensor technology, including outsourcing of the sensor production, and testing of long-term operations and reliability;

- Operationalisation of the data processing and simulation algorithms, including optimisation for speed, and reliability;

- Development of a security framework for data transmission and on-line data processing;

- Development of the website, data portal and client front-end.

We believe that we can use the Pathfinder proposal grant to formulate a well-researched hypothesis on how to turn our sensor project from an idea into a business. We hope the Innovation Follow-On Grant will allow us to take the next step, and actually create the business, build initial pilots and prove our concept.


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Description The key finding of this award is a business model for a data service on river water level and river flow. This is being implemented by means of a start-up company (riverflow.io).
Exploitation Route Spin-off company
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment

Description The business model developed in this grant has been adopted by a startup company (riverflow.io)
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment