Virtual reality (VR) video games, IBM’s Watson, 3-D printing…You may be surprised that these are some of the areas inspiring innovations in the water industry. But what does a Jeopardy!-winning computer or playing VR tennis have to do with improving water quality and service for customers?
Beyond the more traditional research and development efforts of our engineers and scientists, there’s a whole other engine driving many innovations that initially have very little, if anything, to do with water at all! We call this Imaginovation — American Water’s technology and innovation program that encourages anyone in the company, not just engineers, researchers and other professionals, to venture outside the “water world.” The philosophy behind Imaginovation is the notion that you never know where your next inspiration—and potential breakthrough—might come from, and that water innovations cannot thrive in a vacuum.
For instance, did you ever think that the new VR video game your daughter keeps begging you for could result in an even faster response when we detect a leak or other issue that might interfere with water service? We’re looking into ways that our professionals are using VR technology to hone their skills in servicing equipment before the equipment needs servicing, or making repairs without having to actually dig into the ground.
From drones and 3-D modeling to weather tracking devices — technologies you may never have thought had a connection with water service — are being developed so that we can Keep Life Flowing. Add to these the initiative of integrating artificial intelligence to sift through data for better decision-making and it’s clear there could be an impact in elevating customer service, treatment, conservation efforts and more.
American Water’s dedicated professionals inspire and explore new ideas across the entire business. Whether it’s an innovation that will be used “in the field” or behind a desk, or in the laboratory, one thing is clear; we are in a golden age of technological development that is happening in some cases in real time. Ultimately, if we can find new ways to improve the water utility experience for customers and the capabilities that help push the industry forward, the benefits will be realized beyond traditional imaginations.