Researchers determine how to digitize, optimize and maintain water management in smart cities

May 02, 2023

(Nanowerk News) Droughts and massive underground water leaks in megacities, as recently reported in the Barcelona metropolitan area, ​​make improving the management of water resources in urban environments even more important. Implementing smart, connected systems for water supply and purification infrastructure has clear benefits and will come with time. However, as the sector is in the midst of digitalisation, this transition must be agile and carefully monitored.

A new study has laid the groundwork for how this process should work. The brains behind it is Cristina Villar, a graduate of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and an employee at one of Spain’s leading technology companies, where she designs digitization and security solutions for various types of infrastructure.

Conducted as a final project for the University’s Masters Degree in Telecommunications Engineering, this study examines what needs to happen for this update to take place and describes the network architecture and the specific types of hardware required to secure the water supply chain in smart cities, which is key given that climate change and Population growth makes this resource increasingly scarce.

Villar, who is listed as the study’s first author, said: “In water treatment and management, there is a considerable deficiency in the development and standardization of digital protocols. Instead of creating a unique or inflexible design, we wanted to lay the groundwork for an operation to suit the environment. this is with the needs of Industry 4.0 and Spanish legislation.” His master’s final project is published in open access and supervised by Victor Monzon Baeza, currently a research fellow at the University of Luxembourg. After achieving excellent results, the research was then published in MDPI Smart City (“Guidelines for Renewal and Securitization of Important Infrastructure Based on IoT Networks”) as a research paper co-authored by Raúl Parada, researcher at the Center for Telecommunications Technology of Catalonia, and Carles Monzo, member of the UOC Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications.

Complex architecture

In their view, updates to critical infrastructure related to the water supply chain should be based on an architecture that includes action and measurement groups (a large number of on-site sensors) and interference-free networks to provide coverage and transmit data. to the core computing group, the backbone of the proposed solution. This part of the system will be responsible for collecting all data from sensors and executing commands for actuators. These commands can be entered manually by an operator in charge of maintaining the system or can be automated to increase the response time of the water management system.

All data will be stored in a NoSQL database such as MongoDB, ideally used on a high-availability server located in a private data processing center (DPC). These servers will be backed up and duplicated so the system will stay up and running in case of contingencies and will not suffer a service outage.

Such information can be extracted and studied through data analytics processors and uploaded to the cloud for further calculations and application of artificial intelligence. The author proposes to adopt the NB-IoT (Internet of Things) protocol for on-site devices, as it uses all necessary communication security protocols, and 4G mobile network for connectivity, as it offers a high level of coverage.

Priority one: security

All systems involved need to meet a series of requirements to meet current regulatory criteria and achieve optimal performance. This includes factors such as high availability, updates without interruption of service, maintenance plans with 24/7 remote monitoring, and the possibility of homogeneous data output for processing.

To maintain system security, the authors suggest having a discrete and segmented infrastructure, both physical and virtual, and a “high availability infrastructure with multiple firewalls in cluster mode, in such a way as to ensure the redundancy of the systems supporting the solution.”

Villar said: “Cybersecurity plays an important role in this critical infrastructure, so it is very important to consider the recommended guidelines. This includes distributing firewalls and servers in geographically independent locations to ensure high availability, so that a failure in one of these locations does not impact the rest, and using two DPCs. No one wants a hacker to break into the system and leave the city without water.”

Automatic upgrade

This digitization process can automate many operations and make various improvements, such as checking whether water purification is high enough not to change the ecological environment, measuring the amount of energy consumed by the system, detecting and acting quickly on leaks in the supply chain, monitoring water purification treatment levels and determining average number of hours of interrupted water supply service per year.

The benefits of the proposed infrastructure will include the low economic cost and low power consumption of the NB-IoT sensor; the wide range of sensors available under the LPWAN solution, which enables remote communications over cellular networks; and low investment costs, as it leverages the 4G radio station infrastructure used by telephone operators. In addition, the use of an open source management platform improves compatibility with other application code that can be integrated with the platform.

Artificial intelligence

Looking further into the future, the authors advocate the use of hyperautomation and artificial intelligence systems as additional implementations that should be considered in the future to strengthen the preventive maintenance of network components and thereby prevent incidents due to component wear. This robotic process will also eliminate the possibility of human error to a large extent, although there is always a need for technical operators to deal with unforeseen problems.

Villar said: “In Spain, water management systems are still very green as far as digitization is concerned. They are a bit old-fashioned and difficult to connect to the internet, but it is high time to get this process underway and put it into practice. -time monitoring to avoid wasting these resources , water, which is of great value to mankind.”

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