The information on your water bill isn’t very useful. It’s delayed, it’s not contextual, and it’s not user-friendly. Most utilities seem to go out of their way to make bills as confusing as possible—obfuscation, after all, can be profitable.
MyWater, a new water monitoring and point-of-use display system, aims to give better information, and hopefully save you money on your next bill. By displaying real-time usage and comparing that with similar houses in the area—as well as your personal water use over time—the system helps you make better decisions.
The product, an entrant in this year’s James Dyson Award competition, isn’t ready yet. It’s being developed by Anthony Jakubiak, a recent graduate from Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute, and he still needs to find partners to get it working fully. But the idea shows a lot of promise.
Jakubiak worked on the project last year using a scholarship from the Dyson Foundation. "The question became: how do we display the information at the right time to make behavior change?," he says. "We talked about a mobile app, but we found there was something really powerful about having something at the point of use. It’s in-your-face, and visually rich and meaningful."
Homes equipped with smart meters already report useful information. It’s just that consumers aren’t privy to it. Utilities collect data by picking up on radio frequency signals that pulse from units every four to six seconds. Jakubiak’s idea is to hack into this stream and bring it to life.
The myWater display plugs into outlets near where you’re using water (above the sink, say) and has two main screens. One shows what you’ve used that day; the other, how you’re doing relative to people in your area, and against your own monthly average. You calibrate the device by filling in basic information (state, household size, etc.) when you start.
"The goal isn’t to get you to cut your water use by 90%," Jakubiak says. "It’s more that there are little decisions throughout the day when subtle reminders could get you to turn off the faucet or shower sooner. It’s all about creating awareness, and starting a conversation at the dinner table."
Jakubiak has a working prototype, but doesn’t yet have real data. To do that, he needs to persuade the big metering suppliers, like Badger Meter or Aclara, to give him access to the encrypted data streams. He says he’s talking to a couple of companies now.
Water conservation is bound to grow as an issue. Major cities and regions are already reporting shortages, and experts say the problem is going to get worse. Metering will be key (Pike Research says 29.9 million homes will have units with two-way capabilities by 2017). But so will displaying information in a compelling way. Along with products like this (and this and this), myWater seems to be going in the right direction.