A Taupō start-up called Heed is helping to avoid sticky situations for councils and communities with a solution for a big problem faced by local governments everywhere.
Beneath our feet runs a network of sewer pipes that most of us don’t think about too often.
However, every now and then, blockages and overflows occur, creating a huge mess and plenty of issues for the local community and the local environment.
In Taupō, the district council is responsible for the sewer network as well as any overflow events. If sewage ever makes its way into the Waikato River, there can be huge costs associated with cleaning up the mess, as well as a fine imposed by Waikato Regional Council.
No-one, least of all Taupō District Council, wants to see our waterways polluted with waste and so Heed has come up with a solution that can help monitor sewage infrastructure and provide advance warning of possible overflows.
Fritz Frohlke is the CEO of Heed and passionate about the health of our local rivers and the lake. An entrepreneur and serial start-up founder, he put his problem-solving skills to work to find a way to help councils to manage this issue. Fritz teamed up with Phillip Elliot, another entrepreneur with a passion for protecting our waterways and an impressive track record in innovative tech companies. Between them, they came up with a vision and a plan for solving sewer overflow problems.
The solution itself is simple: use the ability of liquids to block radio frequencies. However, the
execution of this concept has been much more complicated. Fritz explains this as a hallmark of
technology start-ups, “Headaches and heartaches are normal,” he says. “You need a plan with a few incremental leaps, because you won’t get to the perfect solution in one leap. Testing and
prototyping are critical to the process, so you need to have the right team and set up in place to tackle this aspect of a start-up business effectively.”
Heed has a small but nimble team of five which includes software and hardware engineers and a sales and marketing expert. They have been able to develop prototypes and test them, ironing out problems and perfecting all aspects of the system over many iterations. Most of the components are made in Taupō, using a 3D printer, which means the team can respond to issues and make adjustments to components immediately.
Heed’s technology solution is compact, durable and cost-effective. The head unit of the system is attached to the underside of a manhole. A beacon is then attached in the sewer shaft. The beacon has no mechanical parts and is completely liquid and foul-proof. The beacon emits a signal using a radio frequency that the head unit receives. If the beacon becomes fully submerged, the radio frequency is completely blocked. If the head unit fails to receive the signal from the beacon, it sends an alert to a cloud-based system which then tells the council that they might have a problem. This allows the council to check the sewer shaft and remove any blockages before the sewer shaft overflows, saving money in clean-up costs and potential fines if sewage is detected in waterways.
The units can feed data directly to councils so that they can monitor the network in real time as well as build a picture of how their sewer system operates. Without the Heed system, councils have no way of knowing when, and by how much, levels within the sewer systems are rising and falling. This is valuable information, especially when you get a significant influx of people.
Heed has patented the unique technology, with a plan to take their business to markets such as
Europe, Asia and United States. All over the world, thousands of local authorities must keep sewer systems working and manage the risk of overflows that may endanger the health of their
communities and environment. “The potential for this solution is enormous. We hope it can soon help to protect waterways across New Zealand and around the world,” says Fritz.