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December 2016

Mathematician fights water waste with robotic sprinklers

At a glance
The team

Yile Zhang, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta’s Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences; supervised by Professor Yau Shu Wong

The challenge

Sprinklers on large fields can waste up to 50 percent of water spray in windy conditions

The solution

Develop an algorithm to program sprinklers to stand up to windy weather

The outcome

Robotic sprinklers that are up to 200 percent more efficient 

What's next

Patent the technology and develop new software for current systems

We’ve all witnessed a neighbour’s sprinkler needlessly watering the sidewalk. While the impact may seem small, for professional sports leagues and farmers every drop of water can add up to millions of dollars lost on their fields.

Enter InteliRain. The Alberta start-up has its sights set on solving inefficient outdoor sprinklers that waste water due to poor design. The company’s intelligent sprinkler systems only water the lawn or fields, while avoiding sidewalks.

However, when InteliRain CEO Cam Cote realised that wind was thwarting the efficiency of his sprinklers, he turned to University of Alberta mathematician Yile Zhang to develop an innovative solution through a Mitacs internship.

Tasked with the challenge, Yile set out to develop a mathematical equation that could direct a computer in the sprinkler nozzle to adjust the spray to account for windy conditions. Once he began, Yile found that no previous research existed from which he could model the invention. So he designed a solution from scratch.

After extensive testing, new robotic sprinklers were developed that can adjust the spray patterns to account for high winds, and distribute the water more evenly across the lawn, ensuring high quality turf. This invention increases efficiency by up to 200 percent! And, the sprinklers take less time to install, which will save InteliRain’s clients time and money.

The invention has contributed to the creation of new robotic sprinklers that the company will soon take to market with a professional sports league. InteliRain has also applied to patent the technology.

InteliRain CEO Cam Cote says the project demonstrates the potential of collaborating with university researchers.

“This was a great opportunity for us — as a small Alberta company — to work with passionate, knowledgeable people who have tremendous expertise. Mitacs made this collaboration accessible to us. This was our first time working with the University of Alberta, and we couldn’t be happier.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and Alberta Innovates for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan  and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: