When asked about the children of geophysicist Lauren Guy (34) – the man who discovered in his master’s degree that there is water on Mars and founded the only company in the world that can detect satellite drinking water leaks – what Dad does, they answer that he is a “plumber from space”.
Guy alone founded in 2013 the company known as UTILIS, and today, after rebranding, is called ASTERRA, and is the developer and owner. The establishment was preceded by research and experiments that were valuable both in space and on Earth. He has found a solution that allows water corporations and governments to scan all of their piping systems – which can reach tens of thousands of miles – and locate leaks. In doing so, the company helps save billions of dollars and even more – save water.
Just to clear the ear, in the days when every drop matters, 46 billion gallons of water are lost worldwide every day due to outdated plumbing and poor maintenance. More than 20% of the water that is treated for drinking in Europe and the United States is lost in distribution systems. 75% of this water can be returned, for the benefit of the residents.
Guy is not the usual startupist sitting at a computer and disassembling software. He studied geology with a specialization in hydrology with a bachelor’s degree from Ben.Gurion University and went on to pursue a master’s degree at the Hebrew University, in a research program focusing on other planets “and all kinds of phenomena that occur in them,” he says.
On Highway 1
“Because I’m first a geologist, in my undergraduate degree I focused more on the earth, and then I focused on whether there is water on Mars. I realized that if so, they are only underground. Because we can not dig on Mars, we use unique microwaves that can penetrate the earth, “And from space you can see what’s going on underground. That’s how we discovered the technique, and I realized that if it works in space, it will surely work on Earth as well.”
His mother generally wanted him to pursue a doctorate, but Guy reached saturation from academia. “The problem with academia is that everything moves slowly. Sometimes data from 30 years ago is used, and I have pepper. I got to a point where, with all due respect to my love of research, I need to work at a different pace and maybe find something that will help the planet.”
After he got married, Guy was looking for a job. “The problem is that I did not find where to work. I am a geophysicist, and there is no such profession in the country really. For a short time I was a drilling supervisor on Road 1, coming from the Jerusalem mountains. That was enough for me, and I decided to create the workplace ‘, And the fact that in the State of Israel, the country where we learn from childhood that is a pity every drop, there is a waste of 30% drinking water, whether we like it or not, and all because of liquidity that has nothing to do with.
“I am naturally curious, so I wondered if, following the research I did in my master’s degree, it might be possible to use the method of finding water not only in a search on Mars but also on Earth, and maybe make a start.up out of it,” he says.
But Earth, for those who missed that lesson in school, is a water.rich star. Guy knows this too, and realized he needed to hone and refine his research to start seeing money from it. “I realized that my challenge is to check via satellite if the water I find on Earth is drinking water or rainwater or sewage. The challenge was to put the differences at that level.”
We will not tire of you in the research process, it is only said that in the initial stage Guy found himself working almost alone, building an algorithm. In collaboration with two water corporations that assisted him in the initial stages of the experiments, he slowly realized he had gold in hand. Within two years, this gold will become a company spread across 70 countries and serving 400 customers. And it took less than a decade.
Let’s run to the end for a moment. To date, the company has been able to detect more than 30,000 leaks in drinking water networks, which have saved infrastructure companies and government bodies more than 25 billion liters of water, 17,000 megawatts per hour and 11,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
In 2019, UTILIS was selected by the World Economic Forum as one of the eight Israeli companies with the greatest potential to change the face of society and shape the next industrial revolution. Last year, Microsoft’s good accelerator from Microsoft Corporation chose the company to be one of 14 Israeli start.ups with the greatest potential for combining artificial intelligence and environmental impact.
Can you say that you fulfilled the promise?
“We are a mature start.up that is growing year by year. For that matter, last year we had 20 employees, and today we are close to 60 employees who entered at the end of the current round, a year ago. The amount was $ 6 million, from a British venture capital fund.”
May I ask how much the company is worth?
“The revenue has passed the investment, and in the last year it is estimated at around $ 10 million. We are a commercial company for all intents and purposes. Sometimes the company was positive ‘by mistake’, that it is not so good for a start.up, “Corporations have come together and taken care of their problems, and our business has actually gone up because companies and corporations have decided to take care of their problems. We are the only company in the world that shoots satellite, with no contact in the field.
A quarter of the Sea of Galilee
According to Guy, the really gratifying thing is that the company has a way to quantify success. “Thanks to our data we can track exactly our impact in the field of water liquidity. As of July 2020, we found 36,000 liquids in five years, which is 35 million cubic meters of water (about a quarter of the Sea of Galilee). And the impact is not only in water but also in energy. “17% of the energy that Israel uses is for the benefit of water transport and water treatment. And that’s a lot.”
The climate crisis goes hand in hand with saving water and energy.
“Carbon emissions, for example, are one of the important parameters. If you save energy, you also save carbon emissions in the atmosphere. The second thing is that the climate crisis will go hand in hand with a water crisis. Water conservation is essential for the future.”
In addition to detecting liquidity, the technology helps prevent infrastructure disasters. “I was amazed to find that 75% of infrastructure disasters such as the collapse of bridges, the destruction of railway tracks, potholes that open on highways and more – happen because of water,” says Guy.
“Improper handling of water infrastructure, or rainwater that does not drain well, will lead to such a result. Two years ago, the British equivalent of the IDF asked us to monitor tens of thousands of kilometers of roads to prevent such a disaster in advance. Together we developed a satellite product that photographed all the infrastructure in the country and located where there is a high chance of infrastructure failures. These can result from moisture, a slope, undrained soil or problematic soil. And it helps to reach a solution very quickly. “
How long does it take you to identify a problem?
“In the old solutions, we collect data from the field and dig, which can take weeks. We, on the other hand, take a satellite image today, analyze it tomorrow, and the next day the customer will already know what is happening in the whole of England. It’s also a matter of saving lives. Three months ago there was a disaster in Scotland. There was a landslide under a railway and three people were killed. Can be avoided. “
What is your level of accuracy in locating liquidity?
“Today we stand at 87% success, and even in 2015, when our accuracy rate was 20%, we still found twice as much liquidity as other companies that used the old methods. We improve year by year, mainly thanks to the data and algorithm, which expands as we work harder.” .
The company is the only one in the world that deals with locating liquidity via satellites. And yet, it does not have its own satellites. “We rent airtime on some specific microwave satellites with special sensitivity. We send for example a satellite to photograph over London, and it comes back with the most raw material there is. I process it, and take out the final analysis for the customer, who knows exactly where his liquidity is and goes out to treat them.”
The entire start.up consists of a team of researchers and scientists. “We are geophysicists, physicists, geographers and electrical engineers and not software geeks,” Guy explains. “The reason is first of all a desire to provide a new and interesting workplace in this field, which did not exist in the country, because everyone who studied these issues went to work in one government organization or another. We give a start.up channel to researchers, and that excites me very much.”
Because you are all scientists do you continue to research other infrastructures?
“We have a department that is only responsible for future research. Think of a department in a start.up company that is told to research like in an academy, only here there is money, and you will do experiments if you want. We do experiments around the world, and find different solutions to all kinds of issues. I have a thesis that interested me and dealt with the question of whether I can see natural gas liquidity via satellite.
“For several months we, a team of four people, researched the subject. We did experiments in the Czech Republic and Germany, with all kinds of corporations who wanted to help us, and we found that just as you open a gas stove and water droplets form, there is water condensation on natural gas. So we have a new patent, which in the near future we hope to make it another tier in our company. “
In the meantime, in Israel
The company works mainly in the UK, the US and Italy, and less in Israel. “Regulation in the UK helps our market there to be very large. They are anxious about the environmental aspect, the energy aspect and dealing with problems, and the same is true in Italy. In recent years, we have been approached by many companies that take the story of corporate responsibility seriously, and water conservation is one of the main and important issues for them. “
And why is it delayed in Israel?
“I always laugh that while the salesman in Israel sells to one customer, abroad we are already closing with 50. In the Israeli water market there is no real impetus. In the US, for example, the price of water varies according to the corporation, and it decides what the price is according to its losses and revenues. Here in the country the price is forced from sources or the state, and corporations, for the most part at least With whom is Raanana, and I hope that more corporations will take it in the future. “
Despite the criticism, Guy seeks to favor the Water Authority, which approached him a few years ago and decided to use the company’s unique technology for detecting sewage leaks.
“We did a project in Lod that was very successful, and now it’s something that is already working all over the world when it comes to sewage leakage. The Water Authority was an important factor in creating a new solution. “