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Water Genie bottles a formula to fight scarcity

water genie idealog?Keoni Mahelona’s social entrepreneurship cause is combating water scarcity. It’s already a problem in some nations and is tipped to get bigger globally with climate change.

Mahelona came to New Zealand as a Fulbright US graduate in 2009, completing a Master of Science at Victoria University. He’s fighting the battle to manage water resources on many fronts: as a research scientist at Callaghan Innovation he’s investigating microfluidic devices that control and manipulate fluids at nanoscale.

And thanks to funding from the MacDiarmid Institute, Mahelona has also been researching surfaces that could collect dew as an alternative to rainwater. But the fruits of these labours will be long term, so he’s creating a tool to create faster impact. It’s Water Genie, a cloud-connected smart meter for measuring and predicting tank water supplies.

“Rather than telling people how much water they have now, we can tell them how much they can expect to have one to two weeks down the road, so we can work with them to manage their water situation,” says Mahelona. “It allows us to work with the water suppliers and give them access to that information so they can supply to people more efficiently.”

The company says one million Kiwis aren’t connected to public water supplies, so collect rainwater for their homes. It wants to help people save water and money by allowing households to plan and manage their water use.

Part of the target audience is people who have holiday or rental homes, and people with houses in places like Waiheke Island, where demand for water sometimes outstrips supply.

Mahelona has been developing Water Genie since introducing the idea at the social enterprise-focused Wellington Startup Weekend last August. The initial focus is on developing the meter — Mahelona says other hardware is available but is expensive and outdated. He wants his device to be affordable.

The challenge has been reliable transmission to the cloud, and Mahelona’s team mate is investigating telemetry networks that might offer a solution.

The Water Genie system is a trickier proposition than other iterations of the internet of things, which don’t transmit as much data and connect over shorter ranges, he says.

Mahelona raised more than $6000 in a PledgeMe campaign last year and has applied for the next Lightning Lab intake. He’s also seeking more members to join the team.

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Amanda Sachtleben is an Auckland writer and social media type, who's also Idealog's former tech editor and business journalist.

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