What’s in Your Water?

FRED can Tell You

By Lisa Sadach

In 2014, what became known as the “Flint Water Crisis” began when cost-cutting measures led to a change in water source for Flint, Michigan. This change resulted in thousands of homes and businesses across the city having lead-contaminated water pumping through their faucets. As citizens experienced the life-altering effects of lead exposure, it would take nearly two years for scientific studies to prove the contamination and for an emergency to be declared.

This crisis highlighted a disturbing problem: water is one of the most essential elements of life, but we often don’t know what’s in it.

FREDsense, a portable water analysis technology that can detect harmful elements in minutes versus the weeks that a traditional lab requires, is seeking to disrupt this process and make detection faster, more cost-effective and potentially lifesaving. “Our lead sensor is very new but, issues like the one in Flint are something we would like to prevent,” Says FREDsense co-founder, Robert Mayall.

Developed by a group of enterprising students at the University of Calgary in 2011, the disruptive technology had a relatively humble beginning as an entry into a genetic engineering competition. 

First called FRED as a kind of joke, the name eventually came to stand for Field Ready Electrochemical Detector. Mayall and his team “…genetically engineered bacteria to be able to detect what’s in the world around them.”  They then went onto engineer different bacteria that can detect contaminants like arsenic and lead. 

“We were trying to find ways that we could monitor for toxins in the oil sands in Northern Alberta. At the time, we were pretty naïve and approached this purely as a scientific problem … but we didn’t want our work to just stop there. We wanted this to make a difference in the world and not just be a science project.”

“My thought is that machine learning will always be a tool to help musicFrom that realization, the group of six scientists decided to start a business which proved harder for the team than expected. “…it turned out that we had no knowledge of how to run a business. We were in school for science and they don’t teach you things like how to deal with co-founders or what sales and marketing actually mean.” 

From that realization, the group of six scientists decided to start a business which proved harder for the team than expected. “…it turned out that we had no knowledge of how to run a business. We were in school for science and they don’t teach you things like how to deal with co-founders or what sales and marketing actually mean.” 

FREDsense Makes Cents

Working with a city in Arizona, the team found the municipality was wasting time, money and resources over-remediating their water while waiting weeks for lab results. “When we did a pilot study with them…they were able to see results that very same day. They were so impressed with it that they became our first customers,” says Mayall.

While FREDsense will not replace lab testing, which is still considered the legal requirement and standard, it can help cities to treat water to ensure safety in the most cost-effective way possible. Companies and industries that use water in their processes can also benefit from the technology.

This includes “…gas companies, mining companies, and some federal agencies who are taking care of contaminated pipes. These industries are typically looking to ensure that any water that is discharged is following the regulations of the state or province. But there is also some to just make sure their remediation processes are working the way they think.”

The Future of Water in Our Hands

“While water is so important, we really don’t know how to tell good water from bad water,” says Mayall on the biggest issue facing our water supplies and how technology will play a key role in changing this. 

“At FREDsense, we’re really trying to bring information back into the hands of the users so that if you are an individual who is using well water or if you’re a company that’s trying to clean up contaminated water, we want to empower those users and let them know exactly what’s in their water when they need to know.”

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What’s in Your Water?
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What’s in Your Water?
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