October 08, 2016 - 12:04 PM
MONTREAL - Can artificial intelligence be used to help predict water quality? Could an app for fishermen help signal the presence of invasive species?
Technology, and how it can help save one of North America's most threatened waterways, was a focal point of a two-day Montreal summit focused on the St. Lawrence River. The event included a contest for teams to develop innovative solutions to water management.
The winning entry, announced Friday, was a Quebec-based team that developed a statistical computer model that uses a combination of open data and artificial intelligence to predict whether the river's waters would be safe for swimmers.
Team leader Emile Sylvestre said the platform takes in information provided by cities and Environment Canada -- such as rainfall, overflows and ocean currents -- and uses it to predict water quality at different beaches along the river.
Best-yet, Sylvestre said the model -- called Info-Baignade -- learns as it goes.
"Our model is based on artificial intelligence et thus it learns, as more open data and sampling tests are entered, to make the most precise predictions possible in order to constantly improve the model," said Sylvestre, a PhD student at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique.
Sylvestre says the team hopes to work with cities who can use the information to make decisions on water management and let citizens know whether the water is likely safe for swimming at any given moment.
Complex as it sounds, the goal is simple: to get people more people jumping into the river.
"We want to democratize the river," Sylvestre said. "Right now citizens are scared of going in, because they don't know the state of the water."
Other top finishers in the contest included a system of flexible underwater pillars to prevent riverbank erosion, an app to provide fishermen with information on local species, and a project to use drones to take water samples and photographs for scientific analysis.
One of the conference's stated goals is to work towards having a healthy river by 2030.
Earlier this year, an American environmental group placed the St. Lawrence on its annual list of the most endangered rivers.
American Rivers said the biggest threat was from “harmful” dam operations that are threatening fish, wildlife and local communities.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016