EMILY NORMAN

Gone are the days of waiting years on end for an invention to be finetuned and prototyped.

With a 3D printer, parts can be manufactured overnight.

This is exactly what John Hart of Fab Lab Masterton has been doing to bring the idea of a water testing device to the real world.

A game-changer solution to New Zealand’s freshwater emergency, the RiverWatch Water Sensor is heading towards commercial market production.

The invention is the brainchild of Wairarapa farmer Grant Muir, a device he and biologist son James developed in conjunction with Victoria University.

And it is Mr Hart who is helping the invention reach the stage of commercial production.

In the UCOL home of Fab Lab, anyone visiting can see the evolution of the RiverWatch prototype.

“There are lots and lots of versions of the case,” Mr Hart said.

“It shows you the evolution because there was a lot of concept testing, making sure we had parts that fit together, that sort of thing.”

The device has a cage on the bottom, and all the sensors poke out through the bottom of the unit.

These sensors test many water quality parameters to help determine freshwater health, including temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH level, turbidity, and conductivity.

“The idea of this unit is you can add more sensors over time as they become available,” Mr Hart said.

“At the moment, the options are to take a container out of the water and take it to a lab and they do all the testing for you.

“There are some in-the-field testers, but they tend to be single-use and they’re quite expensive.”

RiverWatch would sit in the river unattended, recording data onto a data card every 15 minutes.

The data can then be received via wifi.

“All the parts of the prototype had to be 3D printed because you couldn’t buy them off the shelf,” Mr Hart said.

“But you also couldn’t go to a factory and say, I want one, or even 100.

“They’d say, we want 10,000 or go away.

“So, 3D printing and rapid prototyping is the way to do it.

Mr Hart said it was for this purpose that Fab Lab Masterton was established.

“It’s a really good example of what the Fab Lab is trying to do in terms of fostering innovation and helping local businesses to do new things.”

“We’d love to enable people with ideas to make these things real.”

A Pledge Me fundraising page has been set up for RiverWatch, and the first Milestone of $50,000 was met at the end of last month to embark on Beta Testing.

Pledged funds would be used to build 10 RiverWatch water sensors that would be sent to selected beta testers throughout New Zealand.