Lake Erie

Hacking to Innovate for Our Freshwater Resources in Lake Erie

Innovation has long been a part of life and work on the Great Lakes. The unique water resources of this region set the stage for the greatest period of technological advancement the world has ever seen and continue to drive one of America’s most dynamic regional economies. Yet, despite their essential role in our commerce, industry, and entrepreneurship, the Lakes are consistently undervalued as an economic asset and catalyst of innovation.

This systemic undervaluation of our Great Lakes has not gone unnoticed.  The Cleveland Water Alliance, a collection of forward-thinking research institutions, industry leaders, environmental organizations, and public utilities, came together to develop a new way of thinking about regional economic development. Their new framework creating a Blue Economy where innovating and monetizing solutions to problems such as harmful algal blooms (HABs). replaces continued pollution of our water. This is the vision that created the Erie Hack.

Erie Hack is a regional innovation competition that brings together teams of techies, creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, and environmentalists from six cities around in the U.S. and Canada to tackle key challenges for Lake Erie. Nine finalist teams will compete for cash and prizes valued at over worth $100,000 at a Water Innovation Summit in Cleveland on May 2 & 3.

Erie Hack launch in Cleveland on February 23, 2017

One of these finalists is Hydrosense, a team of engineering students from the University of Akron. These young men felt their skills and knowledge could be used to develop a solution to help monitor the environmental impacts of HABs. After working with researchers at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, and the University of Akron, Hydrosense realized that the time-consuming task of manual data collection and the expense of water sensors meant that there is a general lack of information available to model and predict harmful algal blooms.

To solve this problem, the team has created a low-cost water quality sensor system for reservoirs, tributaries, and lakes, which consists of a buoy and a sensor module. The sensor module measures blue-green algae concentration, turbidity, and water temperature, which are key to detect blooms. The buoy houses and protects the sensor from debris. Each Hydrosense device can communicate with one another to form a network of sensors that can cover a 28-mile-wide area. 4G mobile communications are used to instantly push data to the cloud and a GPS module pinpoints the exact location of each buoy.

The Hydrosense sensor is unique because it detects blue-green algae using light. Using this method is just as accurate, but more cost effective than conventional chemical approaches to water monitoring. This allows users to deploy more buoys to a broader range of lakes, reservoirs, and tributaries. The team’s vision is to give universities, park districts, municipalities, government organizations, and concerned citizens access to data about their water supply. Currently, Hydrosense is developing a mobile application to do real-time beach monitoring that reports near-shore water conditions.

Groups like Hydrosense are laying essential groundwork to save our lakes and revolutionize. By forging regional connections around water and demonstrating both the entrepreneurial and sustainability potential of water technologies, each of the 37 teams that competed in Erie Hack played a key role in building an ecosystem of water innovation around Lake Erie.

The Water Innovation Summit is not the end of the road for the Cleveland Water Alliance’s mission to accelerate innovation, increase collaborative research and spearhead broad education and outreach on freshwater preservation and stewardship.

Awarding the prize money will be just one more step toward improving Lake Erie and building the Blue Economy.


Written by: Max Herzog, Program Coordinator for the Cleveland Water Alliance

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