UB students aim to improve lake sustainability via “Erie Hack”

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- How do you “hack” a lake?

“Unlike other hacks we’re actually finding real-life solutions that address Lake Erie’s biggest concerns,” explained UB sophomore Isabel Hall.

Problems like pollution, invasive species, and water quality are the focus of the 2017 Erie Hack competition; hacking Lake Erie is really about using technology to make it better.

The competition stretches throughout the Erie Basin region.

“We have people in Detroit, in Toledo, in Cleveland, and Erie, Pennsylvania, and here in Buffalo and Windsor on the Canadian side,” said Ryan Mcpherson with UB Sustainability.

UB’s hackers are both undergrads and PhD students. They’re broken up into teams who will face off against researchers from around the region during the two-day Erie Hack finals in Cleveland May 2-3.

Mike Brown is a sophomore engineering student. His team is developing a product called “Water Watcher.”

“Basically that’s a text messaging based service where citizens can check their water quality and report problems to the city water authority.”

If the team wins, students like Brown will put their vision to work.

“Our objective is to build for the first time underwater, WiFi,” said PhD student George Sklivanitis.

Underwater WiFi will allow better communication between sensors in Lake Erie that can track data at different depths, to send a more clear picture of the lake’s status to area researchers.

“This can be an open platform that will be able to be accessed by researchers and scientists around the world,” Sklivanitis explained.

The semi-finals were in Detroit in early April. 9 teams advanced to the final competition in Cleveland.

Winners get cash prizes, but that’s not what’s driving Brown; he hopes to work with the Buffalo Water Authority if his team wins, making the texting service a reality for western New Yorkers.

“If we have these ideas actually implemented and you know especially something with water quality, it’s such a problem nation-wide and I think if we can make some really good advances that could then spread to other parts of the country,” he said.