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SmartCover Systems: Escondido Company Creates Groundbreaking Wastewater Monitoring Technology

When Dr. Greg Quist, Ph.D., co-founded SmartCover Systems in 2005, he set out to create groundbreaking monitoring technology that would help wastewater utilities avoid sewage spills and reduce maintenance costs.

Since then, the Escondido-based company has helped utilities prevent thousands of sewage spills across the country and save millions of dollars. SmartCover Systems provides self-contained, turn-key solutions for monitoring water levels, flow, rain, and tidal data. The system’s software and analytics enable utilities to hold down costs by prioritizing maintenance and repairs. Easily installed, the technology can operate virtually anywhere.

The company incorporates two-way wireless communications using the Iridium® satellite network, making it impervious to power or cell outages during severe weather and is especially advantageous for remote locations. It uses an easy-to-use web-based interface, with both long- and short-term data collection and analysis, delivering timely advisories via desktop or smart devices.

The technology enables utilities to stay aware of what’s happening inside sewer lines. 

“Effectively, we are giving them visibility underground,” said Quist, who serves as the CEO of SmartCover Systems. “Before they were guessing.”

The monitoring system functions as an EKG for wastewater delivery networks.

“If you look at water levels over time, it tells you what’s going on,” Quist explained. “If there is a blockage upstream or downstream, you can see the change.” 

An Array of Applications

Sensors attached to the bottom of manhole covers continuously measure, acquire and communicate data via advanced satellite communications.  A wide array of applications captures remote data, sending relevant information to desktop computers via the cloud. This information enables utilities to clean their pipelines on time while avoiding the costs of over-cleaning. 

SmartCover Systems, which has 30 employees, is growing rapidly. Its patented system is used by about 450 utilities in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Locally, 25 wastewater utilities in San Diego County, South Riverside County, and South Orange County use SmartCover Systems. Quist estimates that about 20,000 spills have been prevented around the U.S. over the last 14 years because of the technology.

“That’s a lot of sewage that didn’t end up in the environment and didn’t cause any public health problems,” he said.

A Passion for Water Issues

Quist is a longtime member of the water community. He has a background in metamaterials, numerical analysis, signal processing, pattern recognition, wireless communications, and system integration. He holds 14 patents, with several pending. 

Quist received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics with a minor concentration in economics from Yale College and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

SmartCover Systems’ vice president of enterprise and architecture is David Drake, the company’s co-founder. Drake has done extensive work in data acquisition, signal processing, cryptography, and image processing. The entrepreneur received a bachelor of science, electrical engineering degree from Caltech. He also holds 12 U.S. patents and seven patents in foreign countries. Like Quist, he has a passion for water issues.  

A Progressive City

The city of Escondido has played an important role in the development of SmartCover Systems. When the company began, officials allowed Quist and Drake to use the city’s sewer facilities to test out their ideas. “They are a very progressive city,” said Quist.

He noted that the company has found opportunities to work with other local businesses and tap into the Escondido area’s workforce. Many of the parts SmartCover uses, such as antennas and brackets, are made locally. Most SmartCover employees live nearby. 

“We have a broad spectrum of talents on our staff,” Quist said. “We have computer people. We have manufacturing people. We have technicians, salespeople, marketing people. For the most part, they don’t have a long commute. Escondido is a nice hub. It’s a nice place to do business. It’s an easy place to get to.”

A Bright Future

Located at 2110 Enterprise Street in Escondido, the company has new products in development, Quist noted. “We are introducing a product this summer to monitor hydrogen sulfide in sewers. Hydrogen sulfide is poisonous and smells bad. It also reduces the lifespan of concrete sewage pipes.”

He believes the company is just getting started in the application of “smart city” technology to wastewater systems. The industry is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of SmartCover Systems’ technology. 

“We think this is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There are about 20 million manholes in use for sewers. We have about 4,500 right now, so we have a long way to go.”

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