Smart device curbs virus spread

January 10, 2021

Ensuring environmental hygiene is important to reduce the potential for COVID-19 virus contamination, especially in the home.


Drain outlets or U-traps serve to stop foul odour and unhygienic substances, including bacteria and viruses, in the drainage system from entering living areas. Defective or dried U-traps could negate this important function.


The Government reminds citizens to maintain their drainage pipes properly by pouring about half a litre of water into U-traps weekly as a defence against the passage of viruses.


It is a household task that is sometimes overlooked. But Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Tsing Yi) Workplace Learning & Assessment Project Team (Engineering Programmes) Project Officer Benson Hung has led a team of students to develop an innovative way to help.


Engineering innovation

The team came up with a device called the U-trap Refill Automator.


It is equipped with an ultrasonic sensor to detect the water level in U-traps. When the water level falls too low, the device’s injection valve will open and release water into pipes. A water seal is then formed to block any viruses from entering the home.


“We would like to help somebody who may forget or not be able to refill the drainage system frequently and try to help the elderly and people with disabilities to complete this easy but tedious task,” said Mr Hung.


The useful gadget earned his team the Gold Award in a competition co-organised by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA).


The team was able to further modify the design with assistance from the authority which provided professional advice and residential units for conducting trials.


More user-friendly

They have now progressed to the second-generation U-trap Refill Automator. To reach this stage, however, the on-site trials challenged the team’s ingenuity.


“We found one problem during trials. We realised that the water level could not be sensed by our original design’s ultrasonic sensor, so we had to rebuild it and work out a second-generation design acting on a time-based function,” explained Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Sha Tin) Department of Engineering Lecturer Kelvin To.


He joined the team to share his Internet of Things (IoT) expertise.


Thanks to the newly installed IoT components, users are not only able to set a timer for the device to refill with water but can also check its status and receive push notifications on a mobile application.


Even without an Internet connection, the device can still be activated manually by simply pressing a button.


Mr To also helped the team to overcome one of its biggest challenges - coming up with a design that could fit drains of all shapes and sizes.


Wider reach

Their solution was to build a new attachment that can be fixed to the bottom of the original design to fit floor and wall drains - two common drain outlet designs in Hong Kong buildings.


The engineering team is now preparing to test the device in some older buildings as well as shopping malls.


They hope the industry will take notice of their design, take it to the next level and roll it out to the mass market.

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