The Smart Faucet

Everything revolves around innovation and sustainability at the company Oblamatik in Graubünden. But the right answers to the drinking water management of the future can only be found by relying on some crazy ideas from time to time.

When was the last time you fully devoted yourself to a question that just popped into your head? In the early fall of 2019, someone in Graubünden asked himself a little question that could soon make our everyday lives much easier: Why do automated faucets not work as they should? Why are they so slow, so unreliable, and so inflexible? Christof Feurer sometimes calls such questions “crazy ideas”. And then quickly adds: “We want to pursue even the craziest of them – at least until we know how crazy they really are.”

 

Optimizing Drinking Water Management

Christof Feurer, aged 34, sits in an office that is designed for allowing questions and answers: lots of wood, lots of glass, lots of space – plus a restaurant with a star chef, a fitness room, open space and stunning Alpine views. Even Google seems pretty conventional when compared this incredible office in the Swiss town of Chur. Christof Feurer has been here at Oblamatik for two and a half years, as team leader for project management. “I make sure that everyone on the team is working towards the same goal.” In broad terms, this means: more convenience, more reliability, and more sustainability in everything that has to do with drinking water. And on a smaller scale, this means that even the most trivial questions can give rise to products. One of them, a faucet the likes of which have never been seen before, is called TLI Vision.

The idea behind TLI Vision: Thanks to an integrated camera integrated, the faucet knows exactly what needs to be done. When hands approach, it supplies lukewarm water. Or cold water if it is a glass. Hot water when it detects dirty dishes. The water is supplied exactly when it is needed, and stops at the precise moment when it is no longer needed. “Innovation is at the core of Oblamatik,” says Christof Feurer. He believes it is important to be at the forefront of technology. “But we don’t just want the coolness factor. We want a tried and tested product with added value.”

“Oblamatik is a playground for developers and engineers.”

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Oblamatik has about 10 projects like TLI Vision going at the same time – but there are many more ideas. “We are a playground for developers and engineers.” The questions that employees toy with are assessed through feasibility studies: What is technologically possible? What makes business sense? Whatever survives this first stage is green-lighted for advanced development. Anything that performs well there is launched as an industrialized product two years later. Oblamatik’s technology is used in products of the leading suppliers of fixtures and plumbing equipment. How many patents has the Chur-based company registered so far? Christof Feurer stopped counting a long time ago.

 

Acoustically Controlled Flushing

“Nobody talks about it, but far too much water is flushed away,” says Christof Feurer. A person in Switzerland consumes over 140 liters of drinking water every day, almost a third of which flows down the toilet. As Christof Feurer puts it, many of the innovative products developed by Oblamatik are hatched from a gut feeling. “If employees notice something unpleasant, they will bring up the matter for discussion here at the company.” So, the following problem may also soon be addressed by a solution made in Chur: Why not just let the toilet decide for itself how much water it needs? Feasibility study, advanced development, one answer: automate flushing using sound waves. Most people use the big push button to flush a large amount of water – whether it is necessary or not. Sometimes it is crazy ideas envisioned on the smallest of playgrounds that can change the world.

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