Flush With Success
Water-Saving Automatic System Cleans Up at Pitch Dingman CompetitionBy Annie Dankelson | Illustration by Jason A. Keisling
The jolt from coffee and energy drinks kept Charles Grody ’20 going through many late nights studying in McKeldin Library. But as fellow caffeine consumers know, where he was going was the restroom.
“It seemed like every time, the toilet would flush right underneath me,” the engineering major says of the public facilities’ automatic flushers. “It got really annoying.”
Those rogue flushes got his brain swirling, eventually leading to Hydraze, an automatic system that seeks to foil “phantom flushing” on motion-controlled public toilets and save millions of dollars in wasted water. In April’s Pitch Dingman competition, UMD’s annual “Shark Tank”-style contest, the startup earned its team of Grody, fellow engineering students Jack Sturtevant ’20 and Tuvia Rappaport ’20, and business student Roger Mao ’20 the $15,000 top prize, as well as the audience choice award.
“People realize that this is a problem,” says Mao, who’s in charge of Hydraze’s business development, “and that our solution is logical and makes a lot more sense than what is currently the market standard.”
Grody, the budding company’s founder and CEO, enlisted the tech help of Sturtevant, who’s now the CTO, and Rappaport, the chief engineer, to develop the Hydraze system. When a user unlocks the bathroom stall, a device on the door latch communicates via Bluetooth with the flushometer, the part attached to the toilet, to signal that it should flush.
The group, all members of the QUEST (Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams) Honors Program, worked with the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Facilities Management staff to pilot its first devices there last year. Initial data showed that around 48% of flushes had previously been unnecessary, and that Hydraze could potentially save UMD around $500,000 per year in water waste.
While the team acknowledges that data’s small sample size, the commitment to sustainability helped Hydraze win $5,000 at the 2019 Do Good Challenge. The group then prepped for similar success at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship’s competition, which had to be held virtually due to COVID-19.
Now, the team is using its winnings for additional pilots, marketing and patents. The grads recently installed devices at D.C. restaurant Busboys and Poets, and they’re hoping to work with Facilities Management to install around 30 more on campus for a six-month study.
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