The Land Man

The Land Man

UT’s Irrigation and Water Conservation team is looking ahead.

Markus Hogue leans forward in his plush office chair in Facilities Services Complex 8. His Google Glass is covering half of his right eye, and he looks like a cross between a Star Trek character and a San Francisco tech executive.

As the program coordinator of UT’s Irrigation and Water Conservation division, Hogue has modernized the university’s irrigation control system, reducing water usage by 66 percent and saving the university more than $800,000. From the comfort of his office, Hogue can turn on any sprinkler, collect data from any water sensor on campus, and control any part of the irrigation system with a few mouse clicks. The system is the first of its kind in the world, he says.

“Our controllers communicate to a central computer, basically a hub that gets information from the weather and the environment,” he says. Then it uses temperature and precipitation data to calculate precisely how much water lawns across campus need. Rain buckets not only collect hundreds of gallons of rainwater, but also measure how much rain was received, adjusting sprinkler output accordingly.

And Hogue says that when people see the numbers and results from the new system, “They’ll want it for their campus.”

Another goal of Hogue’s project is to provide complete transparency. Any data is easily called up on the new irrigation dashboard, which was about to go live at presstime. The dashboard will provide real-time information showing how much water any given building on campus is using, with variable time rates and frames to satisfy even the most curious environmentalist.

And the Google Glass?

While he admits it’s still just an idea, Hogue thinks the wearable tech gadget will soon change the way landscapers work. Since Glass is hands-free, workers would be able to Google something without putting down their tools. And video chat could allow staff around campus to instantly pull up blueprints and share what they see. Inspired by apps that allow workers to see electrical conduits in walls, Hogue wants to map all the irrigation pipes on campus so that a staffer could see where to dig.

He admits he hasn’t figured out precisely how to do all this yet, so he’s enlisted architecture and sustainability students to participate. If their ideas are good enough, they could wind up winning $500 and joining his team as a project supervisor.

Although Hogue predicts the Glass part of his project won’t be ready for another five years or so—“It depends on how long it takes for me to figure out the coding,” he says—his project has already attracted interest from cities like Fort Worth and Austin, as well as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and MIT.

Talking about the system as a whole, Hogue uses a phrase that’s bandied around so often at UT that it can sometimes feel worn out—but not this time. “This idea will change the world.”

Photo by Anna Donlan. 


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