Stadt Zürich

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Fire hydrants can be retrofitted with sensors to transmit telemetry data about their usage, and their status...but what is the added value of such an IoT application?

Progress and advancements in information and communication technology (ICT) reduces the cost of equipping industrial goods and infrastructural equipment with sensors and connectivity. This trend on the one side makes it very tempting for companies to equip their products with sensors and start pumping data into the cloud, but on the other shifts the focus of IoT applications away from the aspect of value-creation. Therefore the question arises:

How can IoT adopters enforce the value-adding aspects of the technology in their implementation projects?

In cities thousands of hydrants are installed to provide water for construction works or in case of fire. As ubiquitous infrastructural goods, hydrants are the perfect candidate systems to exemplary demonstrate how value-adding implementation of IoT technologies can be achieved.

A user-centered and agile approach to IoT applications allows to pinpoint and implement only their essential and value-adding functionalities.

To illustrate the potential of IoT in fire hydrants and to define the technological components necessary to digitize them, we conducted an explorative development study. It all started by focusing on the three groups of personas involved the most in the interaction with fire hydrants:

  • inspection and maintenance workers
  • firefighters
  • construction workers

To better identify the needs of the users, we started by performing field observations, conducted interviews and built up valuable knowledge about their interaction routines with fire hydrants. The data collected in this phase allowed us to precisely map recurring pain-points in the user interaction patterns, such as steps causing frustration to the users or which required undesired efforts. In particular we identified the following glitches that could be addressed with IoT technology:

  • Maintenance workers must inspect every single hydrant in the city every two years, however only a few of these have issues that need to be fixed.
  • To be correctly invoiced for water usage, construction workers must use a special measuring device from the city administration, which has to be collected and returned after use.

In a second step we applied an agile development approach, and directed our efforts to the design of technical solutions addressing exactly the issues identified in the observation phase. By doing so we could restrict the scope and focus our efforts on the implementation of only three particular sensors allowing to detect the necessary information.


The resulting IoT application "NERO Smart Hydrant" improves the work processes of the target users.

An IoT application called NERO was developed. The working solution comprises three main components, i.e. the NERO sensing add-on, NERO Cloud API and the NERO Web App. The sensing add-on measures usage, water flow and detects the most common issues to be fixed. Measurements are transmitted via LoRaWAN to the NERO cloud API. To enhance the user experience, the NERO Web App enables key users to interact with the hydrant in an application-specific manner, through interfaces and workflows tailored to the particular task of each user. The resulting system NERO

  • notifies misuse, malfunction and operating issues to inspection and maintenance workers,
  • guides maintenance operations and stores a digital proof of execution,
  • allows construction workers to conveniently take water from hydrants and be invoiced for use without the need of any additional device other than a smartphone.

target users


sensors integrated


web application


hydrants in Zurich

hydrant mobile application image
hydrant sensing unit
hydrant sensing unit integration

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