SFU couple makes a splash with home-aquarium water sensor

October 09, 2015

It started with a goldfish. Husband and wife graduands Kyle and Leonie Tharratt, who met at SFU and married in 2013, received the unwanted pet from a family friend. 

Four years later, they are keen aquarists with 13 fish (and a colony of shrimp)—a passion that inspired their mechatronic systems engineering final-year capstone project.

The convocating couple is part of a team of five students, including graduand Spencer Arbour, which has created a remote, real-time water-monitoring system that alerts home aquarium owners to potential problems. 

The team expects its innovation—developed as part of business-incubator program Tech Entrepreneurship@SFU—could benefit Canada’s 1.7 million aquarium-owning households, and beyond.

The idea came partly from personal experience. Their plan to add a new fish to their tank was foiled when they discovered the seller’s aquarium heater had malfunctioned during a vacation, killing all of the fish. 

So when the capstone team came together to brainstorm ideas, they decided to use their engineering acumen to help others avoid this sinking feeling.

The Triton Monitor, as it’s called, brings the concept of the manual chemical test kit into the digital age. It automatically tracks critical water parameters, such as pH and ammonia levels, and temperature; and uses WiFi to send owners real-time notifications of troublesome readings.

Collaborating with a spouse on a project has its perks, and its pitfalls.

“Because we know each other so well, we can take feedback without getting offended,” says Kyle.

“But there’s no escape if you don’t get along—you kind of need your spouse to like you,” adds Leonie.

The couple’s first encounter was more robot wars than Romeo and Juliet. 

“We met in a first-year mechatronics class when we were battling the sumo-wrestling robots we had built—Kyle’s was one of the few that managed to beat mine,” says Leonie. 

They started dating, married two years later, and now they will cross the convocation dais together. 

The duo hopes to secure funding to take the project forward, but they’re also tackling full-time careers. Kyle works as a manufacturing engineer at Creation Technologies and Leonie—currently working at BC Hydro—hopes to pursue a career in control-systems engineering.