The Best Inventions of 2021
November 10, 2021 6:08 AM EST

The Flint, Mich., water crisis has drawn Americans’ attention to the risks associated with lead pipes and water contamination, but it’s hard to tell which homes are most in danger. That’s why professors Jacob Abernethy of Georgia Tech and Eric Schwartz of the University of Michigan created BlueConduit, which detects lead pipes using an algorithm based on a variety of factors, including utility records and the age of a home. The technology is now being used in about 50 cities and has so far led to the removal of more than 15,000 service-line pipes. Accessibility and equity remain key priorities: BlueConduit—a for-profit enterprise—has worked with various foundations to make its predictive modeling approach more accessible, and in 2022—thanks to a $3 million Google grant—the company will provide a free open-source machine-­learning tool to help communities start identifying lead pipes, the first step in the removal process. —Sanya Mansoor

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