Coronavirus: Smart solutions to Hong Kong's common drainage problem

  • A team of students from the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education designed a device to refill U-traps, fighting the spread of Covid-19
  • 300 people in Amoy Gardens estate picked up SARS in 2003 through the pipes
Kelly Fung |

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The Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education’s Benson Hung hopes the automator can help seniors and people with disabilities to refill U-traps easily. Photo:

A team of students from the city’s vocational school thought of a smart solution to a common household drainage problem that will help prevent the spread of coronavirus and other diseases.

Drain outlets or the drainage system - U-traps - were initially brought to the spotlight when over 300 Amoy Gardens residents were infected at home, as they picked up the virus from the U-traps during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

However, domestic U-traps are supposed to be the protector. They are U-shaped portions of a pipe designed to trap and prevent gas or liquid from entering indoor areas. Unfortunately, when the U-traps get defected or dried after years of service, this could become a pathway for viruses and bacteria.

Three students from Higher Diploma in Civil Engineering programme at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, Chan Leung-kwan, Chow Wai-keung and Tsang Chung-chung, came up with a smart home solution called the U-trap Refill Automator to help people deal with the notorious problem.

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The device has an ultrasonic sensor at the bottom to detect the water level in U-traps. When the water level is below the acceptable amount, the device’s injection valve will open and add water to the pipes. There is also a seal to block any contamination from entering the home.

“We would like to help people who may forget or may not be able to refill the drainage system frequently, and try to help the elderly and people with disabilities complete this easy but tedious task,” said Hung, Project Officer from the vocational school, who led the team that made this design possible.

This innovative project has earned the team the Gold Award in 2020’s Innovative Design Competition, co-organised by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) under the theme of ‘Smart Living for Elderly’.

The team is now planning to enhance its design and preparing to test the device in old buildings and shopping malls. They hope that their design can be commonly used in Hong Kong.