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Fighting Phantom Flushes

Device Created by Terps Helps Keep Unnecessary Water—and Money—From Going Down the Toilet

By Annie Dankelson

The jolt from coffee and energy drinks kept Charles Grody ’20 going through many late nights studying in McKeldin Library. But as fellow caffeine consumers know, where he was going was the restroom.

“It seemed like every time, the toilet would flush right underneath me,” the engineering major said of the public facilities’ automatic flushers. “It got really annoying.”

Those rogue flushes got his brain swirling, eventually leading to Hydraze, an automatic system that seeks to foil “phantom flushing” on motion-controlled public toilets and save millions of dollars in wasted water. When a user unlocks the bathroom stall, a device on the door latch communicates via Bluetooth with the flushometer, the part attached to the toilet, to signal that it should flush.

The Hydraze team of Grody, fellow engineering graduates Jack Sturtevant ’20 and Tuvia Rappaport ’20 and business major Roger Mao ’20—all who were members of the QUEST (Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams) Honors Program—initially installed devices at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. After cleaning up in April’s virtual “Shark Tank”-style Pitch Dingman Competition, they used the $15,000 top prize to fund more pilots, like at D.C. restaurant Busboys and Poets.

Now, they’re working on servicing the devices at UMD and plan to reinstall them before the spring semester, when they’re hoping COVID-19 will be more under control, campus will be more open and more data can be collected. 

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.