AquaRealTime startup monitors and protects waterways with OPI technology

Via the Rochester Business Journal

Chris Lee, CEO of AquaRealTime
Chris Lee, CEO of AquaRealTime

Water pollution from organic contaminants, driven by waste, climate change, and over fertilization, is notoriously difficult to monitor in vast water assets like lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and oceans. AquaRealTime (ART), a Boulder, CO-based startup, is hard at work addressing the problem, leveraging IoT (Internet of Things) sensors and proprietary analytics to create a revolutionary early detection system.

“Every day, two million tons of municipal, industrial, and agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water,” said Christopher Lee, co-founder and CEO of AquaRealTime. “Our mission is to improve the health of lakes, rivers, and oceans around the globe using advanced technologies that are easy to use, scalable and cost effective.”

We caught up with Lee for a closer look at ART, one of the participants in the latest Luminate cohort of startups working on technologies enabled by optics, photonics and imaging (OPI).

Current technology falls short on addressing water pollution

As environmental water quality issues rise rapidly so does the need for early contamination detection and monitoring. Current methods, including manual sampling and legacy sensors, are expensive and unscalable, and satellite data systems are often inaccurate and lack clear viewing resolution.

As the previous founder of Algae Lab Systems, a monitoring and automation system for commercial algae growers, Lee understands the inadequacies of current methods and the importance of protecting waterways with a scalable, cost-effective early detection and monitoring solution that is easily deployable and portable, requires low maintenance, and is easy to use.

In 2019, his team developed a solution using core optical fluorescence sensor technology and a best-of-breed team of opto-electronics, mechanical, and electrical engineers. The following year, despite the challenges of the pandemic environment, they began manufacturing their product.

AquaRealTime creates early detection system to monitor water contamination and safeguard public health

ART is an early detection system and 24/7 decision-making tool for water contamination, including harmful algae blooms (HABs). The advanced IoT sensor buoy leverages proprietary optics, along with a comprehensive web dashboard with analytics and reporting tools, to enable water stakeholders to catch and prevent environmental damages before they occur, protect public health, and reduce water monitoring expenses and physical visits.

AquaRealTime trackers ready to be deployed
Trackers ready to be deployed from a boat

“AquaRealTime addresses the core issues facing water quality monitoring by reducing solution deployment time, increasing data density, and providing SaaS analytics and tools to make the data truly actionable,” said Lee. “Our technology is patent pending and revolutionary in its user simplicity and scalability, using evolving analytics based on machine learning to improve risk assessment over time.”

ART’s products address multiple markets that share the same fundamental needs, such as drinking and irrigation water utilities, recreational waterways (including municipalities, parks, state DEPs, and lake associations), federal agencies, manufacturers of pollution cleanup and prevention products, and aquaculture.

“Our initial focus is on manufacturers of contamination cleanup and prevention products as these companies need to know where and when to deploy their services, and could benefit from ARTs monitoring to report on their effectiveness,” said Lee. “We’re also addressing drinking water utilities that have many water assets in multiple locations, have limited budgets and staffing time, and need to gain essential water quality data and early warning of contamination.”

ART expands its business and reach with the help of Luminate

AquaRealTime tracker accompanied by buoy
The tracker is accompanied by a buoy marker for easy identification and retrieval.

Through its accelerator program, Luminate has helped ART build its business by providing education on sales and marketing processes and metrics, and has introduced the team to funding opportunities, including federal grants, Empire State Development, and private investment firms.

Lee said he hopes to leverage Luminate’s vast network of OPI experts in the Rochester community to help enhance the development of ART technology and to hire additional staff in both engineering and sales. Luminate will also help the company expand its reach into the Southern Hemisphere, as water quality issues tend to follow seasonal patterns and are intensified in warmer weather.

“Protecting our water sources is critical to the health of our world and our population, and ART has the potential to help solve this pressing environmental challenge,” said Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate. “Leveraging powerful OPI technologies and innovative thinking, they are perfecting an accessible solution that can lead to early intervention and cleaner water for our planet.”

For more information, visit To watch startups in Luminate compete for $2M in follow-on funding, register for the free Luminate Finals event on September 27 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM at For updates on Luminate and all the emerging technologies being developed in Rochester, go to