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Using ICT to overcome the challenge of clean water

IMG_28652048 pixels by Erik Voss for CRK

Editor’s note: Today we feature a guest post from Ken Durand, the Head of Innovation at Ericsson’s Atlanta Idea Factory:

In today’s world, we often take for granted having clean water and basic sanitation. However, one of every six people on planet Earth do not have daily access to clean drinking water, and one in every three people do not have the water required for basic sanitation needs. Each year, this lack of clean water (and the diseases this situation creates) is responsible for more deaths than all global wars.

Compounding this problem: the measurement and management of water for cleanliness on a perpetual basis is expensive, time consuming and grossly inefficient. Both in the US, where I live, and around the world, governments struggle to find the resources and technical funding to measure and monitor water quality in more than a handful of locations. This struggle has given rise to many localized non-profit organizations focused on the challenge of water monitoring.. In most cases, this network of volunteers engages in manual water gathering and testing techniques that are (in the best case) slow, costly, and inefficient.Mike Meyer-ProctorCreekSweep2014_18

One such organization focused on these objectives is the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in Atlanta in the US, which is one of 200 Waterkeeper Alliance member organizations. The watershed they work every day to preserve provides drinking water to over 4 million people from a river that runs over 400 miles across the state of Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico, and as one could imagine, manual water sampling techniques in a river this large are very difficult. Bull Sluice Lake - Joe Cook

Starting from a few local volunteers, Ericsson has become involved with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in a significant way to invent, design, prototype, and eventually deploy wireless sensor devices to monitor key attributes critical to water cleanliness in the river. By collecting and analyzing things such as turbidity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and nitrates on a perpetual basis, Ericsson and the Riverkeeper hope to spot trends and catch problems early. In its first phase, this project is currently working through the process of creating innovative designs that cost no more than USD 200. The devices must be waterproof, RoHS compliant, environmentally safe and low power. Additionally, they should be durable, easily deployable by a single person and capable of being anchored in the river.

Once data collection from these devices becomes sustaining, Ericsson plans to work with the Riverkeeper and other potential partners to build applications that can be used by citizens, governments, businesses, and advocacy groups to monitor the river in real time – something that is impossible today. As these efforts continue, there is no doubt that the work started in Atlanta can be transferred anywhere in the world. By inspiring its employees to continuously look for technology for good to create positive impacts in communities across the 180 countries where we do business, Ericsson allows a handful of employees in Atlanta to have a impact on their local community that could eventually have a significant impact on the entire world.