Smart Sensors to Help Monitor Effectiveness of Water Filters and Cookstoves in Rwanda

© Alison Hill, Evan Thomas

In Rwanda, where the life expectancy is less than 50 years, contaminated water and breathing soot from indoor cook fires are major causes of disease and other health issues. Distributing water filters and efficient cookstoves will help to change that, but one such effort, lead by a Portland State University professor, will go a step further by using data gathered by remote smart sensors to gauge the effectiveness of the campaign.

This spring, engineering professor Evan Thomas will head up the distribution of efficient cookstoves and water filters to about 750,000 households in western Rwanda, giving millions access to clean drinking water and helping to reduce the demand for wood fuel (and reducing soot exposure from cook fires).

500 of those devices will have remote smart sensors installed on them, which will measure the usage and performance and help team members on the ground to adjust the technology or the education surrounding the filters and stoves.

"The sensors help us answer two questions: Does the technology work, and do people use it?" - Thomas

© SWEETLab

The smart sensors are powered by five AA batteries (lasting for up to a year of monitoring), and data from the units will be sent via cell phone technology to a web-based platform, SweetData, for analysis by PSU engineering students.

"We anticipate this project will bring significant health improvements to these communities and demonstrate the potential to deploy and monitor international health programs like this on a very large scale." - Thomas

The sensors, called SWEETSense, were developed at PSU, and so far, Thomas has received about $550,000 to commercialize them and scale up the process to production levels. The large scale of this water filter and cookstove campaign in Rwanda is made possible with carbon credits backed by the UN.

The SweetSense program is a partnership with Oregon BEST, the Lemelson Foundation, Stevens Water and Mercy Corps, and the water filters are being deployed by Manna Energy, under contract with DelAgua.

Tags: Drinking Water | Gadgets | Rwanda | Water Crisis

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