"Water Canary" Pinpoints Water Problems Using GPS and Crowd-Sourcing

drinking water photo

Photo by Jon Gos via Flickr CC

Knowing if there are issues with the quality of water in a given area starts with the ability to test it. Unfortunately, many areas lack the financial ability to regularly test water supplies. A device called Water Canary wants to change that, putting data in the hands of those who need it through an inexpensive tool, and offering the open-source community a chance to adapt and perfect it for local areas. Mashable reports that Water Canary was unveiled this week at TEDGlobal in Edinburgh, Scotland. "The device lets anyone test water with the push of the button and then submits the results along with location data wirelessly. In turn, the company hopes it can identify problems much more quickly than chemical-based testing and prevent communities from drinking contaminated water."

As Water Canary states, "It requires minimal training and almost no education, including literacy, for its operator." By allowing basically anyone to use the simple, inexpensive tool to test and submit data about the quality of a water supply, Water Canary hopes to take advantage of crowd sourcing as a form of an early warning system for potential outbreaks of water-borne diseases or poor quality of drinking water. The tool is especially useful in areas hit by natural disasters to help governments and NGOs know where help is needed most for restoring access to clean fresh water.

"With the tools to collect and analyze this data, important decisions can be made at an administrative level before time and lives are lost. Water testing devices currently on the market are ill-­equipped to provide timely and widespread water quality information to the supply chain, with most being seen as wildly inaccurate or requiring longer than 24 hours for results," writes Water Canary.

The new tool costs between $100-200 per unit to build. As Mashable reports, "Water Canary analyzes water samples by using light and measuring what wavelengths to draw conclusions. A red light flashes to alert the user to a potential water problem. However, the company's founder, Sonaar Luthra, told Mashable that the goal isn't to tell you instantly whether or not you can drink a given sample of water." Instead, the goal is to use the GPS-tracked data to highlight areas where there seems to be issues with the water supply so that governments and organizations know where help is needed most.

Further, Water Canary stated that they want to open source the project. This would allow creative thinkers to improve upon both the tool itself and how it is used -- something very important since needs can vary depending upon the area and the situation, from natural disasters to lack of access.

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