Hacking can make a huge difference in peoples’ lives. So when the Nottingham Hackerspace was challenged with optimizing Ugandan Toilets, they hopped on-board.
Back in January of this year [Nicola Greene] approached the hackerspace with this real-life design problem. She represents Water for People, with support from a UK-based Engineers Without Borders organization. Water for People is involved with improving access to sanitation in Uganda and many other third world countries — to make sure everyone has access to a safe and usable toilet. The cool thing with Water for People is they don’t just want to build an infrastructure for the people and run away, they want to bring together local entrepreneurs and the community to establish a system that will actually last.
So, what is the problem anyway? Well, since Uganda doesn’t have quite the same network of sanitation businesses as we might, it’s important for the new infrastructure to know a few things — in particular, how much do we poop? This question was summarized into a basic goal for the Nottingham Hackerspace:
To develop a low-cost (<$200) monitoring device to give an approximation of what volume of liquids — and in an ideal world, solids, is entering the latrine.
Before you click through, think about how you would solve this?
The system must be robust, excrement proof, operate without mains electricity, easy to make, and capable of dropping a log of data into a memory stick.
The team split off into three groups — one to develop an IR based sensor, one to develop a temperature sensor, and one to make a toilet (and some fake poop!). After an afternoon of hacking, the members regrouped to test their ideas. Both solutions ended up working!
Two members, [Matt] and [James], are continuing development of this project for initial testing in the UK, and later this year, in Uganda! If proven successful, it will go on to become part of an integral world-wide study of monitoring pit latrines by Water for People.
Well over 300 words… we sure can spend a lot of time on toilets.