UnifiedWater Finds Potable Water And Stops Polluters

Millions of people all over the world don’t have access to clean drinking water, and it’s largely because of pollution by corporations and individuals. Solving this problem requires an affordable, scalable way to quickly judge water quality, package the data, and present it to an authority that can crack down on the polluters before the evidence dissipates. Ideally, the solution would be open source and easy to replicate. The more citizen scientists, the better.

[Andrei Florian]’s UnifiedWater flows directly from this line of thinking. Dip this small handheld device below the surface, and it quickly takes a bunch of water quality and atmospheric readings, averages them, and sends the data to a web dashboard using an Arduino MKR GSM.

UnifiedWater judges quality by testing the pH and the turbidity of the water, which gauges the amount of impurities. Commercial turbidity sensors work by measuring the amount of light scattered by the solids present in a liquid, so [Andrei] made a DIY version with an LED pointed at a photocell. UnifiedWater also reads the air temperature and humidity, and reports its location along with a timestamp.

This device can run in one of two modes, depending on the application. The enterprise mode is designed for a fleet of devices placed strategically about a body of water. In this mode, the devices sample continuously, taking readings every 15 minutes, and can send notifications that trigger on predefined thresholds. There’s also a one-and-done individual mode for hikers and campers who need to find potable water. Once UnifiedWater takes the readings, the NeoPixel ring provides instant color-coded judgment. Check out the demo after the break.

16 thoughts on “UnifiedWater Finds Potable Water And Stops Polluters

  1. Very cool project… with all those LED’s, why not just have a row of individual LED’s that are labeled Boot, Insert in sample, Remove from Sample, Processing, Uploading, Error, etc.

  2. I regret this negative post; but….

    Where is the ‘science’ part of “citizen science”? As for the engineering, I dunno. Documentation incomplete. No data tracibility. No calibration. No sample control. No reference sample. NTUs plus conductivity may be a more useful combination. NTU and pH, I dunno. The World Water Monitoring Challenge sells inexpensive test kits that could be used as a reference. As for the LED ring, whatever floats your boat, but this is the mark of a science or engineering tool. The nephew or niece, or their dog, was going to put my koi pond monitoring system on their website. Will re-post if they ever bothered.

    Per wiki: “Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”

    1. I agree. I too regret negativity, but sometimes it becomes necessary.

      Potable water means so much more than pH and turbidity. What about viral and bacterial load? If I’m going to drink water then I’m way more concerned about leptospirosis or other things that will make me sick than I am about pH, which varies across a range depending on the local watershed geology. Turbidity isn’t necessarily an issue, so measuring it in absence of other metrics such as ecoli or coliform bacteria counts is fairly useless. Also, the premise is wrong. The global drinking water supply problem won’t be solved by a mesh of citizen surface water monitoring. It will be solved by identification of large subsurface aquifers, environmentally friendly desalination technologies, investment, and the political willpower to prevent pollution in the first place.

      Engineering wise, why would you use power-hungry NeoPixels over an LCD for a field monitoring solution?

      I was trying to fathom what WaterAid was playing at with this one, until I finally figured it out. This project is in no way affiliated with the excellent and well-known non-profit organisation by the same name. (www.wateraid.org). Andrei has taken the name of a well-established organisation with a proven track record in this arena, and applied it to what can honestly only be described as a toy.

      Either he was ignorant of that organisation (which would speak volumes about his expertise and the resulting value of his work), or he deliberately chose to piggyback on the name.

      I’m going to be incredibly disappointed if this project ends up anywhere near the Hackaday Prize winners list. IMO it should be disqualified on principle for sullying the name WaterAid.

  3. “Solving this problem requires an affordable, scalable way to quickly judge water quality, package the data, and present it to an authority that can crack down on the polluters before the evidence dissipates” I think it requires something much more fundamental… It requires that “authority that can crack down” to EXIST and to function, have the means, not be corrupted, etc. …

    I think that in most places where pollution is a big problem, the places and the culprits are well known…

    1. Come on! It STOPS polluters. Fish will quit pissing in the water. Leaches and planaria will leave the area. Daphnia are too dumb to know what is going on, but the brighter of the ameba will get the message. Horses and cows don’t give a ….. wait, I guess they do, literally.

  4. This project has created a toy, a wonderful education tool, but still just a toy. Over selling it is just going to cause you trouble. See Brian’s comment above and add to that the fact that each natural location has its own ph and turbidity signature that changes due to weather conditions so without that knowledge you can’t calibrate the device at each new site, even if you could assure its stability.

  5. “Finds Potable Water”. Funny. This thing doesn’t even know if it is in water or some other transparent liquid such as petrol or acetone or white spirit or… Let alone it knows how to identify harmful bacteria and viruses from other things.

  6. I appreciate the good intent but this seems lacking in sensors to detect common pollutants?
    pH may be an indication, but you’ll need a baseline. Turbidity is affected by recent rainfall, at least for some rivers.
    Heavy metals, algae, toxins, …

    To check if water is potable, sewing if animals are drinking it or fish in it, is a crude but simple test, and probably more effective than this?

    As crowd sourced data on a few metrics it may be useful, but we need to be careful not to oversell things. A thermometer is not a covid-19 test, and this doesn’t test potability.
    The big risk is that someone takes the design, and mass produced it without clearly showing what it records. Then a government relies on it. Think it won’t happen? The Iraqi government bought dowsing kits as mine detectors. Your local council could easily do the same.

  7. Lot of hate in comments but this project is a great start… Of course their is room for improvement but i don’t see anyone else taking the time to build a portable system to detect pollution. Do you all really expect it to be perfect from the start? With time this idea will grow and better conform to scientific standards.If anything this build will give those who are looking for pollution sources the ability to narrow down possible issues and then come back with more accurate equipment. So why dont we try be a little more supportive of those trying to better the world.

    1. Your comment seems to be a perfect example of the renaming of something that you don’t agree with as “hate”. The negative comments are serious, well founded, justifiable criticisms of the efficacy and utility of a device in meeting its apparent design goals. How this can possibly be described as “hate” I cannot understand and I very much regret the corruption of our language which allows this to be acceptable.

      My opinion, for what it’s worth, of the device is that it is an interesting indicator of some aspects of water quality which could be used to increase the awareness of children. To suggest that it’s a scientific instrument is stretching my credulity; to suggest that it might determine whether water is potable or not is well off into la-la land.

  8. Measuring turbidity tells you how cloudy the water. Yes it is true that the higher the turbidity the higher the chance that the water is not potable, but lower turbidity water can still be very dangerous. Bacteria and viruses are not detected by turbidity, and those are the organisms that can sicken you the quickest. This device would not detect Giardia or other Cryptosporidium.

    Is this a great way to take turbidity measurements, which are an indication of some water pollutants, yes. Is this in any way a determination of how potable a water source is, I would so no.

    If you want to get an understanding of water quality and the need to remove turbidity and then disinfect water, check out Mark Rober’s review of the P&G PUR packet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qZWMNW7GmE.

    Though being pedantic, I do hate how he does not use the product as required by using a whole packet to treat 10 liters of water, he tries to use partial packets on less than 10 liters of water

    1. Pathogens are easily dealt with with boiling. Meanwhile, many pollutants need filtering. This could be a useful indicator for whether its safe to boil then drink this water, instead of filter(and maybe still boil depending on the filter).

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