How this team is using IoT to ensure safe drinking water

8 Jul 2019

Image: © yuratosno/

TechWatch editor Emily McDaid found out more about a university project that aims to deliver safe drinking water to communities in need.

Bringing safe drinking water to underprivileged people in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil – that’s the aim of a joint academic project led by Ulster University.

Involving two universities in South America, the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project is called Safewater and the aim is to develop low-cost technologies to provide safe drinking water.

Lead researcher, professor of photocatalysis Tony Byrne, told me: “Having access to safe drinking water is a basic human right, recognised as such by the UN in 2010.”

However, Byrne pointed out that the first requirement for water treatment is that it is effective, and to achieve this requires technologies that are proven to be effective.

He explained: “We’ve adopted known technologies and, through engineering, aim to drive the cost down. The provision of safe water costs money, so we need to identify how to deliver water to the communities in an affordable way.”

The project is developing innovations in two areas:

  1. Water treatment technologies and interventions
  2. IoT-enabled devices that can detect faecal contamination in a water supply

The water quality device can offer a faster way to test water quality than the typical method of sending a sample to a lab. Byrne explained: “We can take a water sample, put it in the device and it communicates the results via a mobile signal. We can even read the results here in NI if we want to.”

That the device communicates its location and its analysis remotely is key, given that some of these communities of people are living a nine- or 10-hour drive from the nearest town.

How are we doing with regards to bringing safe water to more of the world’s population? Byrne said: “The last WHO-UNICEF joint monitoring report found that still 2bn people around the world commonly drink water that isn’t safe to drink – that’s one-quarter of the world’s population.”

Is the end game to implement these technologies on a wide scale? “Initially we are focusing on technologies that are already well known, but implementing that into households in rural Mexico or Colombia is quite challenging,” said Byrne. “Ultimately we want to minimise user dependency –  if it could operate in a household without human intervention, that would be the goal.

“While people might only drink one or two litres per day, they use water for washing and food prep, so they actually need maybe 50 litres per person, per day. That presents a huge challenge where piped-in supplies are not available nor safe.”

More information can be found about Safewater here.

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland