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Startups leverage technology to solve nation’s water crisis

Aquapanel, NKD Pod+ and water ATMs maybe the answer to country’s drinking water woes
  • By 2030, India’s water crisis will only worsen, as 40% of the population will not have access to clean drinking water
  • Peter Ma’s Clean Water AI system uses machine learning and pattern recognition to identify bacteria in contaminated water.Premium
    Peter Ma’s Clean Water AI system uses machine learning and pattern recognition to identify bacteria in contaminated water.

    Uravu Labs, a Bengaluru-based startup, wants to address India’s water crisis in its own limited way. It has developed a solar thermal-based device called Aquapanel to produce drinking water from air. The device absorbs water vapour at night as the humidity is higher in many places. During the day, the solar collector heats up the device to around 80-100°C, releasing the saturated water vapour back. The vapours are then passed through an air-cooled condenser and transformed into liquid.

    The device filters out pollutant, pollen or dust from the start and uses ultra-violet (UV) light to ensure there is no bacterial formation in the device. “Since it is powered by solar energy, we are limited by how much energy we can get per square metre of the device. For every square metre, the device can generate 4 to 5 litres of water," says Swapnil Srivastav, CEO of Uravu Labs.

    Israel-based tech startup Watergen has a device that works on the same principle but uses electricity instead of solar energy for power. It is a water generator called Gen-350 that can produce 900 litres of water from the air by purifying air moisture every day. To keep water clean it uses a multi-layer filtration cascade and has an in-built treatment facility that continually circulates water to keep it fresh. Gen 350 is reportedly being used in over 3,400 homes and schools in South Africa.

    Aquapanel and Gen-350 are simply cases in point. Startups are digging into technology and are leveraging them to solve the drinking water problem.

    Clean Water AI, for instance, can save people from falling sick due to drinking contaminated water. Testing and validating a water source as clean is expensive and elaborate.

    Also Read | The new plan to solve India’s water crisis

    Developer and innovator, Peter Ma’s Clean Water AI system uses machine learning (ML) and pattern recognition to identify bacteria. The device includes a digital microscope connected to a laptop or PC with an Intel Movidius Neural Compute Stick attached to perform water testing in real time. Ma used Intel AI DevCloud to train the AI model. Building the entire system cost him less than $500 and the testing itself takes a few minutes. Using Clean Water AI, Ma was able to identify the shape, colour, density, and edges of two common bacteria forms Escherichia coli and Vibrio cholera.

    “I built Clean Water AI specifically for World Virtual GovHack, targeting the Water Safety and Food Security challenge. We are currently in the prototyping stage and working on the next iteration so it can be in one single Internet of Things device," said Ma on an Intel developer blog. The AI device for water safety typically requires very little maintenance, because it will be based on optical readings, rather than chemical-based ones. This will save cost, notes Ma.

    Many urban homes rely on reverse osmosis (RO) or UV water purifiers. What many of them do not have is a system that will alert users when the water quality begins to deteriorate. Bengaluru-based company Oceo Water has an IOT-enabled water purifier that keeps track of water quality in real time from the back-end and sends alerts when the device requires maintenance.

    Then, there is the issue of availability of clean drinking water in public places like railway stations, metros or malls. Gurugram-based Swajal is trying to address this through water ATMs. Powered by solar energy, the Swajal water ATMs use IoT sensors to remotely monitor the quality of the water and the performance of the machine. Swajal claims it uses machine learning to run predictive maintenance algorithms to predict system failures before it actually happens.

    Another more portable alternative to water purifiers are water bottles like NKD Pod+ which have an in-built purifier system, which can cleanse up to 99% of bacteria, heavy metals and chemicals from water in any form to make it drinkable again. It also uses super charging technology to make the water more alkaline and richer in antioxidants. Developed by a UK-based firm NKD, the Pod+ can hold 585ml of water at one time. It has a replaceable filter which costs 1,198 and has a life cycle of 300 refills. The bottle is available in India at 2,998.

    While conserving water and cleaning water bodies will help in the long run, devices like Aqua panel, NKD Pod+ and Oceo Water purifiers can help tackle India’s current drinking water shortage. According to a 2018 NITI Aayog report, India’s water crisis will only worsen, as 40% of the population will not have access to clean drinking water by 2030. Startups such as these will provide the much-needed succour.

    Abhijit Ahaskar
    Abhijit writes on tech policy, gaming, security, AI, robotics, electronics and startups. He has been in the media industry for over 12 years.
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    Updated: 04 Jul 2019, 09:48 PM IST
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