Vodafone has funded a “texting toilet” project that could help improve sanitation in the developing world.
The toilets include low-cost sensors and software that texts local technicians when it is broken. When they come to repair the facility, a video display on the toilets gives step-by-step instructions about how to fix it.
The technician then uploads the repair log to the cloud, allowing others to access historical data about how the toilet has been maintained.
The Seva toilet was developed by a research team at the California Institute of Technology. Cory Finke, who led the project, said it was a means of improving sanitation for the estimated 2.5 billion people who do not have access to proper plumbing.
Improved sanitation can include the likes of a pit latrine covered by a slab.
The project had its origins in work Finke conducted on a low-cost, solar-powered treatment and recycling system for the developing world. That project converted human waste into disinfected water.
After receiving initial funding by the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, field tests were launched in India in 2012. Finke said: “The field tests identified a significant challenge that we hadn’t anticipated. How would we fix the toilets when they break? And who would fix them?
“It became clear that there were not enough people with the skills needed to diagnose and repair problems with the unit in the areas needing them, even if we provided spare parts. In those early days, when one of our units developed even a minor issue (which happens about once every six months) it required one of our team to fly from California to fix it.”
It was at this point Finke entered the Seva into Vodafone Americas Foundation 2015 Wireless Innovation Project, where it clinched the $300,000 prize funding. That has given them three years of funding to build the self-diagnosing toilet.
Last month, Vodafone used wireless technology to help a seal conservation scheme off the coast of Scotland. Seals were fitted with sensors that tracked their movement once they surfaced.