Portland State spinoff receives grant to improve drinking water delivery in developing countries
Author: John Kirkland, PSU Media and Public Relations
Posted: September 20, 2017

SweetSense, Inc., a Portland State University spinoff company that helps bring clean drinking water rural areas in developing countries, has been awarded the second phase of a nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The grant will help pay for technology improvements that will predict problems and trigger preemptive fixes in the way water is delivered in countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

SweetSense uses electronic sensors that connect with cellular and satellite networks and internet databases – part of the Internet of Things -- to identify broken water delivery systems and dispatch delivery teams to fix them. 

For example, in 2014 it installed about 200 sensors in rural water pumps in Rwanda. 

“Before the sensors were installed, about 44 percent of the area’s pumps were broken at any given time, and it took an average of about seven months to get a pump repaired,” said CEO Evan Thomas, Portland State engineering professor and a founder of SweetSense. “After the sensors were in place, the repair interval was reduced to just 26 days. Consequently, only 9 percent of pumps were broken at a time. We’re now working to achieve 100 percent uptime.”

SweetSense has deployed more than 1,000 sensors in 15 countries. They’re being used on water pumps, water filters and latrines to measure use and performance. They’re also used to monitor the emissions from high-efficiency cookstoves installed in developing communities.

“There’s been a rapid, explosive growth in access to cellular data in developing countries, while access to water and sanitation is essentially flat-lined. This grant gives us an opportunity to leverage cellular and satellite data to help deliver these critical health services,” Thomas said.

In addition to the NSF award, SweetSense is in the midst of raising $2 million in investments to be able to expand and improve, with the goal of reaching more than 50 million people in the next five years.

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