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Donegal research and technology improving the lives in one of the poorest corners of the world

LYIT researchers help develop water pump monitoring solution in Uganda

Donegal research and technology improving the lives in one of the poorest corners of the world

Peter Mawanga from the Kumi District Water office inspecting the Smart Water installation by Alex Gason, Fields of Life

Researchers at the WiSAR Lab and Technology Gateway at LYIT have helped to develop a remote monitoring system for village water pumps in east Africa that has benefited as many as 16,000 people by improving access to clean water.

The Smart Water: Internet of Things (IOT) for Uganda project is focusing on improving water hand-pump reliability in the Kumi district of rural Uganda by incorporating applied IoT technology into the pumps using an affordable communications method.

Dr Stephen Seawright, manager of the WiSAR Lab at LYIT, explains that the breakthrough came about through a chance encounter.

“Our WiSAR board member, Ray Speer of Analog Devices, had returned from a trip to Africa where he had identified the problem and the need for a solution.

"In east Africa, many villages share water from a single borehole using a manual pump to access fresh water. However, when a pump fails the villagers have to resort to drinking unsafe surface water, posing significant health risks to the wider community.
"District governments often struggle to manage the hundreds of boreholes in their areas and therefore a need emerged to monitor the status of the pumps and, if possible, build in a level of predictive maintenance.

“A consortium of seven partners was formed, led by Fields of Life, an international development organisation, which has drilled wells in the Kumi region for the past 25 years.

"The consortium includes LYIT, Fields of Life, Analog devices, engineering company Arup, CW Applied Technology, VT Networks and the Kumi local government in Uganda. Together, we began researching solutions through the application of IoT technology and then defined and developed the IoT monitoring system, funded by an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Partnership grant with contributions from Analog Devices, which we then rolled out in the Kumi district of rural Uganda.”

Methods to detect and measure water flow, handle movement and mechanical reliability were engineered by LYIT and incorporated into a bespoke compact sensor unit that fits within the hand-pump, manufactured by CW Applied Technology in Shannon.

ARUP Ireland, an engineering consultancy firm, also played a significant role on the ground providing hydrogeology, project management and funding the drilling of new boreholes for the Kumi district local government.

The consortium also developed a web-based application to deliver information from the monitoring device directly to the community members’ phones (SMS) with near real-time statistics available online for local government.

Martin Bradley, principal investigator from LYIT, noted that the project has led to an improved quality of life for many people in the Kumi community and that the technology can be built upon for further application.

“Through these new installations, 16,000 people are directly benefiting from stable and reliable access to clean water and system testing is now underway. If a pump breaks or is likely to break, the sensor solution will signal an alert to the base stations.”

“Data from the pumps supports local government and policy makers by enabling contingency measures to be established through early identification of issues. The new system is scalable and can be further developed to increase functionality such as the addition of water quality monitoring.”

“Through the use of research and technology, we were able to contribute to improving the lives of many who live in severe deprivation in one of the poorest corners of the world. It is wonderful to be able to apply our skills in a way that offers a significant positive impact to those who need it most,” he said.

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