3D Printed, Solar-Powered Cart Could Help Ease Water Troubles in Developing Countries

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How far do you have to go to get water? If you simply have to walk into the bathroom or kitchen, you’re one of the luckiest people in the world. In developing countries, getting water involves walking an average of three miles round trip, carrying a jug weighing about 40 pounds on the way back. In areas suffering from drought, the walk can be 15 miles or more. That’s hard to imagine, but for people living in these regions, there’s no other way. The job of collecting water often falls to women and children, taking up large portions of their time and keeping them away from other pursuits, like education.

Jose Paris wants to change that. The former automotive designer is the inventor of Watt-r, a solar-powered, partially 3D printed cart designed to carry water in developing nations. While the cart is still in development, it will likely, once it’s complete, be able to carry a dozen 20-liter containers of water at a time.

The Watt-r cart uses a 150-watt bike motor, controlled with a throttle and tiller. When a person stops in a village to sell water, it can also be used as a charging station for mobile phones or other electronic devices. It’s shaded by a canopy of solar panels that provide its power. Paris has been thinking about the idea for almost a decade, but until recently, solar panels were too expensive. As they have been going down in cost recently, Paris was able to begin prototyping his idea, using 3D printing for several other parts as another way to keep costs low.

The cart travels only at walking speed, so a person can walk alongside it, and is designed to travel only in relatively flat areas to keep power usage low. It only works when the sun is shining, which isn’t much of an issue as sunshine is plentiful in the regions the cart is intended to be used in. Paris deliberately kept the design simple.

“It would be very easy to think about an autonomous version, for instance, or to think about installing more power or adding batteries,” he said. “This mission creep is something that I’m very used to after working so many years in the car industry–it’s very typical, somebody always has something else to add. This is an exercise in really paring everything down as much possible and being very conscious of it.”

Watt-r is aimed at entrepreneurs who can make a living by selling water. The more of those entrepreneurs there are, the fewer women and children who will have to spend their days hiking back and forth from their homes for single jugs of water. The solar-powered cart can be used by women, however; currently, most water sellers and distributors are men who have the physical strength necessary to deliver it by bikes or pushcarts.

According to Paris, a water seller making daily micro-payments on a Watt-r cart would be able to pay it off in about three years. He plans to test a rough prototype in London, where he lives, or in Spain, and then begin testing it in Kenya in early 2018. The design has the potential to evolve further, into a water purification system, for example.

“When you look at these developing countries, there seems to be this idea that people just walk, and then they graduate to a Toyota pickup truck . . . in my mind, there’s quite a lot of room in the middle,” said Paris. “A lot of innovation can happen in those forgotten spaces, that we have forgotten in the West for 120 years, but for them, is crucial. The key thing is now you can add just a little bit of 21st-century technology, and all of the sudden, something from the 19th century becomes super modern.”

While the cart is intended for water transportation, it can also be used to transport other important goods, such as crops and medication.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com, or share your thoughts below. 

[Source: Fast Company/Images: Jose Paris]

 

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