Pedal Your Way to Clean Water

Stories on water are either on the rise or are more likely to catch my eye – either way, another interesting design innovation to contribute to water issues is critiqued by NextBillion.net. A YouTube video on the site also explains the Aquaduct, a tricycle that aims to provide a means of transportation and simultaneously filter water.

Developed by Ideo (an extremely successful design company), the cycle uses energy from pedaling to filter two gallons of water from a 20 gallon tank- supposedly enough for a day’s worth of water for one family. Derek Newberry points out:

As with any shiny new BoP innovation, it’s important to remember that just because the product is inarguably cool doesn’t mean it will actually be applicable in the specific context of local consumers. Has research been done to confirm that the Aquaduct would be cost effective and functional for the BoP in different regions as compared to other available means of water filtration and transport? And I didn’t understand the idea of storing 20 gallons of water but having only two gallons filtered – is this really enough for a family? Does the user have to pedal around every time they want an additional two gallons of filtered water?

All insightful questions. I personally also take issue with the design itself. When I used to bicycle to my project every day in India, I realized that cycling was no simple joy ride – I needed to utilize the basket installed in front and the small clip in back to carry my daily necessities with me or throw in some fruits and vegetables I might purchase from the street vendor on the way home. With that removable tank put in the front, the Aquaduct might have to be a separate purchase for a family, in addition to their other bicycles.

At the same time, the creation of designs aimed for the developing world can be really useful social innovations, once they have been properly priced and adapted. The Aquaduct is another one to watch and see if it moves past the prototype phase.

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One Response

  1. Designing cost-effective appropriate technology is rarely the problem. Educating the masses on the need for the innovative technology or service is where efforts fail.

    How do you market to people who may not be literate, or afford to watch television? More, how do you convince a bank to give you a loan when your product or service is for poor people? That’s what made Dr. V have to mortgage his house to start Aravind Eye Hospitals.

    Thirty years ago, you had to rely on the power of community to spread the word, and the daunting task usually required a mission that set your heart on fire to drive you to accept the challenge. This left out the long tail of incremental do-it-yourself innovators who were really working to solve personal problems as opposed to transforming societal systems.

    Today, media technology can be leveraged to cost effectively reach people in ways never before possible and scale the long tail, but you still can’t get very far without community. With $3 trillion in foundation funds and dozens of universities teaching design and management around social enterprise, we see a new crop of innovators who technically solve problems for the BOP, but still fail to authentically build community with those they seek to help. And because they are trying to help, the inherent disequality of that relationship assures that they are wasting their time.

    India’s answer to the long-tail of innovation is the National Innovation Foundation and the Honeybee Network. It does a good job of authentically building communities of volunteers to find innovations, but a horrible job of recognizing that the answer to scaling innovations lies in strengthening the communities where they find innovations as opposed to helping innovators escape those communities. To read more on NIF and the Honeybee Network, check out:

    http://rahulbrown.wordpress.com/2008/05/23/indias-national-innovation-foundation-and-honeybee-network/

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