Wireless Water

      Credit: NextDrop team.

      Credit: NextDrop team.

      In many developing countries like India, running water is scarce and only intermittently available. To tackle this challenge, UC Berkeley graduate students Thejo Kote, Emily Kumpel, and Ari Olmos, launched a social enterprise called NextDrop in the fall of 2009, with advice from Assistant Professor Tapan Parikh of the School of Information. NextDrop aims to address the problem of unreliable piped water in India by exploiting the ubiquity of cell phones in the country. “Mobile phones are everywhere,” explains Kumpel. “They’re a very easy way to get information to people.” Local families participate by sending a text message to NextDrop as soon as water becomes available. As an incentive, the first set of callers receives a micropayment. NextDrop then verifies the accuracy of the water delivery update and immediately sends a text to all its subscribers in the same neighborhood. Since its modest beginnings as a class project, NextDrop has gone on to win UC Berkeley’s 2010 Big Ideas competition and grants from the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. In July 2010 they began their first pilot program in the southern Indian town of Hubli, with 200 families as well as the local water utility board participating. In the future, NextDrop hopes to use delivery data accumulated over time to predict when water will arrive in a particular locality, thereby empowering consumers to actively participate in improving a vital utility.

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