The Portland State University SWEETLab™ (Sustainable Water, Energy and Environmental Technologies Laboratory) has a mission of "improving accountability and methodologies for international development through improved data collection." and has recently been collaborating with global aid agencies like MercyCorps to put this into practice via their fleet of remote smart sensor devices.
These devices offer agencies another way to gauge the effectiveness of their development programs by helping them answer the simple questions of "does it work & do people use it?"
The strategy to use low powered sensor devices and GPRS is an improvement on the current data gathering systems of using spots check and receiving survey data from the users on the ground. The transmitted data sent from these sensors can then be used to "understand programmatic, social, economic, and seasonal changes that may influence the quality of a program. Additionally, behavioral patterns of the user can be studied to better understand how and when water, sanitation, infrastructure and energy technologies are being used. How the sponsors of the intervention respond to the data and adjust their implementation programs can also be evaluated."
The lab is currently focused on integrating with projects working to improve water, sanitation and household energy issues:
*Flow - Dual pressure flowmeter
- Monitors the usage of hand washing stations and toilets
- Data can be used to correlate water and sanitation usage patterns and evaluate behavior change programs
*Fire: High Efficiency Cookstove
- Monitors usage, thermal efficiencies, and CO & CO2 emissions
- The data can be used to test adoption rates, performance and decipher what type of stove is used the most in the communities
*LifeStraw: Household water treatment
- Measures usage, volume, flowrate and backwash
- Can also be used to help gauge the time to end-of-life for the device
The sensor packages cost between $100 and $500, are powered by 5 AA batteries (which can last for up to a year) and transmit the data via a cell or Wi-Fi network depending on availability. Additional configurations on the devices can be installed to include water quality monitoring (Ph, Conductivity, etc) as well as Air quality sensors that can monitor gas emissions and particulate matter.