Data Science in every drop
charity: water: Ensuring clean, reliable water sources around the world.
785 million people, or 1 in 10 in the world, are without clean water, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When a water pump fails, many people in rural communities must walk several miles to a neighbouring water system just to access clean drinking water. What’s more, repairing these systems can be complicated and inefficient, as there is no visibility when the pumps break down.
Since 2006, the non-profit charity: water has provided clean, safe drinking water to more than 11 million people in 29 countries. The organization builds sustainable, community-owned water projects.
charity: water developed a remote cloud-connected sensor device to monitor the performance of clean water projects located in developing regions. Specifically, 3,000 first-generation Internet of Things (IoT) sensors were retrofitted on water points to track the operational functionality of systems installed in northern Ethiopia. The sensors transmit hourly real-time water flow data to the cloud-based tracking system.
Over four years, the organization captured more than 32 million data points, but didn’t have the tools to analyze them and struggled to filter out the “noise” in the data – and knew that harnessing this data could improve the scale and reliability of its services.
charity: water partnered with Accenture Labs’ Tech4Good program, which applies cutting-edge applied research to help address critical challenges facing society. Its aim is to help build a more sustainable and inclusive world. Building a two-part anomaly-detection system using data science, machine learning and advanced probabilistic models – the team applied the system to charity: water’s supply network data to help provide deeper, more accurate insights from cloud-connected pump sensors throughout northern Ethiopia.
First, the system models normal water usage behavior and consumption patterns at a specific water pump. This helps the team learn how behavior changes throughout the week and months. For example, charity: water can understand precisely when the least amount of water is consumed in some areas, including the wettest months of the year, when communities may have different water sources.
Second, the system analyzes the data and “scores” it to flag anomalies. This helps detect malfunctioning water flow sensors. And if a pump breaks down, charity: water can subsequently alert network operators who dispatch mechanics to repair it as quickly as possible.
As a next, Accenture is now working on delivering a predictive maintenance solution to help charity: water notify an operator or technician before a pump breaks. The team hopes to one day deploy this solution for thousands of cloud-connected water systems.
Through in-depth collaboration and working sessions, the team first clearly identified the data challenges that charity: water faced. After dissecting the massive sets of data and developing a new water consumption model, charity: water now has a better understanding of the user behavior and water needs of the communities it serves. And its anomaly-detection system has set the stage for a predictive maintenance solution in which charity: water could prevent failures in its water systems.
With improved technology like this, charity: water can proactively obtain better visibility into its water systems and malfunctions, instead of reactively deploying limited resources. Communities benefit from less pump downtime and charity: water can concentrate on using its resources to help more communities.
In addition, the team published their work in a peer-reviewed journal, Sustainability – doing so shares the team’s methodology and findings with others in the field who are trying to solve the water crisis. This can free up resources for other teams and organizations to focus on raising money and installing more water projects worldwide.
As charity: water’s network expands, maintaining it will become a bigger challenge. The team will continue to innovate to help decrease the maintenance costs and downtime of water systems, resulting in more communities having efficient, reliable access to clean, safe drinking water at scale. And with its commitment to transparency and accountability, charity: water is reinventing charity on its way to ending the water crisis.