Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20th, 2017, it stripped away the water, transport, energy, healthcare, and telecommunications infrastructure from more than 3 million Americans. Almost immediately, clean water became a scarce commodity on the island. Though first responders and aid organizations sent bottled water to the port of San Juan, not much of it reached inland. Now, Puerto Ricans are drinking from contaminated water sources. The aftermath of this disaster has taken more than 900 American lives and the risk of island-wide water-borne illness is growing.
Puerto Rican students and employees at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are gravely concerned. Among them is Hector Luis, who approached Sustainability Projects Abroad (SPA), a registered student organization, to plan a disaster relief trip to Puerto Rico from January 2nd to 14th, 2017. SPA sent a team to YHack to build an urgent solution called HydroMarker. This prototype will aid local authorities and community leaders in locating, assessing, and remediating contaminated water sources. Millions of lives in Puerto Rico and other disaster-hit regions will be saved.
What it does
HydroMarker collects and tests water samples, maps the data, and determines water usability. The results are available online to anyone. Currently, the HydroMarker uses four parameters: pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and temperature. The command to take measurements is sent to the device through Bluetooth, activating a pump that draws water to the various sensors. An LCD screen displays the readings. Results are geotagged and timestamped online through Google Map API, and compared to EPA regulations. The data provides feedback on which water sources should be avoided and need remediation; which can used for purposes such as cooking, bathing, and laundry; and which can be filtered for safe consumption. In addition to benefiting disaster relief and public access to water quality data, Hydromarker can be a commercial business that serves municipalities and business owners who want to repeatedly and consistently test the quality of public and private bodies of water.
How we built it
HydroMarker utilizes the low-cost and open-source Arduino platform. We used an Arduino Mega with motor driver shield and a Bluetooth module to send commands to an onboard DC motor that collect water samples. The device aggregates various data into a GeoJSON format. That data is then fed into a web app that displays markers on Google Maps.
Challenges we ran into
The software challenges included making sure the Arduino was reading inputs from multiple serial ports correctly, and handling possible failures of individual sensors to ensure robustness of the data output to Google Maps. Additionally, ensuring our Map updated with and displayed the correct markers and data on our webpage was a bit of a hurdle. Lastly, attempting to transmit data via Bluetooth and trying to consistently get a GPS signal presented some problems as well.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Successfully collected, parsed, and sent sensor data Mapped geotagged and timestamped data on our webapp Explored hardware applications
What we learned
We learned a large amount technically i.e. how to pull in data from various serial ports in Arduino, how to use GeoJSON and KML to update markers on Google Maps, how to display that updated map in a webpage. We took a look at the next steps in assembling the hardware for our software. Beyond that, we also learned how to turn Hydromarker into a viable enterprise with a profitable business model while maintaining our disaster relief vision.
What's next for HydroMarker: using drones for water testing
HydroMarker is exploring viability as a commercial business by reaching out to municipalities and businesses in our customer discovery process.