"Smart Pot" Water Challenge

The Patel Grand Challenge launches with a competition to create an inexpensive and easy to use water purification system.


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 21, 2011) – Clean water, one of the most basic components of human life, remains out of reach for nearly 900 million people around the world. And for all the world’s technological advances, a cheap and easy to use water purification system that could help save the lives of the 3.5 million people who die each year from water-related disease has remained elusive.


But now the University of South Florida’s Patel School of Global Sustainability through its Center for Global Solutions with the support of the International Water Association (IWA) is launching the first Patel Grand Challenge, a challenge to inventors in developing nations to create a low-cost and easy-to-use water purification device that could save millions from the perils of contaminated drinking water.


The official launch came Monday at the IWA Development Congress & Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur where more than 600 participants are attending from around the world.


Noted global philanthropist Kiran C. Patel, along with USF School of Global Sustainability Director Kala Vairavamoorthy, announced the competition at the conference opening ceremony following a keynote address by Peter Chin Fah Kui, Malaysia’s minister for Energy, Green Technology and Water.


Kiran Patel with Malaysian Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin Fah Ku

Philanthropist Kiran Patel with Malaysian Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin Fah Ku - who oversees energy, green technology and water – at the launch of USF’s “Smart Pot” challenge during the International Water Association’s Development Congress & Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.


Photo by Bessie Skoures.

Millions of people in developing countries collect their drinking water from contaminated water sources using water pots and Jerrycans. The Patel Grand Challenge seeks the invention of a technologically-advanced yet inexpensive “Smart Pot” that would automatically disinfect water at the point it is collected.


The vision of the Smart Pot is that it is technologically-advanced, yet durable enough to survive in rugged conditions. It’s purification system must be integrated into the pot to clean the water at the point it is gathered and it must be cheap to mass produce so that its good effects could be distributed worldwide.


The goal of the competition is to advance the development of water filtration technology by turning directly to the people most at risk from unclean water: those in developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Vairavamoorthy believes that people who live with the challenge each day can devise technology that could be so completely integrated into the familiar vessels used for gathering water that the solution would in the end be uncomplicated and easily integrated into daily life.

Patel, who has devoted much of his life to providing better health care to people in developing nations and funded the Patel Center for Global Solutions to bring meaningful change to the most dire of living conditions, said the project will most benefit people who live in isolated communities where there are no water treatment facilities. It is in those villages where people continue to gather water as they have for decades: walking miles to a water source and carrying it home in a jug.

“Our solution is of the type where isolated people without financial resources can take a simple solution of a container,” he said. “They would have gone there, picked up the water and while they are doing that function, they are taking care of the problem.”

World health officials report that one in eight people do not have access to safe drinking water, and more than half the diseases worldwide are caused by dirty water.  The United Nations estimates a child dies every 20 seconds – some 1.5 million children each year – from waterborne illnesses such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea.


Patel and Vairavamoorthy liken the Smart Pot challenge to one that is already familiar to millions: the competition to create a low-cost, durable and small computer to help educate children in the developing world which gave rise to the technology that spawned a new generation of netbooks.


“We felt that what was really required was a system that doesn’t create a lot of inconvenience for people – already they are inconvenienced because they have to go and collect the water,” Vairavamoorthy said.


“So, from the people's perspective, the treatment would be taking place in an oblivious fashion. We thought this would really have a big impact on the quality of life particularly in terms of waterborne diseases and its impact on children for a large proportion of the developing world.”


The challenge welcomes pre-proposal submissions through March 2012.  Five applicants will be selected for a shortlist and awarded up to $8,000. The five finalists will be invited to prepare full proposals that will be reviewed by an international panel of experts at a major event. The winning proposal will receive up to $100,000. Working alongside the Patel Center of Global Solutions, the winner will then build and develop a prototype of the Smart Pot.


“Those who live in developing countries know the problem; they see it and live with it each day. I’m sure that they have thought of ingenious and innovative ways to solve this problem,” Patel said. “I’m confident that next year we will have a tried and tested design of the Smart Pot. Let’s make the Smart Pot a reality.”


This year’s Patel Grand Challenge is intended to be the first of many competitions the center would hold each year to generate tangible solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.


“It is wonderful that the Patel Center has initiated the ‘Patel Grand Challenge’ initiative. The first of these challenges – the Smart Pot, will revolutionize lives around the world, particularly the poor and vulnerable in our society,” said USF President Judy Genshaft. “USF is proud to be part of such a noble and innovative challenge. I wish all potential inventors and researchers success.”


This competition is open to applicants from academic and research institutions, consulting firms and NGOs that are officially registered and located within developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Patel School of Global Sustainability houses USF’s cutting-edge research and education in global sustainability.  The Patel School of Global Sustainability comprises the Patel Center for Global Solutions, the M.A. Program in Global Sustainability and the university’s Office of Sustainability.


More on the Patel Grand Challenge can be found at www.psgs.usf.edu/patelgrandchallenge.


More on the IWA Development Congress & Exhibition is at http://www.iwa2011kl.org/.


Bessie Skoures, Associate Director for Outreach for the Patel School of Global Sustainability, contributed to this report.


Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.