Several deeply committed UMass Students didn’t want to let the water crisis in Puerto Rico go unchecked! A brilliant and idealistic five-person interdisciplinary team, which included three engineering majors, won four prizes at the HackUMass hackathon on November 3 through 5 by creating LiveWaterMap, invented to counteract the devastation and resultant water shortage and contamination caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. As the team explains its product, “LiveWaterMap is an online web service that collects and maps water quality data using GPS and time data - information that can be easily understood and made available for anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
In the case of Puerto Rico, LiveWaterMap is meant to be employed by aid workers, community leaders, and local authorities who are dealing with the water emergency. The prize-winning team goes on to say that “Low-cost, open-source, modular, Arduino-based water sensors can easily be configured to send geotagged and timestamped data on four different parameters (pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and temperature) that can be interpreted to determine if a water source is likely to be contaminated or not.”
The members of the prize-winning team are Leah Leshchinsky (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering), Bryan Chua (Environmental Science and Chemical Engineering), Roy Chan (Computer Science), Dat Duong (Pre-Engineering/Computer Science), and Jonathan Royce (Mathematics). This innovative team won the Verizon Communication Innovation Award trophy, the MassCEC Best CleanTech prize of $1000, a prize of $500 from the sponsoring Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, and a $240 Amazon gift card for each member - a total of $2,700 out of the $31,830 HackUMass V prize pool.
According to the LiveWaterMap website, the winning HackUMass team was inspired to create its LiveWaterMap after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico on September 20th, 2017, and quickly stripped away the water, transport, energy, healthcare, and telecommunications infrastructure of more than 3 million American citizens.
“Almost immediately, clean water became a scarce commodity on the island,” says the winning team. “First responders and aid organizations responded by bringing supplies, including bottled water, to the port of San Juan. Unfortunately, not much of the essential supplies reached inland, resulting in people resorting to drinking from contaminated water sources…The risk of an island-wide water-borne illness outbreak is imminent if unchecked.”
As a result, the team members explain, “Puerto Rican students and employees at UMass Amherst were gravely concerned. Among them was Hector Luis, who approached Bryan Chua from the registered student organization, Sustainability Projects Abroad (SPA), to begin planning a disaster relief and community development trip to Puerto Rico from January 2nd to 14th, 2017. SPA sent a team not just to win HackUMass V, but to build a working prototype of LiveWaterMap, an urgent solution that will aid local authorities and community leaders in locating, assessing, and remediating contaminated water sources, so that millions of lives in Puerto Rico and other disaster-hit regions around the world will be saved.”
The water data can also be automatically uploaded onto a Google Map API on LiveWaterMap.tech, which allows members of the public to access and see if the water sources around them are contaminated or not according to EPA regulations. It thereby provides much-needed information on which water sources should be avoided, which water sources need remediation, and which water sources can be filtered for safe water consumption or used for other purposes like cooking, bathing, or laundry.
How did its five creators build LiveWaterMap technologically? “We connected our five sensors to an Arduino Uno,” they explain on their LifeWaterMap website, “which aggregated the various data into a GeoJSON format and saved it to an SD card. That output was then fed into a web app that displayed markers on Google Maps for each geotagged collection of data.”
The team has future plans to upgrade the current design with a wifi module that will enable real-time data exchange and to use machine learning on drones for real-time automated water sampling in the context of disaster relief and environmental remediation. The LiveWaterMap website is expected to be fully-operational by the end of November and will be launched in conjunction with a fundraising campaign for the Puerto Rico trip. SPA meets every Wednesday, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., at Elm classroom 230 and is looking for anyone of any major to collaborate on the project.
HackUMass is the largest hackathon in the Pioneer Valley. This year, the annual event hosted about 800 participants from all over the country for 37 hours. Participants are encouraged to bring innovative ideas together with software and hardware projects. The student-run, 36-hour weekend event challenges contestants from colleges, universities, and other schools to team up or work individually in devising their own software and hardware innovations. During the event, contestants came up with 105 projects after drawing on a wealth of advice from participating information technology and engineering professionals, mentors, and entrepreneurs. (November 2017)