Oftentimes we forget that our phones are capable of things other than playing Angry Birds or receiving countless text messages from our many exceedingly attractive romantic prospects. (Ha.) And while it may take some effort to see beyond that narrow range of cellular activities, it takes true vision to realize that the technology can become something much more: A possibility at greatly improving the quality of life in developing countries.

That was the vision in mind when NextDrop, a winner of UC Berkeley’s 2010 “Big Ideas” Competition, sought to harness the power of mobile phone networks to provide an up-to-the minute alert system for residents of water-strapped nations. Anu Sridharan, a student and member of the Berkeley-based group, explains the situation in many parts of India:

“Literally, people wait around their house until the water comes on. We’ve met people who’ve missed weddings, funerals and meetings.”

Despite the fact that access to running water in India is unreliable and infrequent at best, NextDrop member Emily Kumpel reports that “[mobile phones] are everywhere.” The reality that many residents of developing countries have access to phones but not to consistent information regarding the status of their water supply was the impetus for the formation of NextDrop: While in the past, residents would routinely skip appointments in order to ensure they would not miss a water delivery, that may be about to change.

Last summer, after partnering with a local non-governmental organization in the south India city of Hubli, NextDrop recruited residents of 200 households to form a mobile phone network. Individuals called NextDrop when water arrived at their household. The delivery was then confirmed by contacting two other households in the area, and finally by contacting all of the households serviced by that water line — effectively a very useful application of “crowdsourcing.”

In addition to their support from the Big Ideas Competition, the team has secured funding from the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. Should their system continue to prove effective, NextDrop could easily be the next big thing, with far-reaching implications not only for the residents of Hubli, but for all those concerned less with dropped calls and more with actual drops. Like, of water.

It’s a big deal!

A 411 On Water’s Next Drop [Berkeley Engineering]

Image Source: Jae Park


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