MoMo is a small box of electronics. It runs on a cell phone battery with help from the sun. It listens to the world around it with sensors and talks back via text message. MoMo’s cousins live in water pipes and power lines across countries rich and poor. It is a member of a family of sensing technologies that help governments, utilities, and big corporations provide water, energy, sanitation, and other basic infrastructure that keeps cities and towns running.

Pictured here, a MoMo prototype device with sensor board and GSM communication module in a weatherproof case.

What makes MoMo different is not that it represents a brand new technology, but that it represents a new approach to global challenges. The purpose of MoMo is to make technology tools available to communities in a way that makes local services more reliable and foreign aid less relevant. We do not presume to have the answer to each local community’s challenges. Instead, we want to make tools open and available to these communities so that they can use them if they prove relevant.

For some, MoMo might improve reliability by making it more affordable for service providers to monitor and maintain many remote infrastructure points. While infrastructure providers currently travel to each waterpoint to check and see if it is working, MoMo can alert technicians to specific problems at specific points. It allows staff to focus on other challenges and saves on travel costs to the field, which add up quickly. Later posts will illustrate how we built MoMo specifically for this environment, using mobile technology and battery conservation techniques to ensure that MoMo can survive on its own in harsh environments.

MoMo is most exciting for us because it challenges the current way charities and governments distribute foreign aid. We believe that the purpose of any foreign aid operation should be to put itself out of business. Oftentimes, charities providing basic services like water and sanitation maintain local staff to keep those services running. They work in areas with poor governments and weak institutions that often cannot afford to take over the services on their own. However, these projects struggle to transition ownership to local communities. MoMo provides an opportunity for local communities to take ownership – to manage and maintain their infrastructure inexpensively and independently.