Welcome to WellDone's blog!

(under construction)

Introducing a dedicated MoMo website

momo.welldone.org

Today we are publishing a new website, momo.welldone.org, with three goals:

  1. Provide an accessible overview of MoMo to allow infrastructure managers to evaluate it for their use cases.
  2. Allow for deeper technical dives into the inner workings of MoMo, right down to the open-source codebase and thorough documentation. This will allow new contributors to access and tinker with the MoMo building blocks and, hopefully, build amazing new products and help improve the MoMo platform in the process.
  3. Provide a pre-order form for people - hobyists and businesses alike - interested in purchasing MoMo whole-sale to do so easily and quickly. These pre-orders are coming soon!

We invite everyone to check it out, sign up for the new mailing list, and of course send us any feedback you may have - we’d love to hear it!

User-centered Design and Rapid Prototyping in Ifakara

A typical MSABI Rope Pump

“What!? You brought a 3D printer to Ifakara!?”

This was the common response that Austin and I heard when we told people that we brought our 3D-printer with us to the small town of Ifakara to kick-off the Momo pilot there. During this first visit to Ifakara, my task was to create an exterior casing and attachment mechanism for the Momo units to integrate with the rope-style pumps that our fantastic partners at MSABI had installed and maintained throughout the area, pictured here.

It was a jam-packed and exciting week! Austin and I ran tests in the field during the daytime, then used what we learned that day to redesign the Momo in the evening. Thanks to our handy 3D-printer, we were able to print out revised designs overnight, ready to be tested the next day.

During this design process, not only did we care about functionality and robustness of the Momo, we also cared deeply about the user’s experience. We knew that no matter how well our system worked, our efforts would be in vain if users did not like it on their pumps. With this in mind, we conducted field observations and initial focus groups to gauge what users think of the Momo on their pumps and how they interact with it. Here are some of the considerations that we took into account with the design:

At a focus group meeting, a MSABI staff member explains MoMo to a local community

  • Low sensor profile: We wanted to make sure people could still fit their buckets underneath the output.
  • No sharp corners: We don’t want kids banging into it and hurting themselves.
  • Blue aesthetic: The community requested this color, since it indicates water and matches the MSABI pumps.
  • Easy installation: We wanted an attachment mechanism that was “plug and play” to facilitate installation by non-technical personnel.

Interestingly, we found that people in Ifakara often chop off the top half of a plastic bottle and place it at the mouth of the pump to funnel the water, making it easier to collect. When this additional funnel is not used, a significant fraction of the water splashes outside of the user’s container and is therefore wasted. I’ve seen this same “work-around” technique in other parts of Africa and Bangladesh as well. Therefore, we wanted to make sure that the Momo unit offered this additional benefit of funneling the water, so that users would appreciate the presence of the Momo.

Throughout the week we went through several iterations using both technical and social data from the field. By the end of the week, we had ourselves a robust, aesthetically-pleasing, water-funneling Momo that users would appreciate having on their pumps!

MoMo, several iterations later

MoMo Wins USAID/Fab Foundation Prize for Global Development

In partnership with USAID and WorldBank, the Fab Foundation, which runs a network of maker spaces around the work, launched an international prize for innovations in Sensors for Global Development.  WellDone was one of 6 finalists in the contest invited to present our work in Barcelona at Fab10, an international conference on Digital Fabrication and the maker movement. After a weekend of demoing MoMo and connecting with people, we won the 2014 Global Fab Award for Sensors for Global Development, taking home $10,000 to continue refining the MoMo platform.  Thanks everyone for your support that has let us get this far!

The Awards Ceremony at Fab10 in Barcelona, where MoMo was honored for winning the International Fab Award for Sensors for Global Development

Piloting MoMo in Tanzania

This post has been a long time coming, and it’s exciting to finally get it out the door!

For the past several months I’ve been living and working in Tanzania. What follows is a brief account of the pilot preparation conducted during that time, and information about what’s to come.

April: From the lab to the field

Components for several MoMo units

In May the WellDone team assembled the first 16 MoMo units in California. This included the custom-fabricated PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards), all of the peripherals necessary for deployment on water infrastructure in the field - I’ll post a complete parts list in a later post - and several flow sensor options. With about a dozen of these initial units and nearly 50lbs of electronic and plumbing equipment in a very large suitcase, I took off from SFO and (miraculously without incident despite a thorough customs inspection) landed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on May 4. After settling into the new city, I spent most of the next month continuing MoMo development and interfacing with various water organizations on the ground, setting the stage for the first test deployments in June and the upcoming full pilot in July.

May: Engaging Local Entrepreneurs

The group at Buni

In May I was invited to speak at two local innovation hubs - the TANZICT Buni Hub and Kinu Tech Hub. I presented MoMo, demonstrated some features of the technology, and discussed my experiences in working on an open-source project. The participants were very interested in applying innovative remote monitoring solutions to prevalent issues in Tanzania such as traffic (traveling just 5km can often take over an hour in Dar es Salaam), flooding, and even poaching.

Next month I will be working with these communities again, this time to evaluate using 3D printing technology for rural technology applications. At the conclusion of this pilot program, WellDone will be leaving several devices and tools with the local tech hubs in an effort to facilitate and inspire new applications for remote monitoring technologies.

June: Test deployments in Iringa

Daud helps to install a MoMo in Mdabulo

In June, it was time to take our devices to the field. In coordination with the Taarifa mobile reporting pilot - also funded by a WorldBank innovation grant - and partnering with SNV for ground support and community engagement, WellDone traveled to Iringa Region to test installation of MoMo at working rural water points. We presented to district- and community-level stakeholders in Mafinga, the seat of Mufindi District in Iringa Region, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the local COWSO (Community Owned Water Source Organization) representatives and higher-level users such as Mufindi district’s water engineer.

With assistance from the communities we installed two MoMo devices, both on 1” piped water scheme systems, to test the feasibility and security of the technology in the field. The first installation was attached to a 1” turbine flow meter on a PVC pipe about three feet underground. The installation went well, and MoMo was able to record water flowing and report on functionality, but there were network coverage issues that prevented long-term tests at this site. The second site at Mdabulo Ward was above-ground and the installation again went very well - this location had better network coverage, so we were able to get even more data. The COWSO for this ward maintains a large, impressive piped network spanning several kilometers and currently serving three different villages. The president of the COWSO expressed a sincere interest in obtaining and implementing MoMo to aid the maintenance of such an expansive network of pipes, as well as (in the future) to monitor water quality metrics in addition to flow rates.

The leader of the Mdabulo Ward COWSO, Fideli, inspects a MoMo at the installation site

Installing the first MoMo in Mufindi district

We learned a lot by testing MoMo in the field, and the lessons we learned there - which have already inspired robustness and network acquisition improvements to MoMo’s firmware - will prove invaluable as we move towards more permanent installations. Though this portion of the pilot has officially concluded, I will hopefully return to Mufindi next month to revisit the installed units and gather more information about the long-term viability of these types of installations.

July: Next steps

As July fast approaches, we are gearing up for the biggest pilot deployment yet. This pilot will involve using MoMo to supplement a micro-insurance program run by our partners MSABI in Ifakara, Tanzania. The installations will be on rope pumps, and the pilot will test long-term installation as well as show how MoMo data can be used in the field.

Stay tuned for more frequent updates as the pilot continues!

World Bank Provides Matching Funds

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

4 February, 2014

World Bank Provides Matching Funds for Piloting Mobile Sensors to Improve Water Delivery in Tanzania

San Francisco, CA -

WellDone International is excited to announce the support of the World Bank in crowdfunding for MoMo, WellDone’s flagship technology that monitors critical infrastructure in the developing world.

Through its Innovation Fund, the World Bank has agreed to match the support that MoMo receives for its IndieGoGo campaign (igg.me/at/momo) up to $50,000. MoMo is a mobile technology that measures the performance of rural water pumps and other infrastructure in a way that helps local communities identify and respond to problems as they arise. Recent reports have revealed that as many as half of rural water pumps in Africa are non-functional at any given time. Technologies like MoMo could prove instrumental in making infrastructure last longer and serve communities better.

The World Bank’s support is made possible by the World Bank Institute’s Innovation Fund, a program that encourages its staff to test innovative ideas to advance development outcomes.

“This is an exciting opportunity to explore alternative mechanisms of financing projects, as well as to test the viability of mobile sensor technologies to address development challenges,” said Chris Vein, Chief Innovation Officer for Global ICT Development at the World Bank. “Just as importantly, we see crowdfunding as a way to convene a community of interested innovators around achieving these goals together - an inclusive approach that aligns with the World Bank’s intent to democratize development. This is the type of innovation that will be needed if we want to end poverty by 2030.”

WellDone’s IndieGoGo project will support a large pilot of MoMos to measure the performance of rural waterpoints in Tanzania. After multiple demonstrations of the alpha MoMo in 2013, this campaign will allow MoMo to be proven at a larger scale in the field.

MoMo works like a heart monitor for infrastructure. Sensors measure how well the infrastructure is functioning, and MoMo sends the data over the mobile network to alert those who need to know what is working and what has broken. Current MoMos are focused on measuring water and power, but the possibilities are endless.

WellDone is organized as an open-source project that relies on the passion and creativity of generous engineers and supporters. The team is growing as it takes on new projects and looks to tackle new types of infrastructure, so check out MoMo on IndieGoGo and get involved.

Contact:

Ben Armstrong
WellDone International
[email protected]
847-344-2372

Learn more:

World Bank Group’s Information and Communications Strategy: http://go.worldbank.org/2WLNYXCMC0
World Bank Water: http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water

Why I joined WellDone

This post is a personal story about how I started working in international development and why what I learned from that work made me join WellDone to help ensure the long-term functionality of critical water and energy infrastructure in the developing world.

The story starts when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Panama. I worked with marginalized communities as a technical consultant to help them build and maintain their own water and electricity systems. Some of these communities lacked even the most basic access to clean water, but many relied on broken gravity-fed water supplies that had been built by international organizations but had later fallen into disrepair. Over the three years that I lived in Panama, many community leaders reached out to me to help them identify low-cost ways to rehabilitate their water systems. Unfortunately, the only way to figure out what was broken was to perform a time-consuming topographical survey of a network of tubes often miles long and buried in dense rain forest.

I later learned that this problem is endemic in the developing world. In Africa, for example, one-third to one-half of all rural water systems are broken at any given time and many are never repaired. As I thought about what could be done to address this global issue, I began wondering how much more it would have cost to include a simple monitoring system along with the broken pipes. Such a system could automatically alert an operator or repair person as soon as something broke, greatly increasing the odds of it being fixed. When I returned to the US, I joined forces with WellDone and we began to design exactly this kind of remote monitoring system: MoMo, the Mobile Monitor.

MoMo is a low-cost, low-power, remote monitoring device that lets infrastructure providers – NGOs, businesses and governments – gather data on the long-term functionality of water and energy systems without needing to visit them. This makes monitoring infrastructure projects easy and cost-effective so that providers can keep the power on and the water running.

MoMo is a flexible platform based on an embedded microprocessor that can power itself indefinitely from a two-inch solar panel or the water flowing through a single faucet. It connects in a plug-and-play fashion with any sensor and can measure anything from water flow through a handpump to energy usage in a microgrid. The data is reported over the cellular network, processed by a software program, and presented on a web dashboard for users to see. MoMo is open-source and can be built at scale for less than $50.

Since one of the major barriers to adoption of remote monitoring among development organizations is cost, our design process had to critically consider every component of MoMo to make sure that it could be robust as well as cost-effective. Over the last year, we have demonstrated MoMo in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. We are working with some small customers to further prove the concept and begin scaling to larger projects. Our largest pilot yet in Tanzania just launched on IndieGoGo.

Since MoMo is completely open-source, including the hardware design and embedded software, we are constantly looking to grow the community of engineers that help improve the device and broaden its applications. If you are interested in contributing to our project or getting more involved, visit welldone.org or our IndieGoGo page.

MoMo: A first look

What is MoMo, you might ask? Excellent question! First, the elevator pitch:

MoMo is a modular remote data collection platform which can be used to retrieve sensor data and aggregate it in a central location. This data can then be used to visualize large infrastructure systems, identify weak points and individual failures, analyze trends, and inform plans for future development. It can also trigger automatic notifications to the right people should something go wrong.

For simplicity, MoMo can be thought of as a sensor connected to a cell phone. The canonical example of MoMo in action is a flow sensor attached to the nozzle of a hand-pump well, recording and reporting via SMS the volume of water flowing through the pump. This allows near-instantaneous feedback and repair requisitioning should the pump fail, as well as real-time visibility into the functionality and effectiveness of the water point. The technology behind MoMo can be broken down into hardware, firmware and software, all of which will be open source and freely available to anyone who wants to use it. Here’s a taste of what MoMo entails:

Hardware and Firmware

A MoMo Prototype - Controller and GSM modules.

Every MoMo has a small controller module with a 16-bit PIC24 microprocessor. This is the brains of the operation, and is connected via a custom I2C remote procedure call protocol we’ve dubbed MIB (Module Interconnect Bus) to any number of sub-modules with 8-bit PICs for sensing information and transmitting aggregate reports. MoMo is a modular platform designed with the following goals:

  1. Extensibility - anybody should be able to develop new sensor or communication modules which will plug-and-play with any MoMo system. This could allow the same core platform to sense anything from water flow to electrical current to temperature and transmit that data via any number of communication media - SMS over GSM, cellular data over GPRS, local storage to SD cards, WiFi etc.

  2. Low-cost production, low-power operation - The modular design allows MoMo components (such as the controller board) to be produced at high volume for less money per unit. These same modules can be used for a wide variety of applications when paired with different sensor and communication modules. The electronic components used in MoMo as well as our custom firmware design are carefully tailored for low power consumption and long battery life.

  3. Ease of development - One of the major byproducts of R&D time spent on core MoMo hardware and firmware has evolved into one of the platform’s greatest strengths. With accessible development paradigms, embedded bootloaders enabling remote firmware re-flashing of the PIC processors, and easy-to-use tools for interacting with MoMo over USB, the MoMo ecosystem endeavors to enable low-barrier-to-entry, well-structured, iterative development.

Software

Sample well data visualized in the WellDone Portal

When a MoMo device (potentially consisting of several sensors) reports aggregate readings over SMS or some other communication medium, it eventually gets parsed and imported into a backend database. The server can then send out notifications to interested parties (such as local repairmen) and will also present the information in a web-based portal application with three target audiences:

  1. Donors, NGOs and governments interested in high-level status overviews
  2. Organizations and divisions responsible for groups of devices and interested in their aggregate statistics as well as fine-grained reports from individual MoMos
  3. People responsible for individual infrastructure points (though in practice this will probably be a space dominated by SMS notifications)

This data will also be programmatically accessible via a simple REST API, and the portal will include tools for analyzing data, correlating it with complementary datasets, and managing devices and notification preferences.

We’ll be unveiling more technical details (including targeted deep-dives) as well as the actual hardware, firmware, and software open-source repositories in the coming weeks, stay tuned!

Meet MoMO

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.