Africa could soon be rid of its development challenges including clean water, electricity and internet connectivity, thanks to Watly.
The creators of the 15-ton multi-tasking thermal dynamic computer named Watly, are certain that their machine could help filter clean drink water and provide internet and electricity for towns of up to 3,000 people.
According to WaterAid, water continues to be a resource that many people across the world cannot access easily. Approximately, only about one in four sub-Saharan Africans have access to electricity, according to the World Bank. According to Internet World Stats, while Mobile technology has been increasing in the continent, internet penetration still remains low standing at 28.6%.
With the computer, however, this could be a thing of the past as the machine could provide around three million liter of clean water, annually.
Watly, which is only in its prototype stage, was developed by Marco Attisani, an Italian entrepreneur and is currently being tested in Ghana.
How will it work?
Watly units are fitted with curved photovoltaic solar panels that generate heat and solar power. Water pumped into the tank is purified through vapor compression distillation process, that uses solar thermal energy to vaporize and purify it.
Attisani says that one machine is built in a way that it can purify up to 3 million liters of water a year with a lifespan of up to 15 years. The process is driven by solar power, which allows the machine to produce enough electricity for itself as well as to charge devices that are plugged into it.
Since the machine would be connected to a central network management platform and other Watly machines, is estimated to create a Wi-fi zone of up to 500 meters in radius. The company also says that locals could go online using the giant screens placed on either side of the 130-foot long machine using the 4G network, satellite connection or radio links.
The first Watly prototype which was completed in 2013, was set up in the village of Abenta by the Discovery Channel initiative to test the human impact of this innovation.
Among the targeted buyers of the product are governments and telecommunication companies seeking to expand their reach without the having to build new towers and other expensive infrastructure.
According to Attisani, he hopes his creations will be set up on the outskirts of Africa’s growing metropolises to extend existing services.
Apart from providing the under-served populations with the three main services, it is also planning to have a minimal impact on the environment as possible.
Throughout the expected 15-year life of each unit, it can “reduce as much as 2500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) equivalent to 5000 barrels of oil,” according to the company’s website.
The project initially was being funded by grants including some funding from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 fund for research and innovation. Now, Watly has embarked on crowdfunding to raise money for a second machine.
The production of Watly 3.0 in Italy should be ready by June, Attisani said. It costs $453,000 to manufacture the machine, although its selling price has not been established yet.
Once completed, the company is planning to install the next unit in either Ghana, Nigeria or Sudan.
Speaking to Quartz, Diran Soumonni, an innovation scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg said the modular’s, decentralized approach is a great alternative to large scale projects. He is, however, cautiously optimistic about the prototype’s viability on a large scale.
“No matter how cool it is as a technical gadget unless it gets used it’s not considered to be a successful innovation,” said Soumonni. Watly’s creators have demonstrated proof of concept, he said, but the real test will be how it will fit into everyday life.
He wondered how the project will work: will the locals walk to the Watly machine to charge their phones and get a drink of water?
He added that until Watly is tested on the ground, it is not clear how successful the project will turn out or if it would be a short-sighted innovation, made in Europe and sold to Africa, Soumonni was quoted by Quartz to have said.