Innovation That Matters

Solar powered toilet sends self-diagnosis through mobile app


Caltech's e-toilet uses a solar powered electrochemical reactor to treat wastewater, and has sensors connected to a mobile maintenance app which alerts operators if a problem occurs.

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Four and a half billion people still lack access to adequate sanitation in the developing world, which contributes to the spread of deadly diseases and millions of deaths annually. Now, a solar-powered toilet from Caltech may provide the solution. The lavatory — which recently won first prize and USD 300,000 funding at Vodafone’s Wireless Innovation Project — has been in development since 2012 when it won funding from the Gates Foundation’s ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.’

As reported by Fastcoexist, Caltech’s sanitation unit is particularly promising because it integrates a simple maintenance system, which minimizes the need for skilled engineers when the toilets break down. The team, led by Michael Hoffman, were interested in a solution that confronted the problem of maintenance, as well as reinventing the sanitation unit itself.


Caltech’s toilet uses a solar powered electrochemical reactor to treat wastewater, providing a safe way to dispose human waste at less than 5 cents per person per day. It is quipped with sensors which monitor the status of the system’s parts. These sensors, which are connected to a mobile maintenance app, track water clarity, pressure, voltage and leaks, and automatically alert an operator by sending a picture of the problem to their mobile phone. Any issue can be fixed by following the step-by-step pictorial instructions provided on a video display on the treatment system, which can be done by anyone without special training or knowledge.

Could other high-tech solutions integrate similar self-maintenance systems?



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