Oct 6, 2017 | By Benedict

A solar-powered cart called “watt-r” could revolutionize the way people collect water in places like rural Africa. Made with 3D printed components, the low-cost transportation device uses solar energy to power a small motor, allowing users to carry water in a more effective way.

How an operational watt-r cart might look

Living in a developed country with a non-extreme climate, it’s hard to imagine having limited access to water. A simple twist of the tap provides a virtually unlimited flow of clean, safe, drinkable H2O, and you rarely have to think twice about it.

For people in dry, hot countries with a limited water supply network, things are very different. In developing countries, the average round trip to collect water is a whopping three miles. And that’s not even the hard part: physically moving the water requires the collector to carry a jug weighing around 40 pounds.

In places where water is really scarce like areas affected by drought, that already-lengthy journey can be increased to something like 15 miles.

Understandably then, people want to do something about this. The most obvious way to tackle the problem is to increase the water supply network with pipes and scientific collection apparatus. That, however, is not always possible, due to the extremely high costs of implementing such a system.

So what are the other options? Jose Paris, a former car designer who lives in London, has one clever idea. Rather than attempt to create more water sources or expand the network of existing ones (which would be a huge infrastructural undertaking), Paris simply wants to make the water-collecting journey easier for those who have to take it.

His solution? A solar-powered, partially 3D printed cart—easier to move than a heavy jug, and capable of storing much more water.

The invention is called “watt-r,” and its canopy of solar panels make water collection and distribution virtually effortless. Capable of holding 12 20-liter containers of water at a time, the watt-r vehicle has a simple throttle and tiller used to control its 150-watt electric bike motor.

An early prototype of the watt-r

It can even be used to recharge mobile phones or other small electronic devices.

Although popularizing the watt-r will be a big challenge, Paris has already assembled a prototype of the vehicle—something that was made much easier with technologies like 3D printing. Additive manufacturing allowed the designer to fabricate several low-cost components, while even non-printed parts like the solar panels were relatively affordable.

It’s not a powerful machine, by any means—the watt-r is designed to travel at walking speeds across mostly flat areas—but the difference between using a motorized cart and a heavy jug is obviously significant. One operator using the watt-r can apparently carry out the work of 25 walkers.

Best of all, the solar panels on the watt-r are the perfect power source for the task at hand. Since areas affected by drought tend to be the sunniest, there will be plenty of sunshine for the 3D printed vehicle to absorb.

It’s for that reason that Paris is wary of complicating the machine by adding batteries or trying to make it faster or more powerful. At the end of the day, he says, that’s not really necessary.

“It would be very easy to think about an autonomous version, for instance, or to think about installing more power or adding batteries,” Paris said. “This mission creep is something that I’m very used to after working so many years in the car industry—it’s very typical, somebody always has something else to add. This is an exercise in really paring everything down as much possible and being very conscious of it.”

Creating the watt-r using digital design tools

Of course, even thought the partially 3D printed water vehicle may seem relatively cheap for what it is, it would still be quite an investment for the average person in a developing country. Paris estimates that an entrepreneur buying the vehicle in small payments could pay it off within three years.

Is it worth it? Paris thinks watt-r fills a gap between using a car to transport water and simply walking. Bicycles are sometimes used for this task, but they are not designed for carrying large weights, do not balance well, and still require human strength to move.

watt-r solves those problems, and can easily be used by both men and women. It can even be used to transport other things like crops, medicines, and other cargo.

For now, Paris wants to try testing his prototype either in the UK or Spain, before eventually taking a version of the partially 3D printed vehicle to Kenya in early 2018. There, the designer could take into account user feedback to refine the design.

Ultimately, Paris believe believes something as simple as a cart could make a huge difference where it is needed most. “The key thing is now you can add just a little bit of 21st-century technology, and all of the sudden, something from the 19th century becomes super modern,” he said.

Learn more about the watt-r here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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jim stack wrote at 10/16/2017 4:13:55 PM:

nice airless tires. Solar powered is great. If they added some pedals and a seat a driver could ride in it instead of pulling it. Make it like the organic Transit ELF.

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