Underwriters Laboratories Provides Seed Funding for IIT Water Delivery Design Project

Jan. 25, 2005

Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) and the Institute of Design (ID) at Illinois Institute of Technology announced that UL will provide a $25,000 grant to support ID’s efforts to design simple, cost-effective ways to transport and distribute drinking water in the slums of Mumbai, India.

The initiative is part of ID’s Design for the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) project, which aims to create new products and services that improve daily life and generate sustainable economic growth in the developing world’s impoverished cities. UL’s grant will enable Design for BoP staff to travel to India to conduct on-site research and develop new water-delivery concepts.

One concept already under development is "MobileH2O," a door-to-door water-delivery service facilitated by wireless technology. Service vendors on mopeds or other locally suitable transportation would deliver clean water directly to the homes of slum residents, who would pay electronically with smart-cards issued by a banking partner. Currently residents must wait for hours in queues and sometimes travel long distances for access to water.

"This grant to the Institute of Design supports UL’s mission of working for a safer world," said Ann Marie Gebhart, global business manager of UL’s Water Quality Program. "UL’s involvement is also an extension of its business activities related to water quality, which include product certifications as well as drinking water analysis."

The BoP project is led by Institute of Design faculty and advised by Sam Pitroda, an entrepreneur and former minister for technology development for the Indian government. The program began in the summer of 2003 with an intensive period of on-the-ground research in India that revealed the problems of life in slum settlements, such as access to clean water. Additionally, it examined existing infrastructure such as local businesses including laundry, electronics repair and mobile vending, in support of the Mobile H20 concept. Designing new products and services that leverage existing business models and solve quality-of-life problems is the project’s main goal.

According to Patrick Whitney, Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor and Director of the Institute of Design and the project’s lead investigator, the Design for the BoP project offers a new approach both for companies seeking to enter emerging markets and agencies seeking to spur development. "The project’s unique ability is to understand the activities of people's daily lives and then create new innovations–products, services, communications or systems–that improve their quality of life, as well as generate economic value," said Whitney. "This approach helps us look beyond traditional solutions to urban slums, like charity and development aid, and identify sustainable, self-supporting opportunities for improving life and creating wealth."

Source: Underwriters Laboratories Inc.