Tag Archives: toilet technology

RTI Hosts The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (RDECOM)

On Friday, March 17th, RTI hosted representatives of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (RDECOM) for a pre-demonstration and technology review of the TOWR (Toilet with Onsite Remediation).

The day included presentations from the team on technology performance and ended with processing demonstrations in the lab and the TOWR mobile platform. Next steps will be to perform a technology demonstration at a TBD military facility this summer. Natick RDECOM selected RTI to continue the development of transformative sanitation technologies that are also currently being developed under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation programs.

An Important Milestone For Our Project Has Been Reached!

One of the core responsibilities of RTI’s system, now under development, is to separate liquid waste from solid waste. Once separated, the solid waste is then convectively dried and delivered to a combustion system. The waste heat from the combustion system is converted to electricity using thermoelectric modules which, in turn, power the entire toilet.

We are happy to announce the that our alpha system, currently housed on CEPT campus in Ahmedabad, has produced real dried poop pellets and successfully completed a full burn, incinerating them!

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This is quite the milestone for our project and we couldn’t be happier for reaching it!

Problems Technology Alone Won’t Fix…

In a recent Nicholas Kristof interview with Bill and Melinda Gates in The New York Times, when asked about any mistakes they made during their immense philanthropic endeavors, they mentioned that they would’ve taken a more “low tech” approach.

“So what mistakes did they make in their philanthropy? They say they started out too tech-focused. Now some of the measures they promote are distinctly low-tech — like breast-feeding, which could save the lives of more than 800,000 children worldwide each year.”

This topic resonates deeply with the global sanitation crisis the world is currently facing as well. For all the technological advances we make, for all the whiz-bang toilets we manufacture, there are also societal and educational hurdles we need to get past before any of this has an effect. These obstacles are easily as complex as the technology being developed and, in many cases, they are problems that can’t be solved quickly with the simple flip of a switch.

This is why field work is so important and, for our toilet project, has been invaluable.

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Through active engagement with the people who are going to be using our toilet everyday we are listening and learning about their needs and potential concerns. Through this communication process, we are developing a sanitation/waste treatment solution that won’t languish after it’s been deployed. We’ll have already educated them on its use and maintenance. And they will want to use it because it’s familiar, clean and safe for anyone to use.

You see it happening more and more around sanitation, and hygiene (particularly in regards to women and girls/children). People are talking and it’s vital that we keep that dialogue alive and, most importantly, learn from it moving forward.

Having a conversation – engaging and educating people – is about as low-tech as you can get. Seeing the intrinsic value in this dialogue will be key to solving the world’s sanitation problems. We need to continue to have these conversations. Otherwise all of these high-tech solutions we’re so busy creating will only sit, unused, collecting dust, while antiquated ideals and ideas of how sanitation should be, carry on.

Meeting the Social and Psychological Needs Of Women and Girls in Regards to Sanitation…

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A SHARE / WSSCC Research Brief (January 2015) is a thoughtful piece on the social and psychological impact of inadequate sanitation on women and girls.

Among the findings shared in this Research Brief is the fact that sanitation encompasses much more than defecation in the Indian context. The Research Brief notes that

“… The act of defecation is embedded within other behaviors, including post-defecation cleaning, ritual bathing, and changing clothing; as well as menstrual management and urination.”

This observation is consistent with what RTI is learning through our user studies in Gujarat.

With our work in urban communities, we are recognizing that strategies to improve sanitation coverage in India will require us to think about how defecation practices occur in the larger behavioral context.

We are testing interface features and examining various adoption questions about how new technologies and user-centric designs can be responsive to the needs of women and girls. For example, strategies for reuse of water, perceptions of what clean water is and how it is used, are important questions for our user studies. And what if toilets are not so dark and claustrophobic feeling? In our May 2015 “alpha” prototype, we are also exploring the potential value of a larger cabin size and how this may address the demand for space for body washing, MHM and changing of clothes.

These are all elements of dignity and security for women and girls, and how we collectively can meet social and psychological needs with improved sanitation solutions.