11 February 2019

Africa: How a Kenyan Blockchain Research Project Will Help California

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A blockchain research project by IBM and USAID on water usage in Kenya and Ethiopia is being used to monitor water usage in California

A research project conducted in Kenya by USAID on underground water usage has found much relevance in the drought prone state of California.

The Freshwater Trust (TFT), a nonprofit working to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems, is partnering with IBM Research and SweetSense Inc., a provider of low-cost satellite connected sensors, to pilot technologies which can accurately monitor and track groundwater use in one of the largest and most at risk aquifers in North America.

The sensor technology is provided by SweetSense Inc, which is currently monitoring the groundwater supplies for over a million people in Kenya and Ethiopia, with plans to scale to 5 million by the end of the year. The sensor data are transmitted over satellite networks to an online data analytics platform.

Jointly funded by the Water Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the project's scientists and engineers will demonstrate how the blockchain and remote IoT sensors can accurately measure groundwater usage transparently, and in real-time.

"Based on a research project in Kenya with USAID, the Millennium Water Alliance and other partners we are now applying our expertise in building decision support systems for water management for surface and groundwater data aggregation, workflow optimization and analytics to address similar challenges in California. With the addition of the blockchain we can bridge critical trust and transparency gaps making it possible to build a robust, scalable and cost-efficient platform for managing precious groundwater supplies anywhere in the world," said Dr. Solomon Assefa, Vice President, Emerging Market Solutions and Director, IBM Research - Africa.

Through a web-based dashboard, water consumers, including farmers; financers and regulators will all be able to monitor and track the use of groundwater to demonstrate how sustainable pumping levels can be achieved through the trading of groundwater use shares in the State of California.

Individual users who require groundwater amounts beyond their share cap will be able to "purchase" groundwater shares from users who do not require all of their supply at a market-regulated rate.

"By remotely monitoring groundwater use using our sensors, we're able to help improve and maintain sustainable access to water supplies for people, farmers, and livestock. The work we're doing in Africa is directly translatable to California," said Evan Thomas, CEO of SweetSense and Mortenson Chair of Global Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.

He continued, "Our research team at the University of Colorado will assist in modeling groundwater use through the sensor data and satellite detected rainfall and weather correlations."

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