SEATTLE, Washington — Water is life. Access to clean water is a necessary component for the health and well being for all people, but for a large number of the world’s population, it is still unattainable. Globally, 2.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, forcing many to get their water from contaminated sources. One of the main ways of decreasing deaths related to waterborne illness is the detection of bacteria in water sources. Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligent (AI) are being used to detect impurities in water. Researchers at the University of Waterloo and Intel have developed AI to combat waterborne illness.
How AI Can Combat Waterborne Illness
Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed software that is able to detect cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in water sources. Early detection of cyanobacteria could help decrease the number of related diseases, including diarrhea, fever and liver damage. Designed to help water treatment plants, this inexpensive technology will keep facilities from shutting down for days at a time due to increased algae, which can endanger the surrounding populations. By utilizing pattern recognition systems, AI is able to adapt to changing inputs, similar to the way that humans learn. This adaptability makes it perfect for water quality testing, where testers are required to deal with ever-changing sources.
Water-related diseases alone are responsible for more than 2 million deaths per year, the majority of whom are children in developing nations because many communities in the developing world, especially rural communities, do not have access to water that has been treated in a facility. Designed by Peter Ma and Intel, the Clean Water AI system was designed to help such communities. The device uses a digital microscope, a laptop capable of running the Ubuntu system and an Intel Movidius Neural Compute Stick running AI software. The Neural Compute stick is placed in the water source, and the AI is trained to detect bacteria and health hazards within.
AI Provides a More Affordable Option
These preventable diseases are a significant drain on the economy as well. A study conducted in 2010 measured the cost of treatment for children under five in Ghana; it found that the combined annual cost could amount to more than 6 million dollars, which only accounts for the treatments that are received. Other costs like missing work and traveling to a medical center were not taken into account. However, new detection methods, like AI, have the potential to decrease both the human and economic toll of waterborne illness.
Currently, all the components of the Clean Water AI system can be purchased off the shelf for under $500. The low price makes it much more accessible to poorer communities while the ability to use the system offline means that it can be used anywhere to combat waterborne illness. Currently, Intel is working to combine the entire system into a single device, which will make it even more accessible, and Ma and his team are continuing to refine the detection capabilities.
While there is no absolute cure for the global water crisis, these new steps in detection show that steps are being taken. Because the technology is so new, there are not yet studies to show how it has affected the water crisis, but all the components are available for purchase and this new technology shows that AI can be used to combat waterborne illness.
– Peter Zimmerman