Can Going Low-Tech Be the Solution to Saving Millions of Lives?

Can Going Low-Tech Be the Solution to Saving Millions of Lives?



It’s difficult to fathom that 10% of the global population still does not have consistent access to potable drinking water in 2016. Often, basic lack of infrastructure and capital constraints have prevented ubiquitous access. Headquartered in Brooklyn, OHorizons is at the forefront of solving this challenging problem with a “low-tech, high-thinking” approach to providing clean water for the billions of people worldwide without access. The company’s BioSand Filter is a simple, easy-to-implement mechanism that uses rocks and sand to filter bacteria and contaminants. The company designed the solution with existing local resources available in mind, as the filters do not require electricity, are durable, can be made with locally available materials, and do not require extensive maintenance. With a number of deployments and partnerships already established, this system is a proven and realistic solution to a very real problem.

Today we sit down with Director of Communications, Dylan Lunney to discuss their low-tech, high-thinking approach as well as their future plans to bring water to the masses.

Tell us about the product or service.

OHorizons has engineered an award-winning breakthrough to produce household water filters for families in developing countries.

BioSand Filters (BSFs) are a fascinating low-tech, household appliance that use sand, gravel and natural biological processes to filter out pathogens in water, making it safe to drink. Our Wood Mold and its open-source, step-by-step construction manual and appendix make it possible for local organizations to manufacture BioSand Filters for a fraction of the upfront costs of the traditional steel mold. Our locally-made, simple-to-use filters keep families healthy and make safe drinking water accessible, affordable, and sustainable for communities.

How is it different?

As an organization, our unique Low-Tech, High-Thinking approach to development demonstrates we’re on the cutting edge of social innovation and using human-centered design for good.

In terms of our first innovation, the OHorizons Wood Mold, we’re reducing the financial and technical barriers to household water filtration. The traditional BioSand Filter production method, a steel mold, can be a barrier to starting BSF projects. Each steel mold costs between $500-2000 and requires a skilled welder.

Depending on local prices, a single OHorizons Wood Mold typically costs $50-80 and anyone can make it. Our original pilot projects proved the Mold can be built off-grid using only hand tools and by people with limited to no construction experience.

In the past, other wood molds have been designed in a similar effort to provide an alternative to the steel mold, but none have been capable of producing more than 5-10 filters/mold. The OHorizons Wood Mold can produce approximately 50 filters/mold or more depending on care and the quality of wood used. Our design is significantly more durable due to the use of our patented collapsible inner core and 2” x 2” supports that hold the outer walls of the Mold together with bolts rather than screws.

Clean_Water_Access_EducationWhat market are you attacking and how big is it?

Around the world, 663 million people get their water from an unimproved drinking water source, (unprotected wells, surface water-ponds, streams, tanker-truck and water bottle deliveries, etc.) and 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that contains fecal contamination. Most of these people are poor and live in rural areas. Our solution fits best in the rural areas of developing countries where the population has access to a water source, but it is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, worms, etc.

That doesn’t truly cover the extent of opportunity. We’ve also run BioSand Filter projects that greatly benefit families in rural areas where there is already an existing community safe-water source, but it’s a far distance away and generates hour-long lines.

Our Wood Mold Construction Manual and its Appendix are available to download for free  on our website so anyone, anywhere in the world can access our resources and run their own BioSand Filter project.

What is the business model?

We’re a nonprofit. We rely on donations and our international coalition of volunteer technical, social, and commercial innovators to help develop and deploy our solutions. Anyone can become part of our Low-Tech, High-Thinking Movement.

We create relationships with local NGOs who become our implementation partners. They directly run the BioSand Filter projects and we provide them with technical resources and sometimes financing.

What inspired the business?

Our mission is steeped in a vision of a world where everyone can live a healthy, productive, and dignified life. Eradicating world hunger is our aim and we believe that the capability and resources exist today to make it happen! Hunger isn’t caused only by lack of food. Many complex, multifaceted issues contribute to hunger, including: nutrition, health, access to food, and poverty. To approach this, we have built a worldwide coalition of innovators to first understand the precise problems people are facing and then to develop and scale open-source design solutions to address them.

We have created a philosophy around the mantra of Low-Tech, High-Thinking. Our Principles of Low-Tech ensure our innovations are simple, low-cost, locally-sourced, flexible, and open-source. We use High-Thinking in our process to design the best solutions possible that adhere to these principles. We partner with community leaders in underserved regions of the world to field test our initial prototypes. When a scalable solution has been developed, we provide our partners with the support, knowledge, and resources to be active agents of change in the implementation process

How has Coworkrs helped foster the growth of your business?

Recently, we utilized the Coworkrs Gowanus’ production room to shoot some new how-to instructional videos that will go on YouTube and complement our DIY Construction Manual and its Appendix.

We’ve also established friendships and collaborations with other professionals and businesses within the space.

Joe Mauceri, a reporter for Pix 11 News, did a story on us and we’re planning on collaborating with OMDigital for our World Maker Faire booth this October in Queens, NY. OMDigital has a really cool digital photo booth that they’re going to donate to us for the weekend, so that kids can have their pictures taken with the water filters they make when we run our Make Your Own Water Filter Station.

What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?

Our implementation partners in Bangladesh, the NGO LEDARS, just completed building a large, 2-story BioSand Filter production and end-user training facility. This will be our project launching pad in SW Bangladesh. Within the next six months LEDARS will utilize local tools, materials, and labor to produce 1,000 filters from this location.

Where is your favorite summer destination in the city?

The People’s Beach at Jacob Riis Park

About the author: AlleyVoice

AlleyVoice is a platform that allows startups and marketers looking to connect with the AlleyWatch audience to provide content of interest – and giving them the opportunity to actively participate in the conversation.

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