Our Research Smart buckets: Measuring water access in rural India

Smart bucket design with hand-drawn illustration of bucket

A design for the smart bucket that demonstrates the architecture of the sensor module being designed.


Can we invent low-cost, remote sensors to better understand water fetching practices in the developing world?

Research Strategy

  • Design and develop low-cost sensors that are adaptive to a variety of household water collection devices
  • Provide households these sensor-enabled water collection devices (“smart buckets”) that collect data on households water fetching practices: distance to water source, fetching time, volume fetched, and water source selected
  • Validate sensors under field conditions by comparing data obtained from “smart buckets” with household water diary surveys, where households self-report information on their water fetching

Project description

Since the discovery of arsenic in wells in Eastern India in the late 1980s, governments and nongovernmental organizations have sought to address the problem in rural villages by providing safe community water sources. Yet despite access to safe alternatives, many households still fetch and consume water from contaminated wells. As a result, approximately 40 million people across the region are at elevated risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease from arsenic present in drinking water and cooked food. Women are the primary water fetchers for most families in rural India, but the scarcity of data on exactly how women choose water sources makes it difficult to develop strategies to reduce arsenic exposure.

Automated data collection of water fetching practices in the developing world could offer a cheap and accurate way to gather data with greater geographic scope and breadth. In this project, Gokul and Sampath are working on small sensors to be placed inside water fetching vessels to create “smart buckets” that can help obtain a clearer picture of fetching practices in arsenic affected villages. By demonstrating the efficacy of a sensor-based approach to understanding water fetching practices, the researchers hope to address a major data gap in international development.

Additional Details

Impact Areas

  • Water

Research Themes

  • Water Purification & Desalination

Year Funded

  • 2024

Grant Type

  • India Grant


  • Ongoing