UpStream: Motivating Water Conservation with low-cost water flow sensing and persuasive displays (2010)

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This study explores unobtrusive low-cost water flow sensing and several persuasive displays as an approach for promoting water conservation in public and private spaces. Early prototypes were installed at public faucets and a private (shared) shower, logging water usage first without and then with ambient displays. Our long-term deployment of the ambient water visualization was able to effectively motivate water reduction in private homes for all participants. Moreover, our displays have led participants to reflect on their behaviour and reconsider sustainability and environmental issues beyond water usage and showing.

ABSTRACT

Water is our most precious and most rapidly declining natural resource. We explore pervasive technology as an approach for promoting water conservation in public and private spaces. We hope to motivate immediate reduction in water use as well as higher-order behaviors (seeking new information, etc) through unobtrusive low-cost water flow sensing and several persuasive displays. Early prototypes were installed at public faucets and a private (shared) shower, logging water usage first without and then with ambient displays. This pilot study led to design iterations, culminating in long-term deployment of sensors in four private showers over the course of three weeks. Sensors first logged baseline water usage without visualization. Then, two display styles, ambient and numeric, were deployed in random order, each showing individual and average water consumption. Quantitative data along with participants’ feedback contrast the effectiveness of numeric displays against abstract visualization in this very important domain of water conservation and public health.

INTRODUCTION

“Water is the driving force of all nature” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Water is our most precious natural resource. One out of six people in the world does not have access to safe drinking water (1.1 billion people), over 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation, and more than five thousand deaths, many of them children, are caused by water-related illnesses every day [32, 33]. Water is complexly coupled with a range of environmental, political and human heath factors, affecting food supplies, industrial demands, and climate variations.These challenges are not confined to developing regions:

water depletion affects many parts of the world, with water levels receding as much as 300 feet in some areas during the last decade [14]. Increased demands for freshwater lead to aggressive pumping, resulting in reduced water flow in streams and lakes, land subsistence (collapsing soil), and deteriorating water quality, not to mention greater costs of obtaining freshwater due to its increased depth [31].

Our work aims to raise awareness and motivate water conservation through the design, deployment, and evaluation of several of in situ persuasive displays integrated and low-cost water flow sensors (Figure 1). Conservation- even on the personal level- is crucial for the numerous American regions that are threatened by water depletion. The city where our displays were deployed is particularly affected by sewer overflow- another byproduct of excessive water use, which leads to pollution. While reduced water usage in the US may not directly alleviate water problems elsewhere, the scope of our work probes consumption as whole, inspiring curiosity about water practices outside the studied facilities (dish-washing, lawn- watering, laundry, etc). Increased awareness can lead to large-scale personal and societal level changes in other domains such as industrial practices and agriculture.