Smart Handpumps

How can you tell which of a million pumps needs maintenance?

  • Client: Global Initiative
  • Services:

    UX & UI Design

    Software Development

  • Funded by:

    Oxford University Innovation CrowdFunding

Smart Handpumps started as a research project at the University of Oxford aiming to improve the sustainability of water supplies in rural Africa. Many handpumps in the region were frequently left broken simply because the mechanics were not aware that repairs were needed. Converting existing handpumps into 'Smart' handpumps, using innovations based on mobile phone technology, has allowed a team of mechanics to act quickly to repair them. 


A trial of Smart Handpumps across two counties in Kenya reduced the average downtime of a handpump to less than three days, a huge improvement on the 30 days that pumps had previously been out of order. We’ve been able to help 70,000 people have access to reliable water sources, so they can get on with their daily routine rather than collecting water from alternative sources further away. 


Have a look at some screenshots and designs in this portfolio.

Smart Handpumps case study
Created by:
Fahim Jamie Claire

The Challenge

Around 275 million people in Africa don’t have reliable access to drinking water. Many in rural areas depend on handpumps to access groundwater, but at any given time one in four of those handpumps is broken. Mechanics are often unaware of failures, leaving pumps out of action for weeks or even months, which can drive people to use other distant, dirty or expensive water sources.
  • No guarantee of access to safe water, with long waiting times for reports and intervention.
  • Community management is often sparse, disorganised on non-existent. Pumps can go unrepaired for weeks or months
  • For those pumps that could measure output, data could only be accessed at the pump itself.


The University research team, led by project leader, Patrick Thomson, has made existing handpumps 'smart' by fitting them with a transmitter. This contains an accelerometer like the one found in most mobile phones to detect which way up the screen is. This monitors the movement of the pump handle and then transmits this data via SMS over the local mobile phone network.

Global Initiative has designed and developed the software to direct, store, and analyse this data so that communities can once again have reliable access to drinking water.
  • Monitoring pumps remotely for uninterrupted water access , meaning faster issue resolving
  • A dashboard designed specifically for the admin, according his needs, priorities and use cases
  • Readings are made useful by the App for admins and engineers, and machine learning

Our approach

Having worked closely with Oxford University Innovation on several successful spin-outs, they felt we were a natural fit for the design and build of this fascinating, socially-impactful enterprise. Funding has been raised from a hugely successful online crowdfunding initiative.

Patrick had already built a working prototype to test the hypotheses and mechanics of the system, enabling us to build on a first-tier for User Experience Design and system architecture.

Our brief was to review user journeys, redesign the user interface and rebuild the system to be considerably more scalable; we needed it to reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of people across the developing world.
Our approach
Our process

Workshops with client to discuss features and priorities

User Story Mapping is the most valuable first step in this process, especially when a first round of prototype development has been successful.

We initiated workshops with willing and experienced users; mainly engineers, service managers and the leadership team. Once we had a refined USM, we could begin on the User Experience Design.
Workshops with client to discuss features and priorities

Defined statistics, layouts and alerts for the dashboard

Defining tools is a process of rapid iteration, where we try a series of ideas based on experiences and research, allowing failures to be excluded quickly and refining partial successes. This is normally the greatest point of opportunity in any project.
Defined statistics, layouts and alerts for the dashboard

Built prototype from a functional wireframe using generated dummy data

Except in the simplest of cases we build clickable wireframes as the basis of experience definition in every single project. This allows for further testing and refinement as well as a obvious visual source of truth for owners and developers.
Built prototype from a functional wireframe using generated dummy data

Connected to SMS gateway to receive live data from real pumps

In our risk-analysis we identified data connectivity as being a potential later hazard in the project; essentially, what if we built a connectivity tool based on definition, but the real-life tools didn't behave as expected?
Connected to SMS gateway to receive live data from real pumps
Key features
The system needs to be accessible from management offices and by engineers on smartphones in remote rural environments. It therefore needs to be fast, responsive and light enough to carry just the data needed to the end user.

1Alerted pumps

A prominent list of pumps, stratified by alert; volume levels, technical issues or critical health scores.
Alerted pumps

2Allocate mechanics

The ability to allocate mechanics to a pump, quickly and efficiently.
Allocate mechanics


Ability to submit a report, and view all the reports associated with a pump or group of pumps, filtered by a selection of criteria.

4Map view

Map view with interactive navigation, also representing stratification of alert for each pump.
Map view
Dash line

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