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SweetSense Lands $750,000 Federal Grant To Expand Water Monitoring In Africa

A Portland-based company that produces satellite sensors used to monitor wells and latrines in several Sub-Saharan African countries has landed a $750,000 federal grant that will allow it to expand.

SweetSense, a company started by Portland State University Associate Professor Evan Thomas in 2012, operates sensors in Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia that help monitor water sources used by more than 1 million people. The company has a staff of eight in Portland and Kenya collectively.

“The grant is going to let us further improve on the technology,” Thomas said in an interview. He hopes the company will expand its reach to more than 2 million people by the end of 2017.

SweetSense, which received a $225,000 grant last year from the National Science Foundation, is partnering with USAID and non-governmental organizations that work to bring clean and safe water to millions of Africans. Thomas said his company, which is co-owned by PSU, is excited to expand in rural African and bring its product to more people worldwide.

When a government or aid group helps install a well or bring clean water online in Africa, people in remote villages can often go for extended periods without clean water or toilets when a pump, latrine, or well breaks down.

“These things can be broken for months and months,” Thomas said.

Each of the hundreds of the company’s satellite sensors helps monitor water sources for anywhere from a couple hundred to roughly 10,000 people. The sensor can detect if a water source is not functioning, then send an alert to a technician on the ground in the specific country.

SweetSense is a spinout company from Thomas’ work at PSU’s Sustainable Water, Energy, and Environmental Technologies Laboratory (SWEET).

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