If you get your water bill every two or three months, it’s hard to guess how much water you’re using on any given day. If you’re trying to save water, you can’t tell whether that’s actually happening.
A new device makes it obvious. The Oasys, a glowing white disc, hangs on the wall and displays how much water you’re using in real time, how that compares to the week before, and even whether you’re using more or less water than your neighbors.
“What we’ve seen is that it becomes a bit of a game,” says Daniel Martin, head of business strategy for the Barcelona-based startup. “Especially in houses where there are kids. The different people in the house really take it as a challenge.”
Pep Viladomat, head of product development, has been tracking his showers and has found that it’s made a big difference, possibly due to his competitive nature. So far, he’s cut his shower water use almost in half.
The screen doesn’t show water use in gallons but instead uses an arbitrary number–sort of like the “fuel points” on Nike’s Fuel Band– that goes up and down to show if you’re making progress or not. “If I tell you 300 gallons, is that a lot? Is that a little? You’re lacking a reference there,” Martin says. The designers also wanted to avoid direct comparisons to water bills so people would focus more on saving water than money.
A sensor wrapped on the water main detects about how much water is being used and wirelessly sends the data to the display. In the future, the device will also give more detailed data about specific appliances, using pattern recognition to identify what’s in use. “We can actually detect when the dishwasher is on, or when someone’s having a shower,” says Viladomat. “Then the sensor learns, based on the household usage of water, and over time it gets adapted.” The team also plans to add microsensors for each appliance so the data can be more exact.
The designers started working on the product in 2014 at Imagine, a creativity center in Silicon Valley that works on solving world challenges. They were inspired by new Internet of Things gadgets like the Nest thermostat.
They’re hoping that a focus on water use in the home can spread to other parts of society. “If you look at the statistics, farming and industry consume the most water,” Martin says. “But people own the farms and factories. If you want to have an impact on politics and change behavior, we strongly believe that you have to start at home.”
Though they considered making an app, they realized that an app would be too easy to ignore. “We don’t want to be one of the thousand apps you have on your mobile phone,” he says. “If this is in your kitchen or living room, it’s going to be much more powerful than a notification on your phone. And it’s also something that’s shared among every person in the house.”
The Oasys is raising funds on Kickstarter now.