One year later: How EDDI went from idea to game-changing drought solution

It’s been just over a year since six unassuming young professionals from the New York City area developed an award-winning technology: the Electrodialysis Desalinator for Irrigation, or “EDDI”, for short.

As one can imagine just from the title itself, explaining what EDDI does is a true challenge. However, explaining it through the lens of why we built EDDI is a much easier task. The EDDI innovation was conceived through Samsung’s Makers Against Drought (M.A.D.) challenge, a worldwide, open-sourced contest launched in 2016 that called for innovative Internet of Things-based solutions to the water shortage issues caused by the California drought.

This contest was a timely opportunity to explore how technology could solve for big, societal-level challenges. In 2015, everyone had heard about the drought and the damage it was causing to California’s citizens, economy and environment. It had also become the most photogenic depiction of consequential climate change affecting Americans.

Team EDDI is awarded the 2016 Makers Against Drought Grand Prize

Our team, consisting of six vastly different young adults with varied skill sets, values and priorities, was commonly inspired to take on the challenge. We all wanted to find something with a little more purpose than our day jobs, but more importantly, came together to find a way to use IoT and address the nuanced, important problems facing the environment.

Our initial research revealed that majority of water usage in California was for industrial purposes, with 80 percent of water funneled towards agriculture. Digging deeper, we found a significant amount of water was being wasted due to a single data point: salinity tolerance. Agricultural producers had been over-watering by 10–20 percent for decades in order to safely manage the salinity of their irrigation, a practice known as “leaching.”

The more we looked into water management policies in California, the more data we found to support our case that IoT can help agricultural producers curb leaching practices access the data and information need for more efficient resource management. We also hypothesized that user-friendly, reliable software would encourage farmers to trust and feel empowered by data on their water usage, allowing them to only desalinate as much as they needed.

With this in mind, we set about building and submitting our smart desalinator EDDI to the 2016 Makers Against Drought competition.

The winning team, EDDI

Not having the resources of a seasoned global company, most of the actual prototype development was done in our offices, schools and homes. Luckily for us, New York has plenty of open spaces on rooftops. What we found through months of ideation, building and testing, was that the power of IoT is only limited by imagination.

Since EDDI took home the M.A.D. grand prize, we’ve been putting our nascent technology to use in our hometown of New York City.

In our aim to make informed desalination sustainable and ethically viable, we built EDDI in a way that was best suited for smaller, local farms. After hearing about EDDI following the M.A.D. competition, an engineer from Columbia put us in touch with a great Brooklyn-based political and creative initiative: +Swale.

+Swale’s food forest built on a barge docked on the East River in Brooklyn

+Swale’s goal is to solve for ‘food deserts,’ a problem many cities face, by making food accessible via a permaculture food forest built on a barge docked on the East River. This is where a scalable, mobile desalination device like EDDI comes in.

Our team has been working with +Swale over the past year to make the food forest as self-sustaining as possible by using EDDI in tandem with a slow-sand filtration system to pull in local brackish water from the East River to desalinate the water feeding the plants on board.

Into August 2017, our partnership with +Swale is still going strong. Working with +Swale allows us to put a purpose to our product, while giving us the platform to constantly test and rebuild EDDI and improve the technology’s functionality and usability.

We know that water and food security will become an increasing priority as the world population grows and the climate become more volatile, so our dream down the road is that EDDI move beyond just a desalination project and become a resource management system. We want EDDI to connect people to the data they need to become both informed producers and thoughtful consumers.

We also believe that prioritizing data collection through IoT will help inform policy, encourage efficiency, and improve strategy. It doesn’t hurt that putting more information in people’s pockets makes it a lot easier to describe EDDI — why we built it, and what we hope it will be one day — at parties.

More than that, we hope our success story encourages others to embrace emerging technologies like IoT for practical data analysis around the issues that they’re passionate about.