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It works! Human-powered drill strikes water in Tanzania

Students' Capstone engineering project shows promise

A human-powered drill built by a team of BYU engineering students was meant to be inexpensive, easy to operate and easy to move. Field tests in Tanzania have shown the drill does just what it's supposed to do.

"At the end of our trip, it was exciting, "says Nate Toone, a graduate student of engineering. "We were drilling in a farm of sandy soil and 70 feet down. When we unhooked the pipes, there was a small little geyser. That was evidence to us we were successful. It was the payoff moment to see that water coming up and see the smiles on everyone’s faces and know that we had found clean water."

Other water-drilling alternatives in the region either can’t dig deep enough or cost too much, sometimes upwards of $15,000. But the team’s device has the potential to drill a 150- to 250-foot-deep hole in a matter of days—all for about $2,000.

The drill was created for a year-long engineering capstone project that has students solving real engineering problems with real clients.  The team created the drill for WHOLives.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing clean water, better health and more opportunities to people living in impoverished communities. The organization is currently focusing its drilling efforts on Tanzania, but it has plans to expand its operations to other countries. The project is also co-sponsored by the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology.

The drill can be operated by four people. Three spin the wheel that turns the bit, and the fourth lifts the bit up and down when necessary to punch through tough spots. A water pump system removes the dirt from the six-inch-wide hole.

"At the beginning of the year we had a meeting with the sponsor, and he said that very rarely do you get an opportunity to work on a project that can change millions of lives," says Toone. "You forget that sometimes when you're in the middle of working and setbacks and frustrations, but it's really good to see it pay off. It has definitely paid off."

Christopher Mattson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is the team's faculty coach. Ken Langley is the student team leader; he and Toone were joined by Devin LeBaron, Jimmy Stacey, Eric Janmohamed, and Sabin Gautam.

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Estimated Costs
  7/18/2011 8:44 AM by Nathan

I'm Nathan, one of the student engineers on the project. We built the drill at BYU in Provo, Utah for around $2,000, but that's not including our own labor in machining the metal. It can be made for cheaper in developing countries, but in the US it may run a little more. Once built, however, it should be pretty sustainable. The pipe and drill bit are a little bit more expensive - another couple thousand. We had the pipe custom made (just threaded steel tubing), and used a standard drilling drag bit. We also used a gas-powered pump (purchased for a couple hundred dollars), and after that, the only continual cost is gasoline to run the pump. So it's a larger upfront cost, but once in place, each well you drill will not add much cost, so the cost per drill quickly goes down the more you use it. Contact WHOlives.org for more information on future use of the Village Drill.

Human powered drill
  7/18/2011 6:34 AM by Fauna

I am interested also in the possibilites of using such a drill in the United States. Is there a way to get information on cost etc. to implement this in projects for self sufficiency here?

This drill idea has so much potential!
  7/15/2011 2:51 PM by Marinda

This is so great to see! I went on an internship to Ghana, Africa a few months ago and there were certainly many rough situations I saw involving clean water. Some women would walk 5-10 miles a day just to reach a clean water source. This water drill is an AMAZING invention that will change many lives. Way to go BYU Engineering students! What an opportunity to be involved in.


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Drill can be operated by four people.
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