As I’ve mentioned before, the Gates Foundation is funding research to reinvent the toilet for the developing world, with minimal water use and maximum energy output (no-waste toilets). A group from Caltech won the competition, and a group from Eawag (the Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Science and Technology) won the award for “best user interface”. (Having done part of my PhD at each institute, I’m certainly proud of my former colleagues.) In other words, round 1 went to the “Star Trek” toilet, as I’ve heard it described, with a consolation prize to the “more likely to be used in the developing world” toilet.
It looks like round 2, the implementation phase, will begin in Durban, South Africa, which is plagued by limited water supplies and rising consumer demand for fancier flush toilets. Middle class isn’t quite the same when you still have to use a pit toilet. With your neighbors (mandatory cringe from all of us in the developed world). The city of Durban has entered a partnership with Eawag and the Gates Foundation to build no-waste toilets for the 230,000 families among the 3.8 million inhabitants of Durban that still lack access to safe and hygienic toilets. Round 2 appears to go to the Swiss!
Given that the upcoming World Toilet summit (yes, that’s a real thing) will take place in Durban this December, this looks like a huge win for the Swiss, especially in the realm of getting more contracts. The Americans will have their work cut out for them, if they want to make a comeback in round 3, location TBD.