How to provide clean drinking water for millions? Partner with Coca-Cola

A box of rain will ease the pain

Next up, salt water

Next up, salt water

It’s a small appliance, no bigger than a bar fridge, but it could have a big impact worldwide for communities that lack access to safe drinking water.

The Slingshot, a purification system developed by American inventor Dean Kamen, CEO of DEKA Research & Development, can take any type of dirty water—be it river water, contaminated H2O, even raw sewage—and make it clean and consumable.

While developing a dialysis machine that could use distilled water, Kamen (who’s perhaps best known as the inventor of the Segway) discovered the process of vapour-compressed distillation, or VCD, which is central to the Slingshot’s operation. The device uses VCD to heat and evaporate dirty water. That process leaves behind any solid compounds or harmful parasites. When the steam condenses, it produces sanitary H2O, which allows clean water to condense and separates any solid compounds or harmful parasites from the sanitary H2O. In the Slingshot’s current form (soon to be updated in a beta stage), it can deliver around 800 litres of clean drinking water daily—enough for about 300 people—and uses as much electricity in an hour as a basic hair dryer. It also sends reports daily to a central database to ensure that it’s continuing to clean water to the required standard. While it doesn’t work with salt water yet, the development team hopes one day it may.

Kamen’s device got serious backing in 2012 when Coca-Cola signed a partnership agreement (for undisclosed terms) and pledged to help deliver the Slingshot to rural communities as part of its goal to become “water neutral” by 2020—replenishing “every drop” of water used in the creation of the company’s products. So far, the device has arrived in nine communities in South Africa and seven in Paraguay, all part of another project—supported by Coca-Cola and a coalition of other companies, including IBM, Qualcomm and UPS—to provide a modular unit called Ekocenter that brings water, power and other basic necessities to rural communities. (Each 20-foot long Coca-Cola red box contains a Slingshot, Internet access, electronic outlets for charging phones and other devices and space for vaccine storage.) According to project manager Derk Hendriksen, Coca-Cola plans to bring Ekocenters to 20 countries by 2015, reaching about half a million of the 2.5 billion who live without proper sanitation infrastructure. “The miles people currently walk to fetch water, even fetch dirty water, is  time and energy spent that could be spent otherwise—to get educated, to take care of children, to earn money,” says Hendriksen.