LOCATION: Research in Boston, Massachusetts, USA; implementation in Kuwait

SUMMARY: UNDERWORLDS is a cyber-physical infrastructure that enables the monitoring of bacteria, viruses, and chemical compounds in our sewers. A wealth of information on human health and behaviour converges in the wastewater and UNDERWORLDS is establishing a platform for monitoring these health patterns: shaping public health strategies and advancing modern epidemiology.

PROBLEM SPACE: “Epidemics have long shaped human history, and modern medicine has taken great strides to address them. Today, our cities can begin to address a population’s health as well. The UNDERWORLDS project is the first of its kind, and a proof of concept that cities can make use of their wastewater system to do near real-time urban epidemiology to understand human health and behavior with a fine spatio-temporal resolution. As Buckminster Fuller considered local, regional, and global flows in a synergistic way, crucially concerned with transfers and coactive systems, we propose to apply this thinking in an entirely new way: towards real-time, data-driven urban epidemiology.

The most obvious first application of this platform is contagious disease surveillance and the prediction of outbreaks of infectious disease before symptoms arise. Early warnings in relation to the presence of new flu strains in urban centers could significantly reduce a community’s medical costs, save lives, and help prevent pandemics. In addition, UNDERWORLDS can change the way non-communicable diseases are studied, because biomarkers for diseases such as obesity and diabetes can be measured at unprecedented scale and temporal resolution.”

SOLUTION: UNDERWORLDS activities are organized into two distinct parts: (i) building the smart sewage infrastructure, and (ii) development and deployment of an analytics platform to extract value from the collected data. As such, the team includes planners and architects working closely with the city officials in Massachusetts (Boston and Cambridge) and Kuwait to characterize the sewage network, to microbiologists and environmental chemists working with public health officials to determine and target pathogens of interest, to robotics engineers designing an automated sampling device capable of basic sample analytics and preprocessing in the sewers (video attached shows first sampling prototype).

CONTACT: Newsha Ghaeli, [email protected]