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A Human-Powered Drill for Clean Water

Seven engineering students designed a water drill that might improve the lives of millions.

Lack of sanitary drinking water is a serious and well-known problem that continues to plague many third-world nations. In Tanzania alone, over 800,000 people do not have access to clean water.

A group of seven engineering students from Brigham Young University in Utah hope to alleviate this problem by giving Tanzanians an efficient and inexpensive way to obtain drinking water. For their senior capstone project, they have designed a human-powered drill that can dig a freshwater well much faster than many more expensive devices.

Challenged by instructors to find a solution for a real-world problem, the engineering students teamed up with, a non-profit organization working to provide safe water, health care, and entrepreneurship opportunities to impoverished regions. Together they came up with the innovative drill. Operated by four people, it can create a 250 foot-deep, 6 inch-wide hole in just a few days.

In addition to its digging power, the drill also boasts an easy-to-(dis)assemble framework, and uses no gears or custom materials. Operation is simple: three people spin the wheel that powers the drill bit, and a fourth person moves the bit up and down when more power is needed. Excess dirt is removed from the hole by a pump. While comparable drilling projects in Tanzania can cost up to $15,000, the students’ invention only runs about $2,000.

According to the founders of, a drill like this has the potential to bring much-needed water to millions of people. The organization currently is focusing its relief efforts in Tanzania, but plans to expand its reach in the future.

Watch a video about this incredible project here:

Images: Brigham Young University

5 Responses to “A Human-Powered Drill for Clean Water”

  1. this is a truly amazing machine… what is the provabilities of this being able to be made with no more than what they have… as if someone came in and constructed the same concept just with materials on hand

  2. This is Nathan, one of the student engineers who designed and built the drill. The metal used is readily available throughout the world – simple steel tubing. The only special components that are more difficult to find are the bearing under the wheel (although any lazy-susan bearing will work for a while) and the winch and cable – although once again – any sort of lifting mechanism can be made to work. We use a gas-powered 5 hp pump to circulate the slurry as well. But generally, it’s a design made available to the world!

  3. Thanks for the info, Nathan! Kudos on the invention.

  4. Hi Nathan,
    This is Iddy, a native Tanzanian residing in Texas. I strong applause the motive behind this amazing idea. Second, can we make this machine work with a motor which will utilize solar energy?

    Please let me know, i think there is a possibility of developing a second generation water pump within this idea. Please send me an email sometime if possible.



  5. Hey Nathan….I teach 4th grade in a school near Dallas, TX. We are a STEM school and am working on a water filtration project. We also will be doing a service learning project this year. Is there a way for us to raise and donate the $2000 to help in Tanzania?? Any info, sites, references would be great. Thanks.

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