Even if you happen to live in a drought-prone place like California, you probably don’t really pay too much attention to how much water you use: It’s only a visible problem when it stops coming out of the tap. Around a third of water utilities in the U.S. charge a flat fee for service, so there’s no financial incentive to cut back, and it’s hard to have any sense of what you’ve used.
A new set of sculptures is designed to give simple reminders as you use water throughout the day. One, shaped like a circle with a level inside, rotates whenever water is running inside your house. A triangle chimes every time you use 50 liters of water, adding another ring for each extra 50 liters in a day. And a small see-saw tilts from one side to the other to show whether you're using more or less water than the day before.
"They give water a subtle presence in the home and make you more generally aware," say Paul Moran and Jess Lockhart, both students at Dublin's National College of Art and Design. "We looked at the standard water meter and it was clear that it was not a very accessible product for day-to-day living. We aimed to create something that was more friendly and human centered."
They also wanted to stay away from the typical digital display. "We wanted to create tangible but attractive items that are part of the Internet of things but don't appear to be so," the designers say. "In doing this we wanted to challenge screen society, and the idea that every new piece of technology requires you to interact with yet another screen."
Each of the sculptures was inspired by low-tech products; the see-saw came from a trip to a playground, and the chime was based on a combination of a musical triangle and grandfather clock. Still, despite the simple wooden exterior, the tech inside is fairly sophisticated. The sculptures run on solar power stored in rechargeable lithium batteries and communicate with a water meter using a low-energy bluetooth connection.
The sculptures are a lot less obvious reminders about water use than some other ideas, like this shower attachment that turns red when you're been running water too long. But the designers think they can make a difference.
"They're intended as attractive items of interest that helps make water a talking point rather than something running in the background that you use without thought," Moran and Lockhart say. The pair recently won an RSA Student Design Award for the project.