Groups of MIT researchers banded together in 2015 to develop a “smart sewage platform” for collecting and analyzing information about the bacteria, viruses, and chemical compounds that live in the human gut and converge in our communal wastewater. Tapping into this real-time data can help monitor urban health patterns, shape more inclusive public health strategies, and push the boundaries of urban epidemiology. This fall, the team is using its robot prototype, dubbed Luigi, to sample sewage as a proof of concept in 10 locations across Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, as well as Kuwait City.
The Underworlds team imagines a future where data mined from sewage informs public health action. The likely first application is contagious disease monitoring and prediction. Other applications could include tracking biomarkers for diseases such as obesity and diabetes, or creating a biobank of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Underworlds was pioneered at MIT by the Senseable City Lab in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and the Alm Lab in the Department of Biological Engineering, led by faculty members Carlo Ratti and Eric Alm, respectively.