Automate the Chinese Water Dispenser





Save your time, don’t waste your water!


If you spend a long period in China, you realize how many everyday actions and activities are designed in a very inefficient way. Usually, those actions can be easily turned “efficient” either by redesigning the way you interact with the environment itself, or by using (simple) automation. It turns out that in a fast developing country like China, those innovations may (potentially) become successful entrepreneurial opportunities.

An example is to fill an electric boiling water machine by using a (manual) Chinese water dispenser. It is difficult to figure out when you have reached the right amount of water therefore you don’t know when you should stop the water filling. This often leads to either waste of water or lack of water for your tea L

Therefore I thought how to automate this process in such a way that by pressing a button the water fills the container always with the right amount of water needed. I used Lego Mindstorms because it is very simple to use and to program (anybody can do it), but with a more accurate design and some knowledge of electronic circuits it is fairly easy to build it by using an electric motor, a switcher, operational amplifiers, transistors and some resistances.

The system made fits with most of modern manual water dispenser I have seen in China.


1 Electric servo motor LEGO Mindstorms NXT

2 small LEGO pillars

2 big LEGO pillars

4 LEGO angle connectors

1 LEGO Touch Sensor

1 LEGO NXT Brick

2 LEGO connection cables

Tape :)


An obvious improvement of this system can be made by extending the number of buttons available in order to fill different quantities of water (different waiting time for each selection). Example (with three touch sensors/buttons):

大3 cups - 30/45 sec.

中1 cup - 10/15 sec.

小 ½ cup - 8 sec.

Step 1: Build the Structure

  • Create a “lever” by connecting the LEGO technic structural pieces together
  • Insert le lever in the LEGO motor. It should be done in such a way that the motor and the lever forms an “L-shape” if placed vertically (see the pictures).
  • Tape the touch sensor in a convenient place
  • Tape the LEGO shape built in such a way that the LEGO lever and the water dispenser manual lever are in touch (see the pctures)
  • Connect both the motor and the sensor to the LEGO NXT brick

Step 2: Programming

Program the NXT in such a way that if the button is pressed, then the motor rotates -25° at maximum power, wait 10-15 seconds (time to fill a standard cup but you can do some trials to see what is more suitable for you). Then it rotates back +25° (these actions should be programmed in a while cycle that do nothing if the button is not pressed). See the picture for the details.

Watch the video to see the system working ;)



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