"The Water, Sanitation & Hygiene program initiated the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to leverage advances in science and technology and create a new toilet that will transform waste into energy, clean water, and nutrients... (The Programme) challenged 22 universities to submit proposals for how to invent a waterless, hygienic toilet that is safe and affordable for people in the developing world and doesn’t have to be connected to a sewer.” (link)
Last year The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $4,000,000 in grants to eight universities to create safe, efficient, near-waterless toilets. This week in Seattle, at the Reinvent the Toilet fair working versions of the winning designs were on show.
"The winners included: first place to California Institute of Technology in the United States for designing a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity, second place to Loughborough University in the United Kingdom for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water, and third place to University of Toronto in Canada for a toilet that sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water. A special recognition was awarded to Eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) and EOOS for their outstanding design of a toilet user-interface." (Read the full post and see photos here.)
Listen to National Public Radio's story about the Sanitation Fair.
You can read a concise history on the BBC's History of the World in 100 Objects page.