Beetle-Inspired Design Uses Old Plastic Bottles to Pull Water from the Air
The Namib Desert beetle is known for its ability to survive in an environment that gets only half an inch of rainfall a year. The beetle's secret is its bumpy back, which pulls water droplets out of morning fogs. In an effort to copy the beetle's move, the Atmospheric Water Collector aims to make old water bottles capable of producing potable water in a similar fashion.
The concept is the work of design student Thomas Row. The insert that goes inside the bottle, made to screw into a cap that fits most plastic bottles, is sand blasted to produce a bumpy surface, like the Namib Desert beetle's back. As water droplets accumulate on the insert, they roll down and collect at the bottom of the bottle.
Row's goal was to design a product that would collect enough water to provide a person for an entire day. However, he writes:
The testing failed miserably. Even with a good weather and temperature, including using the cooling effects from low temperature night sky, only tiny droplets of water were collected. However, I'm confident that with better quality hydrophobic and hydrophilic surfaces, enough water should collect since my tests were only done with common household products.
Okay, so it was a failure. But there are a few things I really like about the concept:
1) It's based on biomimicry. Evolution has gotten a lot of stuff right, and is a great inspiration for technology that's simple, efficient and inexpensive.
2) It's low-tech: The Atmospheric Water Collector is built on a simple concept that doesn't require electricity or a lot of resources to meet a basic human need.
3) It puts waste to good use: Plastic water bottles can suddenly generate more drinkable water.
I fully agree with Row, who said in an e-mail: "It would be even better if someone would take this idea and give a more serious thought for it - bringing it to development someday." We could use more ideas as solid as this one, especially if they work in the real world.