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Dyson Award Winner: A Gadget Draws Water From Air, Inspired By A Beetle

An example of biomimicry, Edward Linnacre's Airdrop harvests moisture from "dry" air to water crops in arid regions.

This year’s James Dyson Award goes to a low-tech device for harvesting moisture from the air to irrigate crops in drought-stricken regions. The winning entry comes from Edward Linnacre, a student at Swinburne University, in Melbourne, who drew inspiration from the behavior of the Namib beetle, which collects droplets of water in the desert by outstretching its wings into the early-morning fog.

Linnacre’s self-powered Airdrop borrows the Namib’s insight that even the driest air contains water molecules that can be gathered by lowering the air temperature to the point of condensation. How it works: A turbine intake drives air underground through a network of piping that rapidly cools the air to the temperature of the soil, where it reaches 100% humidity and produces water. The water is then stored in an underground tank and pumped through to the roots of crops via underground drip-irrigation hosing. The Airdrop system also includes an LCD screen that displays tank water levels, pressure strength, solar-battery life, and system health. Linnacre estimates that 11.5 milliliters of water can be extracted from every cubic meter of air. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s nothing to sneeze at in areas where yearly rainfall is only a couple of inches.

Linnacre plans to put his $14,000 prize earnings toward testing the system. (The James Dyson Foundation awarded an additional $14,000 was awarded to his university to encourage other young engineers to follow his lead.)

Airdrop was chosen from designs submitted by students in 18 countries. The two runners-up are KwickScreen, a retractable room divider from Michael Korn, of London’s Royal College of Art; and Blindspot, a navigational aide for the visually impaired from Se Lui Chew of University of Singapore. A commendable mention went to Amo Arm, a full-arm prosthetic that obviates the need for invasive re-innervation surgery, from Michal Prywata at Ryerson University. All of this year’s entries may be viewed at JamesDysonAward.org.

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