Beetle inspires James Dyson winner

A device that extracts water from thin air as a solution to the draught problem has won the 2011 James Dyson Award. Airdrop, designed by Edward Linacre, is a low cost, self powered, and easy to install solution to the problems of growing crops in arid regions.

Linacre has been inspired by Australia’s worst drought in a century. The student, from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, turned to nature to find ways of capturing moisture from air. He studied the Namib beetle, an ingenious species which lives in one of the driest places on earth – with half an inch of rain per year; it can only survive by consuming the dew it collects on the hydrophilic skin of its back in the early mornings.

Airdrop borrows this concept, working on the principle that even the driest air contains water molecules which can be extracted by lowering the air’s temperature to the point of condensation. It pumps air through a network of underground pipes, to cool it to the point at which the water condenses, delivering water directly to the roots of plants.

‘Biomimicry is a powerful weapon in an engineer’s armoury,’ says James Dyson. ‘Airdrop shows how simple, natural principles like the condensation of water, can be applied to good effect through skilled design and robust engineering.’

His research suggests that 11.5 mm of water can be harvested from every cubic meter of air in the driest of deserts. Further developments of his design will increase the yield of Airdrop.

‘Winning the award’s £10,000 prize will mean I can develop and test the Airdrop system,’ says Linacre. ‘It has the potential to help farmers around the world and I’m up for the challenge of rolling it out.’

A further £10,000 has also been awarded to his university department to support other young engineers keen to follow in his footsteps.

Dyson adds: ‘Young designers and engineers like Edward will develop the simple, effective technology of the future – they will tackle the world’s biggest problems and improve lives in the process.’

The winner was chosen from over 500 entries from around the world. Runners up included a portable, retractable room divider developed by Michael Korn, a student at the Royal College of Art in London. The KwickScreen allows healthcare professionals to make the best use of available space; giving maximum privacy, dignity and protection to patients.  (read our preview here)

Also on the runners up list was a device to aid the visually challenged travel around unfamiliar surroundings. Developed by Se Lui Chew from the National University of Singapore, Blindspot informs the user of nearby friends using information from geographical-based social apps such as Foursquare, and communicates with them via a Bluetooth earpiece connected to the cane. The cane guides the user to their friend using a horizontally rolling ball on the cane handle which points in the direction they should walk.

Michal Prywata from Ryerson University in Canada was highly commended for his Amo Arm to overcome the invasive muscle re-innervation surgery required for amputees. It can be strapped on and is controlled using brain signals, avoiding major surgery and the long rehabilitation period after.

Details of all entrants can be found at James Dyson Award.

Guest blogger Sean Jackson

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