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

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Dyson encourages design engineering

The UK government has just announced its five ‘golden’ subjects for the education curriculum. Sadly engineering doesn’t feature in this. The reality is that the country is suffering from a lack of trained engineers. The figures are quite shocking: the UK produces only 24,000 engineering graduates a year, compared to around 300,000 in China and 450,000 in India.

Students in this field are often lured to work in the finance sector with the offer of better pay. What’s more, foreign engineering students often find that they can’t stay in the UK after they’ve finished their education for visa reasons, forced to work elsewhere and taking their skills with them.

James Dyson is actively trying to change this. The creator of the famous Dyson vacuum cleaner believes the way to encourage students to take up engineering is to induce a love for design and technology at a very young age.


His James Dyson Foundation is offering a donation of £1m over three years to encourage young people to pursue their interest in design and engineering.

In a culture where failure is never encouraged, the learning of design and technology must seem insane where it is completely acceptable to fail projects, to try and try harder in order to discover better solutions. This is after all the whole nature of design engineering.

Dyson, himself a qualified engineer who then went on to do study industrial design at the prestigious Royal College of Art in London, says that on top of this, students are often priced out of postgraduate research posts due to debts accrued as an undergraduate and ongoing cost of living.

‘Studying design and engineering is costly,’ admits Dyson, noting: ‘But it’s vital. We don’t produce enough engineers to get the country out of economic doldrums with new technology. The challenge is ensuring the best don’t drop out in favour of banking careers.’

Four postgraduate bursaries of £25,000 per year will be available to students at the University of Bath, Bristol, Corpus Christie Cambridge, and Imperial College London from September 2011.

They will be awarded to students who show a passion for engineering, accounting for academic excellence and financial need.

Additionally, £60,000 will be available to five institutions this year, including the RCA and Loughborough University, to support specific projects that show technical excellence and creative flair. The foundation gives a further £30,000 per annum to the RCA to promising student ideas.

For more information visit James Dyson.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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