An Australian designer has won this year's James Dyson Award with an invention that sounds more like magic than science - and the inventor owes his success to an unassuming little beetle.
Edward Linacre's elegant Airdrop irrigation system literally pulls water out of thin air - and may finally solve the problems of drought-affected agricultural land.
The 27-year-old beat a range of designers and innovators to take the £10,000 award, which aims to support design, technology and engineering education, medical research charities and local community projects.
Water, water everywhere: Edward Linacre with his Airdrop irrigation system, which can harvest moisture from the air in the driest regions and provide water for crops
Airdrop is a low-cost, self-powered solution to growing crops in arid regions.
Inspired by Australia’s worst drought in a century, Mr Linacre - a former student at 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 that lives in one of the driest places on earth.
With half an inch of rain per year, the beetle can only survive by consuming the dew it collects on the hydrophilic skin of its back in the early mornings.
'Biomimicry': The Airdrop system was inspired by the moisture collecting techniques of the Namib beetle
Airdrop uses the same concept, working on the principle that even the driest air contains water molecules that 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.
James Dyson said: 'Biomimicry is a powerful weapon in an engineer’s armoury. Airdrop shows how simple, natural principles like the condensation of water, can be applied to good effect through skilled design and robust engineering.
Runner up: The Kwik Screen, invented and developed by Michael Korn, a student at the Royal College of Art in London. It has already attracted interest from the NHS
'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.”
Mr Linacre's research suggested that 11.5 millilitres of water could be harvested from every cubic metre of air in the driest of deserts. Further versions of his design could increase the yield.
Mr Linacre, who was highly commended at the recent Australian International Design Awards, said: 'Winning the [Dyson Award's] £10,000 prize will mean I can develop and test the Airdrop system. It has the potential to help farmers around the world and I’m up for the challenge of rolling it out.'
The concept of water harvesting from the atmosphere is not a new one, but Mr Linacre believes the Airdrop has an advantage over its competitors.
He said: 'Other systems of harvesting water from the atmosphere usually require massive amounts of energy, as they run refrigeration units. Airdrop simply uses the temperature difference between the air and the cool earth beneath the surface.'
A further £10,000 has been awarded to Mr Linacre’s university department to support other young engineers keen to follow in his footsteps.
Runners up in the award include the Kwick Screen, 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.
Mr Korn's invention has already attracted the attention of the NHS.
Runners up receive £2000 each.
The award is open to any student of product design, industrial design or design engineering (or graduate within four years of graduation), who is studying or studied in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA.
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