Biomimicry is the examination of features and elements in plant and animal life, and their application in solving human problems. This premise is exactly what Edward Linacre of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne used in his design to win the 2011 James Dyson Award, an annual competition that seeks out innovative design by engineering and industrial design students.
Linacre designed an irrigation system called Airdrop that is so effective that it can draw moisture from dry, desert air, and automatically deliver the water to local plants. It does this by first using a self-powered pump to force water through a network of underground pipes. Condensate forms on the outside of the piping, which is then provided to nearby plant roots.
The inspiration behind the technique is the Namib beetle. The beetle has hydrophilic skin, which allows it to capture water molecules that eventually form into droplets that the beetle can ingest. This affords the little creature the ability to live in climates receiving just half an inch of rain per year.
Linacres’s calculations show that Airdrop can harvest up to 11.5 milliliters of water for each cubic meter of air. For his efforts, he received the competition prize of $14,000, with an additional $14,000 going to his university.
Watch more coverage of this story, and others, on This Week in Engineering!
Edward Linacre and Airdrop--James Dyson Foundation