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Jamais Cascio, 20 Dec 05

watercone.jpgUniversal access to clean water is one of the fundamental Millennium Development Goals, and inventors have come up with a variety of solutions for making non-potable water clean and drinkable. Some are shiny and high-tech, and others are terrifically simple. One of the easiest tools for making brackish or sea water usable requires little more than sunlight and time -- the Watercone.

Made of a rugged, transparent plastic, the Watercone is incredibly easy to use: fill up the base plate with salt water, place the cone over the plate, and wait. 24 hours later, a trough around the edge of the cone will contain 1-1.5 liters of fresh water, produced by evaporation/condensation. Pour the water out, and start again. Individual units are expected to cost around $50 apiece, although that will depend in large part on who manufactures them.

And that's the big problem. The inventor of the Watercone, industrial designer Stephan Augustin, is having trouble finding someone to make it. This is a bit surprising, as the Watercone has won numerous design awards over the past three years, has passed preliminary tests by CARE Germany, and is currently featured in the SAFE: Design Takes On Risk exhibit at the NY Museum of Modern Art. Apparently, previous licensing agreements have fallen through, and Augustin is once again looking for a manufacturer to bring the Watercone to the people who need it.

(Thanks for the tip, Corey Birnbaum)

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Although it can be last for 5 years, $50 apiece is way too expensive. Probably because of the material it is made of has to be sustainable to UV. It might be more attractive if it's using less expensive material so that it could cost $1 apiece even it has to be replaced every month.

Posted by: Kevin Leung on 20 Dec 05

Kevin beat me to it. You'd need 4 - 6 of these to support a person in reasonable comfort. They need to be cheap.

The Chinese could probably turn out something half as good for a tenth of the price.

Like the $100 laptop, you could probably sell them at a premium as "green fashion accessories." Maybe as part of a garden watering system in seafront areas.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 20 Dec 05

Ok cheap water cleaner for 50 cents.

Take one black gas can.

Take One garbage bag.

Tape bag to gas can nozzel and fill can with bad water.

Set in sun filling can as needed and empty bag as needed.

Tada instant watermaker.

Posted by: wintermane on 20 Dec 05

This is nothing short of brilliant. I wish I had thought of it... :-)

Posted by: Taran on 20 Dec 05

uncanny - I have been thinking of something like this for years, and this cone is more or less exactly how I had imagined them. Except I was thinking bigger and cheaper. But, how to distribute salt water to them, cheaply and reliably?

Posted by: Paddy Carter on 21 Dec 05

Let's have a competition between watercone and what wintermane suggests plus a few other designs.

Why the cost? Is it because it's difficult to shape a cone? If shapefactor matters, then half a cylinder might be good too. Or a pyramid. And maybe two sides of the pyramid can be darkened with shoe polish? Or two sides of the pyramid might be produced with cheaper material?

There must be some maths to this - please share!

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 21 Dec 05

Why doesn't Worldchanging become a licensee? I'm sure there are at least 1000 WC readers who are willing to invest in this (the Kevin option of $1 a piece) because they know this *should* be out there, and WC can use its extensive network of contacts all over the world to help establishing the distribution chain.

The Worldchanging Watercone, brought to you by the Worldchanging Product Department.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 21 Dec 05

The easy way for a community to build something like this would prolly be plastic teepees over brankish little ponds made from dark clay.

Posted by: wintermane on 21 Dec 05

Lorenzo's question suggest that perhaps a DESIGN CONTEST is in order.

There are all sorts of ways this might be improved.

For example, could you make little corrugations in the inside surface to encourage the condensation to run down the surface quicker?

How about a clear cylinder with an inverted cone in the center that channels water to a central collection point? (Capital "M" cross section.) Make the cone of a substance that doesn't heat up as readily as the other parts to increase condensation.

Right now the still relies on sunlight coming through the top to heat the water. The condensation that is formed cuts down on the insolation. D'oh! Would it be cost effective to raise the still a half-meter off the ground and use mirrors to heat the BOTTOM of the black baseplate?

Well, you get the idea. A class full of grad students could have a lot of fun coming up with alternative stills.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 21 Dec 05

Well one way to massively speed it up is to make it in the shape fo a flower with the petals being black bags connected to a central shaded cone. The water gets hot and moinsture rises up and hits the cool cone in the center and is collected while the petals do all the heating.

Posted by: wintermane on 21 Dec 05

I very much like the petals idea, thank you! I hope your posting here counts as "prior art" regarding patents.

Now we need a way to have sea water running in and out, more or less continuously, possibly wind or wave powered, and we can have basic fresh water for the 65% people who live near the sea (or the smaller subset where there's enough sunlight).

While we're at it, we can collect some links where they attempt to create designs in the public domain for many basic things.

Yes, we can make all this happen.

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 22 Dec 05

The "capital M" design makes me think of something else that might help a tiny bit. The "V" part of the "M" does the condensation, so the convex part of the "V" could have "hair" so that it's cooled up - if that's how plants cool themselves.

How do we organise that contest, and where?

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 22 Dec 05

This is getting to be very interesting!

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 22 Dec 05

Its very easy to get fresh water from the ocean IF you have foltet material.

Take a sturdy pipe and cover one end in the filter and tie a weight to it.

Let it sink till its netral buoincy and it will fill with clean water wich you can siphon off till the filter needs a backflush. Then you simply lift the tube up high so the water inside it backflushes the filter and then dip and repeat.

Posted by: wintermane on 22 Dec 05

wintermane, I just googled for "foltet" and "foltet material". I don't know what that is and have not managed to find anything that makes sense; google suggests "filter". Would it be some special kind of cloth? I do live near the sea, so Thanks!

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 22 Dec 05

This design seems to be an inversion and refinement of an old idea (30+ years)for making fresh water. You dig a cone shaped hole in the ground, saturate the soil with salty or impure water, place a container at the bottom of the hole to collect the fresh water, and drape a clear plastic sheet over the hole, also in a cone shape but separated from the soil by a few inches. Water evaporates, condenses, and may be collected from the bottom container.

Posted by: Steve Patterson on 24 Dec 05

I wish "digging a cone shaped hole in the ground" were more practical in cities, even if they are near the sea!

There were also "dew" collectors. I don't know if they work. Fog collectors work where there's fog.

Water is such a big problem when you don't have it.

Plants (I mean the green ones) know how to do it.

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 24 Dec 05

And, of course, if we cannot *dig* a hole, we may be able to build it. Perhaps smaller "V" cone inside a larger one. The larger holds some "ground" inside, just enough to hold some salty water. The smaller serves as a condensation surface. It's probably not worth the hassle, or is it? Could we use *all* roofs in a city?

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 24 Dec 05

Oh dear god I ment filter as those big filter cartriges.. Talk about typo attack.

Posted by: wintermane on 24 Dec 05



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