Purifying Water with the Sun

Potable drinking water is one of the largest issues currently looming over humanity. It is not often talked about, but as the population continues to boom toward 7 and then eventually 9 billion people, clean drinking water will become more valuable than oil in some regions. The fact that the 78% or so of the Earth that is covered with water is not drinkable because of it’s salt content is a problem. Current solutions for removing this salt require copious amounts of electricity, which in turn is expensive and not a feasible global solution.

Jonathan Liow however has a solution. He has created the Solarball. This device is very simple and cheap to manufacture. It has no moving parts and relies only on the direct energy of the sun to evaporate contaminants leaving clean, pure H2O to drink. He was inspired after visiting Cambodia and seeing that they didn’t have access to the tap water that we take for granted every day.

In addition to distributing these Solarball’s throughout third world countries, I think it would be a great idea to produce a version that could be deployed with emergency rafts and boats. Often you will see stories about people that were adrift at sea for weeks and drank only what little water they could collect from the rain. In the instances where they did give in and drink the salt water, the NaCl would dehydrate their cells from the inside out killing them faster and more painfully than they would have experienced otherwise. If Liow (or anyone else for that matter) could somehow modify this same concept to be incorporated in the canopies of inflatable rafts, people may be able to survive much longer and avoid certain dehydration stranded at sea.

Save Your Towel for the Beach!

The Dyson company has been producing and selling innovative and standard setting products for more than a decade. They’re most notably known for their popular (albeit pricey) Dyson vacuum. The vacuum is all about suction, as the inventor pitches in the many commercials scattered around TV land.

Dyson branched out and turned their efficient turbine technology into another revolutionary, everyday invention. The Dyson Airblade is the most elite of hand dryers for public rest rooms in the United States. It works by using blasts of air to act as a squeegee to wick water off of a persons hands. My idea is to scale this up.

I see the shower of the future to have a button next to the one that diverts water to the shower head. When you shut off the water, you can press another button and the body blade kicks in to action. Imagine dual water “blades” starting at your head and wicking all of the water off of your body as it passes all the way to the floor, finishing at your feet. No more using the same towel over and over to dry your presumably “clean” self. The blade is high tech and futuristic and I’m sure it would be a new installation in many upper class homes. As the technology advances, hopefully the price would come down. The machine itself would be cheaper to build and install but more over, popularity can induce imitators. A competitive open market always helps to adjust the prices to a more consumer friendly level.

Brrrr… It’s Cold in there!

Every household in the United States has somewhere they store food. Everyone that can afford one, which is a very high majority, utilizes cold storage with a refrigerator of some sort. This is the case among all third world countries. Of the billions of refrigerators in the world, think about how many users each is in operation for. For an average household of say three, each group needs to eat 2 – 3 times a day. All of that opening and closing of the doors (both on the fridge and the freezer compartments) lets an unimaginable amount of cold air out. This causes the compressor to turn back on, drawing electricity from the grid.

So the question is how can we reduce the amount of electricity these appliances are wasting? The first solution would obviously be to create a more efficient electrical design. This type of research, development and design is expensive and time consuming. Each new iteration of this type of appliance usually does become more efficient, but there has to be another solution. By thinking about why the energy is wasted, we realize that it’s because the door is open. But why is the door open so often and for so long in the first place? I can say from personal experience that often I don’t remember what’s in my fridge or more likely I can’t make up my mind what I want to eat. This time I spend with the door wide open, blankly staring at the shelves is energy wasted and dollars out of my pocket.

What if there were a way to know what was in the fridge in the first place? I can think of several solutions that could easily be implemented. With newer top of the line refrigerators, many have some type of screen or control panel already in place. You can imagine a future appliance with several tiny cameras that can show a live feed of just what you would see if you were to open the door and look yourself. Even further dumbing down the problem is a refrigerator that has a transparent door. Materials science has come a long way from the first iteration of these behemoths. It is definitely feasible to think that an insulating and transparent material exists and could be modified for use in a refrigeration setting. The reduction in the carbon footprint could be enormous and is deserving of study in the not so distant future.

Note: This idea has apparently been discussed among inventors around the world and has even been submitted as vision for the future in the Dyson invention submission contest for 2011. Credits for the picture are likewise.