Drought-combating design takes its award-winning inspiration from a beetle

Drought-combating design takes its award-winning inspiration from a beetle

How can something as small as a beetle help combat a global issue as large as drought? Edward Linnacre from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne has an idea, an idea so good, in fact, it earned him this year’s global James Dyson Award. Linnacre’s design, called Airdrop, beat out entries from 17 countries to take out the student design award. 

Inspired by the effects of climate change, which have seen Australia experience its worst drought in a century, Linnacre turned to nature to find ways of capturing moisture from air. He found the solution in the Namib beetle, a clever little 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. 

Airpdrop borrows from this concept and works 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. Airdrop 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. 

In his project brief, Linnacre said the low-tech, self sufficient solar powered irrigation system solution is an innovation bread of comprehensive investigations into rural agricultural environments. It was developed through working with irrigation manufacturers and local farmers, and refined by extensive prototyping with successful results. 

His research suggests that 11.5 millilitres of water can be harvested from every cubic meter of air in the driest of deserts. Further iterations of his design will increase the yield of Airdrop. 

Commenting on the win, James Dyson described biomimicry as a “powerful weapon in an engineers armoury”. 

“Airdrop shows how simple, natural principles like the condensation of water, can be applied to good effect through skilled design and robust engineering. 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.” 

For his innovative efforts, Linnacre received £10,000, which he said would enable him to develop and test his Airdrop system. 

“It has the potential to help farmers around the world and I’m up for the challenge of rolling it out”.

Another £10,000 went to Linnacre’s university department. 

Although Kiwi entrant Nicholas Couch made it to the finals of the competition, he missed out on picking up an award for his recyclable shoe designed for barefoot running. 

Three other accolades were handed out at this year’s awards, as follows: 


Kwick Screen (UK)
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. Korn explored the use bistable materials such as slap on bracelets and tape measures, and like Edward drew inspiration from concepts found in nature, including the Venus fly trap and a frog’s tongue. 

Blindspot (Singapore)  
An aide for the visually handicapped, helping them 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. 


Highly Commended 

Amo Arm (Canada)
Michal Prywata from Ryerson University, Canada, developed 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.

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