Decoding Design

Biomimetic irrigation system wins James Dyson Award

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The Airdrop Irrigation system, which condenses air to extract water in drought-stricken areas, is the winner of the 2011 James Dyson Award. The inventor, Edward Linacre, credits the Namib beetle as inspiration.

A concept for efficiently harvesting water to irrigate crops by condensing water underground and then directing it to plants has won the 2011 James Dyson Award, a prestigious international student design prize, announced on November 8. The concept's designer--and the award winner--is Edward Linacre of Swinburne University of Technology, but the original "engineer" of the core idea is the Namib beetle. Yes, a bug.

Linacre has said that his design for the Airdrop Irrigation system, which uses a turbine to gather and then push above-ground air through subterranean piping designed to also rapidly cool it, then direct the resulting condensed water to plants, was initially inspired by how the Namib beetle collects dewdrops on its back. The insect is able to find precious liquid even in the ultra-arid Namibian desert in Africa. Linacre expanded on this concept to create his biomimetic design as a possible solution for growing crops in drought-stricken areas--such as in Australia, his home nation.

Here's a video of Linacre discussing the Airdrop Irrigation system:

The James Dyson Foundation, an educational charity created by the British designer James Dyson to support science, design and engineering education, awarded Linacre the $16,000 prize. Linacre's university department will receive a matching sum. Linacre will now use the award as funding to further develop the Airdrop Irrigation system into a real product.

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure