Artificial ‘beaks’ that collect water from fog: A drought solution?

English: Life buoy post on rocky promontory on the north side of Porth y Gwin The camera point north-westerly across Abraham's Bosom and towards the South Stack Lighthouse. A fog bank, soon to envelope the whole of Holy Island, can be seen approaching from the Irish Sea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Life buoy post on rocky promontory on the north side of Porth y Gwin The camera point north-westerly across Abraham’s Bosom and towards the South Stack Lighthouse. A fog bank, soon to envelope the whole of Holy Island, can be seen approaching from the Irish Sea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the most parched areas of Saudi Arabia to water-scarce areas of the western U.S., the idea of harvesting fog for water is catching on.

Now, a novel approach to this process could help meet affected communities’ needs for the life-essential resource. Scientists describe their new, highly efficient fog collector, inspired by a shorebird’s beak, in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Cheng Luo and his doctoral student, Xin Heng, explain that deserts and semi-arid areas cover about half of the Earth’s land masses. In some of these places, trucks bring in potable water for the people who live there. To find a more sustainable way to get water, these communities, which can’t draw water from underground or surface supplies, have turned to the air — and to nature for inspiration. They implement methods adapted from those that desert beetles, cacti and grasses use to catch water from the misty fog when it rolls in. But existing techniques require complicated, costly processes or collect only a small fraction of the water that fog has to offer. For new ideas, Luo’s team turned to shorebirds with long, thin beaks.

By opening and closing their beaks, shorebirds drive food-containing liquid drops into their throats. The researchers mimicked this phenomenon by building simple, fog-collecting, rectangular “beaks” out of glass plates connected by a hinge on one side. When open, the plates provide a large surface area where beads of fog condense. When the plates close, then re-open, the droplets slide toward the hinge and into a collection tube. A single 10-inch by 4-inch prototype “swallowed” about a tablespoon of water in 36 minutes. Over two hours, it harvested 400 to 900 times more water than both natural and other artificial fog-collectors.

via American Chemical Society


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Sneak a peek through The Mist to technology of the future

This image shows MisTable: reach-through personal screens for tabletops. Credit: Image courtesy of Bristol Interaction and Graphics group, University of Bristol

A tabletop display with personal screens made from a curtain of mist that allow users to move images around and push through the fog-screens and onto the display, will be unveiled at an international conference later this month.

The research paper, to be presented at one of the world’s most important conferences on human-computer interfaces – ACM CHI 2014 [26 April-1 May], could change the way people interact and collaborate in the future.

MisTable, led by Professor Sriram Subramanian and Dr Diego Martinez Plasencia from the University of Bristol‘s Department of Computer Science, is a tabletop system that combines a conventional interactive table with personal screens, built using fog, between the user and the tabletop surface.

These personal screens are both see-through and reach-through. The see-through feature provides direct line of sight of the personal screen and the elements behind it on the tabletop. The reach-through feature allows the user to switch from interacting with the personal screen to reaching through it to interact with the tabletop or the space above it.

The personal screen allows a range of customisations and novel interactions such as presenting 2D personal content on the screen, 3D content above the tabletop or supplementing and renewing actual objects differently for each user.

Sriram Subramanian, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, in the University’s Bristol Interaction and Graphics group, said: “MisTable broadens the potential of conventional tables in many novel and unique ways. The personal screen provides direct line of sight and access to the different interaction spaces. Users can be aware of each other’s actions and can easily switch between interacting with the personal screen to the tabletop surface or the interaction section. This allows users to break in or out of shared tasks and switch between “individual” and “group” work.

“Users can also move content freely between these interaction spaces. Moving content between the tabletop and the personal screen allow users to share it with others or to get exclusive ownership over it. The research team believe MisTable could support new forms of interaction and collaboration in the future.”

With the new system, having personal screens for each user allows the view of each of the users to be customised to them, as well as maintaining all well-established tabletop interface techniques like touch and tangible interactions.

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Misty Aqua – Water Collection in the Desert

Namib desert beetle (possibly of genus Onymacr...

Image via Wikipedia

A simple and inexpensive way to produce drinking water

IN THE dry desert on the west coast of Namibia, where the annual average rainfall is a meagre 40mm, the Namib beetle (Stenocara gracilipes) has evolved a unique mechanism to drink. It collects moisture from the early-morning fog that is produced when ocean breezes from the Atlantic collide with the hot desert air. Drawing inspiration from the beetle’s fog-harvesting trick, Shreerang Chhatre, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his colleagues have developed a simple and inexpensive way to produce drinking water.

The Namibia mist rapidly dissipates once the sun rises, so the beetle has just a brief opportunity to collect water. The insect typically finds a ridge of sand and faces the breeze, angling its lower body upwards with its specially adapted wings outstretched. The wings have bumps made of a hydrophilic substance that attracts minute water droplets. As they accumulate, the droplets grow larger until their weight causes them to run off into troughs in the beetle’s wings. These troughs are covered with a waxy water-repelling substance which has the effect of rolling the droplets down the beetle’s inclined body towards its mouth. The insect then promptly drinks them.

Fog harvesting is not a new idea. FogQuest, a Canadian charity, has been installing devices using a plastic mesh to catch water droplets in developing countries for more than a decade. Mr Chhatre says what he and his colleagues have done is to increase the efficiency of water collection by using a variety of surface coatings.

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