What was your inspiration for the Aquaduct? Why did you decide to focus on water?
The Aquaduct vehicle was a direct result of the Innovate or Die contest hosted by Specialized, Google, and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The contest challenge was to design and build a pedal-powered machine with some environmental benefit. After deciding to enter, we spent the first six weeks brainstorming ideas ranging from a machine that would clean up oil spills, to a machine that would boil an egg, to a machine that would reduce smog while biking to work.
We decided on the challenge of water sanitation because it affects billions of people around the world. Access to clean water is the biggest challenge facing the developing world today. Over the next several weeks, we began to understand more about the problems and needs around getting clean water in emerging economies. We sketched storyboards and prototyped ways to creatively package pedal power, water filtration, and transport into a single concept. From this, the Aquaduct was born.
What attracted you to this particular contest? Is this related to your work at IDEO, or was it solely a side project?
The contest offered a handful of us an opportunity to get hands on and build something together around a good cause. We were passionate about creating something with positive environmental and social impact. This was purely a side project because we wanted to collaborate and have some fun working outside of client constraints. IDEO fully supported our participation, and we relied on the processes, skills, and knowledge we have available at IDEO.
What fundamental issues does the Aquaduct tackle?
The Aquaduct vehicle tackles one of the biggest issues in the developing world: access to clean water. More than a billion people don’t have access to clean water, and thousands die each day from water-related illnesses. Water sources are often miles away, and women must spend hours each day collecting water for their families. From our research we found that transportation and sanitation are the two main issues around water in the developing world. We sought to design a solution that would address both of these needs. The Aquaduct would allow a person to transport and clean water simultaneously. It would enable people to collect water in larger quantities with less physical strain. Also, the closed system and removable storage tank were designed to address the issue of contamination that occurs from storage and transport in open containers.
Can the design be reproduced and manufactured cheaply? How much would one cost in the developing world?
The current Aquaduct design is a prototype that was made specifically for the Innovate or Die contest. It was designed to demonstrate an innovative concept and draw attention to the need for clean water in the developing world. In its current state, the design would be too expensive for many parts of the world. By exploring more appropriate materials, technologies, and processes, we are working make it more economically viable for the developing world.
How did you build the Aquaduct? How much is custom and what pieces were you able to use from other products?
The filtration system consists of a custom peristaltic pump connected to a standard cartridge-based house filter. We chose a peristaltic pump due to its simple design features and efficiency at low shaft speeds. The pump was designed in Solidworks and then fabricated on a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) mill from Delrin and aluminum.
We wanted to keep the aesthetic of the bike as clean as possible, which meant integrating all of the mechanical components as tightly as possible. Having access to 3D design and manufacturing capabilities allowed us to maintain tight tolerances and visual consistency throughout the mechanical systems.
Our prototyping process for the mechanical subsystems started with modeling the entire tricycle frame in Solidworks. We designed the individual components and made 2D models with acrylic parts cut on a lasercam. We then made 3D parts from plastic, wood, and metal using a CNC machine. The frame started out as a Miami Sun tricycle, which was heavily modified to make room for our custom pump and water tank. The body was made by machining large pieces of surfboard foam, gluing them together over the tricycle frame, and covering them in fiberglass.
What type of filter does the Aquaduct use? Is this the method you would use for production?
The selection of the filtration technology was based purely on availability. Ultimately, the success of the concept will hinge on being able to deliver a sufficiently high level of purification at a sustainable cost. Filtration technologies that are common in the United States, such as Reverse Osmosis or mechanical filtration and UV sterilization, are far more expensive than would be feasible in Third World countries. While we were not able to obtain and integrate a low-cost filter before the Innovate or Die deadline, we are currently working with experts in filtration to adapt the Aquaduct to a more appropriate, locally sourced filtration technology.
Who makes up your team and what does each member do by day? What are your educational backgrounds?
The Aquaduct team is a group of five Bay Area designers from IDEO, an innovation and design firm with one of eight offices located in Palo Alto, CA. We came together as a team of colleagues, passionate about the contest and excited to build something spectacular together. The team was composed of three mechanical engineers, one product designer, and one industrial designer, ranging in age from 24 to 44. Education-wise, we hail from a variety of schools: Dartmouth, UPenn, Lehigh, Stanford, and Santa Clara University. The response to your YouTube video has been incredible.
How do you feel about the publicity and what's next for this project?
The YouTube response and public interest has been remarkable. With more than 700,000 hits on YouTube, and the subsequent spread to other media outlets, we are thrilled at how much awareness and discussion the Aquaduct has created. We are impressed with the power of the Internet and the impact it can have in a relatively short amount of time. We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback and interest from many people who wish to support us and the Aquaduct going forward.