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Californian Couple Develops A Way That Allows To Make Water From Air

Doss-Hertz prepared to leave for a photo shoot and a visitor sampled a glass of their freshly made water.

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The Skysource/Skywater Alliance co-founders David Hertz, right, and his wife Laura Doss-Hertz demonstrate how the Skywater 300 turns air into water, in Los Angeles. VOA
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It started out modestly enough: David Hertz, having learned that under the right conditions you really can make your own water out of thin air, put a little contraption on the roof of his California office and began cranking out free bottles of H2O for anyone who wanted one.

Soon he and his wife, Laura Doss-Hertz, were thinking bigger — so much so that this week the couple won the $1.5 million XPrize For Water Abundance. They prevailed by developing a system that uses shipping containers, wood chips and other detritus to produce as much as 528 gallons (2,000 liters) of water a day at a cost of no more than 2 cents a quart (1 liter).

The XPrize competition, created by a group of philanthropists, entrepreneurs and others, has awarded more than $140 million over the years for what it calls audacious, futuristic ideas aimed at protecting and improving the planet. The first XPrize, for $10 million, went to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aviation pioneer Burt Rutan in 2004 for SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed manned space flight.

When Hertz learned a couple of years ago that a prize was about to be offered to whoever could come up with a cheap, innovative way to produce clean freshwater for a world that doesn’t have enough of it, he decided to go all in.

Ebola, UNICEF. congo, DNA, water
A boy runs past a dispenser containing water mixed with disinfectant, east of Mbandaka, DRC. VOA

At the time, his little water-making machine was cranking out 150 gallons a day, much of which was being given to homeless people living in and around the alley behind the Studio of Environmental Architecture, Hertz’s Venice Beach-area firm that specializes in creating green buildings.

He and his wife, a commercial photographer, and their partner Richard Groden, who created the smaller machine, assembled The Skysource/Skywater Alliance and went to work. They settled on creating little rainstorms inside shipping containers by heating up wood chips to produce the temperature and humidity needed to draw water from the air and the wood itself.

“One of the fascinating things about shipping containers is that more are imported than exported, so there’s generally a surplus,” said Hertz, adding they’re cheap and easy to move around.

And if there’s no wood chips around for heat, coconut husks, rice, walnut shells, grass clippings or just about any other such waste product will do just fine.

“Certainly in regions where you have a lot of biomass, this is going to be a very simple technology to deploy,” said Matthew Stuber, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Connecticut and expert on water systems who was one of the panel’s judges.

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The XPrize trophy is seen at The Skysource/Skywater Alliance offices in Los Angeles, Oct. 24, 2018. VOA

He called their water-making machine a “really cool” merging of rather simple technologies that can be used to quickly deliver water to regions hit by natural disasters or stricken by drought, or even rural areas with a shortage of clean water.

Hertz and Doss-Hertz are just starting to contemplate how to accomplish that.

Theirs was among 98 teams from 27 countries who entered the competition. Many teams were bigger and better funded, while the couple mortgaged their Malibu home to stay in the game. At one point, they were told they hadn’t made the final round of five, but one team dropped out and they were back in.

“If you say we were the dark horse in the race, we weren’t even in the race,” Hertz recalled, smiling.

Also Read: Dusshera In Delhi Casts A Dark Blanket, Air Quality Worsens

He stood near a giant copy of the check in his office while Doss-Hertz prepared to leave for a photo shoot and a visitor sampled a glass of their freshly made water.

Now, though, they are in for the long, wet haul.

“There’s no restrictions whatsoever on how it’s used,” Hertz said of the prize money. “But Laura and I have committed to using it all for the development and deployment of these machines, to get them to people who need the water most. (VOA)

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Refugee Communities Can Be Built By Tech Industries

Mikkelsen said the initiative was a win-win as it would also benefit companies by slashing costs.

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Refugees
Congolese families sit at the Kyangwali refugee settlement camp, Uganda, March 19, 2018. A California company is testing an app in Uganda that lets refugees earn money for AI training. VOA

Companies could help refugees rebuild their lives by paying them to boost artificial intelligence (AI) using their phones and giving them digital skills, a tech nonprofit said Thursday.

REFUNITE has developed an app, LevelApp, which is being piloted in Uganda to allow people who have been uprooted by conflict to earn instant money by “training” algorithms for AI.

Wars, persecution and other violence have uprooted a record 68.5 million people, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

People forced to flee their homes lose their livelihoods and struggle to create a source of income, REFUNITE co-chief executive Chris Mikkelsen told the Trust Conference in London.

Rohingya, Myanmar, refugees
Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

“This provides refugees with a foothold in the global gig economy,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s two-day event, which focuses on a host of human rights issues.

$20 a day for AI work

A refugee in Uganda currently earning $1.25 a day doing basic tasks or menial jobs could make up to $20 a day doing simple AI labeling work on their phones, Mikkelsen said.

REFUNITE says the app could be particularly beneficial for women as the work can be done from the home and is more lucrative than traditional sources of income such as crafts.

The cash could enable refugees to buy livestock, educate children and access health care, leaving them less dependant on aid and helping them recover faster, according to Mikkelsen.

Rohingya, Myanmar, refugees
Rohingya refugee women wait outside of a medical center at Jamtoli camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

The work would also allow them to build digital skills they could take with them when they returned home, REFUNITE says.

“This would give them the ability to rebuild a life … and the dignity of no longer having to rely solely on charity,” Mikkelsen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Teaching the machines

AI is the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

It is being used in a vast array of products from driverless cars to agricultural robots that can identify and eradicate weeds and computers able to identify cancers.

Refugees
In this Aug. 27, 1994 file photo, U.S. Coast Guard crew from the cutter Staten Island are hindered by rough seas in the Florida Straits as they attempt to rescue Cuban refugees. VOA

In order to “teach” machines to mimic human intelligence, people must repeatedly label images and other data until the algorithm can detect patterns without human intervention.

REFUNITE, based in California, is testing the app in Uganda where it has launched a pilot project involving 5,000 refugees, mainly form South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It hopes to scale up to 25,000 refugees within two years.

Also Read: Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Mikkelsen said the initiative was a win-win as it would also benefit companies by slashing costs.

Another tech company, DeepBrain Chain, has committed to paying 200 refugees for a test period of six months, he said. (VOA)