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WC Retro: Watercone

watercone.jpg By Jamais Cascio, posted on December 20, 2005.

Universal access to clean water is one of the fundamental Millennium Development Goals, and inventors have come up with a variety of solutions for making non-potable water clean and drinkable. Some are shiny and high-tech, and others are terrifically simple. One of the easiest tools for making brackish or sea water usable requires little more than sunlight and time -- the Watercone.

Made of a rugged, transparent plastic, the Watercone is incredibly easy to use: fill up the base plate with salt water, place the cone over the plate, and wait. 24 hours later, a trough around the edge of the cone will contain 1-1.5 liters of fresh water, produced by evaporation/condensation. Pour the water out, and start again. Individual units are expected to cost around $50 apiece, although that will depend in large part on who manufactures them.

And that's the big problem. The inventor of the Watercone, industrial designer Stephan Augustin, is having trouble finding someone to make it. This is a bit surprising, as the Watercone has won numerous design awards over the past three years, has passed preliminary tests by CARE Germany, and is currently featured in the SAFE: Design Takes On Risk exhibit at the NY Museum of Modern Art. Apparently, previous licensing agreements have fallen through, and Augustin is once again looking for a manufacturer to bring the Watercone to the people who need it.

(Thanks for the tip, Corey Birnbaum)

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A first thought applied to this makes me wonder if this is a product that is too much geared for an individual? 1 - 1.5 liters of water is good for one person to survive on, but I can only imagine that the people who need this can't afford even the one. Which would be why I probably wouldn't invest in something like this.

Apply this to a grander scale. Design a similar evaporation disc that is capable of producing 20 or more liters a day so that you can provide water for a small villiage or a large family.

Posted by: jt on 5 Jul 06

You can build a similar device out of an old plate of glass or a sheet of clear plastic, using materials and waste found locally. Distributing plans for such evaporation filters would be far more effective than mass producing a new gadget.

Posted by: fartles on 5 Jul 06

The first thing that came to my mind after reading this, was, in a good many parts of the world, people suffer from salt deficiency as much as they do from a lack of drinkable water.

If this ever is allowed to become a tradeable item between the developed and developing world, this is going to create trading networks between those with salty water and those without access to cheap salt. And that is going to be equally as useful as the fact it produces 1.5 liters of water from brackish water, courtesy of the sun.

Posted by: Wesley Parish on 6 Jul 06

$50 for two pieces of plastic! This pricing is nuts AND makes it unaffordable.

Posted by: Robert Tolmach on 7 Jul 06



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