The trend that sees technologies mimic systems or elements found in nature for the purpose of solving our real-life complex problems will not (and should not) cease. Nature is simply mind-boggling and biomimicry can provide design inspirations and techniques to optimise many daily products, like a self-filling water bottle – with help from the Namib Desert beetle.
The first time I came across the Namib Desert beetle was one year ago when I had to research rainwater harvesting devices for a water management course assignment. I already knew about the moisture harvesting and storing nature of the back of the beetle which had in turn inspired a the development of fog harvesting technology by the Institute of Technology in Cambridge to help ‘capture’ water in dry lands.
Now, a US start-up NBD Nano (Namib Beetle Design Nanotechnologies) is also following the beetle's lead. This tiny insect, a survivor in one of the most arid regions of the world, has taught this company a resourceful lesson in surface wetting modification technologies. The beetle is well-known for its clever means of harvesting moisture from the air by condensing it on its hydrophilic (water-capturing) back and then drinking the water by moving it to its mouth (courtesy of the hydrophobic - or water repelling - areas also located on its back).
Many product developers and surface researchers want to imitate this process and design a functional prototype to efficiently collect water in dry environments. NBD Nano is among them, building a prototype water bottle that they claim collects between 0.5 to 3 litres of water per hour. The team would coat the bottle in hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials (similar to the beetle's) to draw moisture.
Said the co-founder of the firm, Mr. Miguel Galvez, they want to bring this water-harvesting nanotechnology to communities in dry areas, to help sustain local household water supplies.
"So if we're creating [several] litres per day in a cost-effective manner, you can get this to a community of people in Sub-Saharan Africa and other dry regions of the world. And if you can do it cheaply enough, then you can really create an impact on the local environment."
Realising the potential of mimicing the beetle's water-harvesting processes, the team at NBD Nano have since shifted their focus away from water bottles to larger scale projects that convert steam to water and other bigger water-harvesting initiatives.
Have you ever experienced what it is to learn from our nature? See more examples here.