Extracting Water from Fog

Most of us take it for granted that water is as close as your kitchen tap. But that’s not true everywhere. Two scientists at MIT have a new method for harvesting water from fog, especially fog released from cooling towers such as those found from power plants. It turns out, harvesting water from fog isn’t a new idea. You typically insert a mesh into the air and collect water droplets from the fog. The problem is with a typical diameter of 10 microns, the water droplets mostly miss the mesh, meaning they typically extract no more than 2% of the water content in the air.

The team found two reasons for the low efficiency. Water clogs the mesh openings which can be somewhat mitigated by using coated meshes that shed water quickly. Even in the lab that only increases the yield to about 10%. The bigger problem, though, is basically only some of the droplets hit the mesh, and even those that do may not stick because of drag. Fine meshes can help but are harder to make and have low structural integrity. Their solution? Inject ions into the fog to charge the water droplets and impart the opposite charge on the mesh.

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Coaxing Water From Desert Air

From the windtraps and stillsuits of Dune’s Arrakis, to the moisture vaporators of Tatooine, science fiction has invented fantastic ways to collect the water necessary for life on desert worlds. On Earth we generally have an easier go of it, but water supply in arid climates is still an important issue. Addressing this obstacle, a team of researchers from MIT and the University of California at Berkeley have developed a method to tease moisture out of thin air.

A year after the team first published their idea, they have successfully field-tested their method on an Arizona State University rooftop in Tempe, proving the concept and the potential for scaling up the technology. The device takes advantage of metal-organic framework(MOF) materials with high surface area that are able to trap moisture in air with as little as 10% humidity — even at sub-zero dewpoints. Dispensing with the need for power-hungry refrigeration techniques to condense moisture, this technique instead relies on the heat of the sun — although low-grade heat sources are also a possibility.

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This Radio Gets Pour Reception

When was the last time you poured water onto your radio to turn it on?

Designed collaboratively by [Tore Knudsen], [Simone Okholm Hansen] and [Victor Permild], Pour Reception seeks to challenge what constitutes an interface, and how elements of play can create a new experience for a relatively everyday object.

Lacking buttons or knobs of any kind, Pour Reception appears an inert acrylic box with two glasses resting on top. A detachable instruction card cues the need for water, and pouring some into the glasses wakes the radio.

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Auto-Tracking Sentry Gun Gives Deer a Super Soaking

Things rarely go well when humans mix with wildlife. The problems are exacerbated in the suburbs, where bears dine on bird feeders and garbage cans, raccoons take up residence in attics, and coyotes make off with the family cat. And in the suburbs, nuisance wildlife can be an intractable problem because the options for dealing with it are so limited.

Not to be dissuaded in the battle to protect his roses, [dlf.myyta] built this motion-activated sentry gun to apply some watery aversion therapy to marauding deer. Shown in action below against a bipedal co-conspirator, the sentry gun has pretty much what you’d expect under the hood — Raspberry Pi, NoIR camera, a servo for aiming and a solenoid valve to control the water. OpenCV takes care of locating the intruders and swiveling the nozzle to center mass; since the deer are somewhat constrained by a fence, there’s no need to control the nozzle’s elevation. Everything is housed nicely in a plastic ammo can for portability and waterproofing. Any target that stands still for more than three seconds gets a hosing; we assume this is effective, but alas, no snuff films were provided.

We’re not sure if [dlf.myyta]’s code can discern friend from foe, and in this litigious world, hosing the neighbor’s kid could be a catastrophe. Perhaps version 2.0 can include image recognition for target verification.

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Living On The Moon: The Challenges

Invariably when we write about living on Mars, some ask why not go to the Moon instead? It’s much closer and has a generous selection of minerals. But its lack of an atmosphere adds to or exacerbates the problems we’d experience on Mars. Here, therefore, is a fun thought experiment about that age-old dream of living on the Moon.

Inhabiting Lava Tubes

Lava tube with collapsed pits near Gruithuisen crater
Lava tube with collapsed pits near Gruithuisen crater

The Moon has even less radiation protection than Mars, having practically no atmosphere. The lack of atmosphere also means that more micrometeorites make it to ground level. One way to handle these issues is to bury structures under meters of lunar regolith — loose soil. Another is to build the structures in lava tubes.

A lava tube is a tunnel created by lava. As the lava flows, the outer crust cools, forming a tube for more lava to flow through. After the lava has been exhausted, a tunnel is left behind. Visual evidence on the Moon can be a long bulge, sometimes punctuated by holes where the roof has collapsed, as is shown here of a lava tube northwest from Gruithuisen crater. If the tube is far enough underground, there may be no visible bulge, just a large circular hole in the ground. Some tubes are known to be more than 300 meters (980 feet) in diameter.

Lava tubes as much as 40 meters (130 feet) underground can also provide thermal stability with a temperature of around -20°C (-4°F). Having this stable, relatively warm temperature makes building structures and equipment easier. A single lunar day is on average 29.5 Earth days long, meaning that we’ll get around 2 weeks with sunlight followed by 2 weeks without. During those times the average temperatures on the surface at the equator range from 106°C (224°F) to -183°C (-298°F), which makes it difficult to find materials to withstand that range for those lengths of time.

But living underground introduces problems too.

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This Drone Can Fly, Swim, and Explode….. Wait, What?

You’ve probably heard of micro-drones, perhaps even nano-drones, but there research institutions that shrink these machines down to the size of insects. Leading from the [Wiss Institute For Biologically Inspired Engineering] at Harvard University, a team of researchers have developed a miniscule robot that — after a quick dip — literally explodes out of the water.

To assist with the take off, RoboBee has four buoyant outriggers to keep it near the water’s surface as it uses electrolysis to brew oxyhydrogen in its gas chamber. Once enough of the combustible gas has accumulated — pushing the robot’s wings out of the water in the process– a sparker ignites the fuel, thrusting it into the air. As yet, the drone has difficulty remaining in the air after this aquatic takeoff, but we’re excited to see that change soon.

Looking like a cross between a water strider and a bee, the team suggest this latest version of the RoboBee series  — a previous iteration used electrostatic adhesion to stick to walls — could be used for search and rescue, environmental monitoring, and biological studies. The capacity to transition from aerial surveyor, to underwater explorer and back again would be incredibly useful, but in such a small package, it is troublesome at best. Hence the explosions.

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3D Printed Tyres Let You Drive on Water

[Jesus] apparently walked on water, without any tools at all. But when you’ve got a 3D printer handy, it makes sense to use it. [Simon] decided to use his to 3D print some tyres for his R/C car – with awesome results.

[Simon] started this project with a goal of driving on water. Initial experiments were promising – the first design of paddle tyres gave great traction in the sand and were capable of climbing some impressive slopes. However, once aimed at the water, the car quickly sank below the surface.

Returning to the drawing board armed with the advice of commenters, [Simon] made some changes. The paddle tyres were reprinted with larger paddles, and a more powerful R/C car selected as the test bed. On the second attempt, the car deftly skipped along the surface and was remarkably controllable as well! [Simon] has provided the files so you can make your own at home.

It’s a great example of a practical use for a 3D printer. Parts can readily be made for all manner of RC purposes, such as making your own servo adapters.