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Indian engineers create tech inspired by 'Star Wars' to solve the problem of water scarcity

When three engineers faced water scarcity firsthand in 2016, they were inspired to bring an idea from 'Star Wars' to life.

Indian engineers create tech inspired by 'Star Wars' to solve the problem of water scarcity
Cover Image Source: Instagram | @uravulabs

Science fiction has long been a surprising wellspring of real-world inventions, from the submarine inspired by "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" to the reported influence of "Her" on ChatGPT's voice design. More recently, the movie "Star Wars" provided inspiration for an Indian engineer seeking to address the severe water shortages impacting his city. The impetus for this innovation arose in 2016, when a devastating drought struck the region of Kozhikode, Kerala, India. As reported by the BBC, Swapnil Shrivastav and his neighbors experienced the drought's impact firsthand, reduced to rationing just a few buckets of water per day.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Artem Podrez
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Artem Podrez

"We were rationed to two buckets of water a day, which we collected from water tanks," Shrivastav shared. It had become quite difficult for people to manage that amount of water with the humid weather in the area. The condition of the area was one reason and another went even further back to 2012 when Shrivastav won a prize for his project on water scarcity. He has been interested in the subject for a long time. Now, the interesting thing about the project, apart from its future use, is the source of the idea. "One element of inspiration was from Star Wars, where there's an air-to-water device. I thought, why don't we give it a try? It was more of a curiosity project," the engineer explained.

Wookieepedia, the Star Wars encyclopedia, explains how waterfalls on the Earth as rain, but in arid regions like Tatooine, a hot desert planet, moisture farmers would use a vaporator to collect water from the atmosphere. The "vaporator" concept from the film served as the basis for the system they developed to potentially solve the water scarcity crisis. The water generators convert air into water with the help of a liquid desiccant that absorbs moisture. The desiccant is then heated using renewable sources of energy and the water separates from it through evaporation. It's then condensed and collected.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Chih Ming Huang
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Chih Ming Huang

The process takes up to 12 hours and produces 2000 liters of water per unit. With the idea of solving the water scarcity problem that affects several countries, Shrivastav and his friends started a renewable water startup called Uravu Labs in 2019. Their technique helps them generate water without waste, as per their website. However, it's still not financially viable. "We realized the tech still needs more time to scale up and come down in cost. Or someone should fund it, but we haven't found the support in India," Shrivastav revealed. 


 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Uravu Labs (@uravulabs)


 

"We tried non-profit and CSR departments [corporate social responsibility]... but many companies shy away from tech. They thought it wouldn't work. We had to shift to commercial consumption applications as they were ready to pay us and it's a sustainability driver for them," Shrivastav explained to the outlet. The startup currently supplies water to 40 hospital and industrial facilities, which use the clean drinking water generated by their system. They are currently in the process of making the process more cost-efficient by utilizing different materials. The focus is mainly on improving the efficiency of the desiccants. 


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Uravu Labs (@uravulabs)


 

Also, the new material is supposed to take down the heat required from 60 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius. Another pilot project the company is working on is data centers in India and Singapore, per the outlet. These systems generate a lot of heat that is lost. The startup plans on using it to power the water generators. "This process will result in up to 95% reduction in freshwater consumption [by the datacentre] as Uravu's system captures most of the waste heat and gives back cold water thus, very little freshwater is needed as a top-up," the engineer pointed out.


 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Uravu Labs (@uravulabs)


 

You can follow Uravu Labs (@uravulabs) on Instagram for their latest development.

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