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Product Design

We speak to Edward Linacre, the inventor who won last year's Dyson Award

Posted by Rob Alderson,

There’s obviously a place for – and a very good living to be made in – design that solves the small everyday issues like making car seats more comfortable or bus timetables more legible. But many designers harbour ambitions to tackle some of the world’s most intractable problems and The James Dyson Award rewards some of this kind of inspired idealism.

Last year Aussie designer Edward Linacre took the top prize for his Airdrop invention, which extracts moisture from the air to produce water – a move that could have huge ramifications for drought-scarred areas.

As this year’s competition moves into gear, we spoke to the man himself about a rollercoaster 12 months…

Hi Edward, what made you enter the award?

Inventors from 18 countries compete, so I thought I had a snow ball’s chance in hell of winning. I knew that my invention was unique, exciting and a technology that worked well. Entering the invention seemed like the next step for me to commercialise my idea.

How long did it take from those first thoughts to producing a prototype? What stages did you have to go through?

The concept was born out the droughts that blighted Australian farmers in 2009. I found the solution in an unusual source – the Namib Beetle. It lives in dry deserts, but produces water to drink by condensing liquid on its hydrophilic back. 

To develop that idea into a working machine, I built numerous prototypes working in my Mum’s back yard, and I consulted a scientist on how to increase the volumes of water that the device yields. The solution was putting copper wool into the piping, increasing the surface area to take more water out of the air.

“Find a real problem, and forget the conventional solutions.”

Edward Linacre

How has winning changed your career?

The James Dyson Award has given Airdrop an international platform. I’ve had interest from as far away as Canada and not surprisingly Saudi Arabia. Airdrop still needs further research and development, but now I’ve proved it can work in an efficient manner, I need to scale it up to an industrial level.

What would be your advice to anyone thinking of entering this year?

Find a real problem, and forget the conventional solutions. Once you have your idea, prototype test and redesign – improving the design by going back to the drawing board again and again. Finally, make sure that you document the development process with sketches and CAD drawings, it brings your idea to life and helps the judges to understand how it works in practice. 

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    Diagram showing how Airdrop could work

The awards often throw up a host on intriguing designs. Previous entries have included a biodegradable plastic pocket which protects, brews and then stirs your tea, and a female cycling saddle called Curve.

This year’s award is open for entries until August 2 and the winner receives a £10,000 development grant and a further £10,000 to their university department.
Opening on 2nd February, the award invites engineering and design students from 18 countries to submit their groundbreaking ideas by 2nd August 2012. The winner will receive £10,000 to develop their invention and an additional £10,000 will go to their university department.
Entrants should submit footage, images and sketches using the link below along with stories detailing their design process and inspiration. The more creative it is the better. Their ideas will be scrutinised by judges around the world and Dyson engineers before James Dyson announces the international winner on  November 8.      

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

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