18 \ Business Life \ February 2013
Segway inventor’s gift of clean water to Africa Segway inventor Dean Kamen provides Africa with clean drinking water with his latest invention by Rebecca Cooney The Slingshot device, which converts even raw sewage or chemical waste into cool, drinkable water, is named for the biblical story of David and Goliath in the hopes that little machine could defeat a giant problem in the developing world. One of the biggest obstacles to development in Africa is water poverty. Nearly one billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water, affecting not only health, but productivity and economic growth. When the Slingshot was trialled in five schools outside Accra, Ghana, for six months in 2011, the results Kamen saw were “unbelievable.” “By March of last year, we’d produced 140,000 litres of pure water in these five schools, we’d supported 1,500 school kids,” he says. “In the schools that we were in, the kids show up; they show up healthy, they show up alert, they’re not sick… Everybody loves this machine, every place we tried it.”
But the machine which made all of this possible started life as a by-product. “Like many things in my life, it was serendipitous,” says Kamen. “We were trying to create a dialysis machine that could be used in people’s homes.” “The problem we had is we’d developed a machine the size of a VCR, but you need 100 gallons of medical grade sterilised water to use it.” “And people don’t have that outside of a hospital – even where you’ve got clean water coming out of the tap, that still isn’t pure enough, and it’s difficult to ship IV bags to places a long way from a hospital. So we came up with this way of sterilising the water in a machine the size of a fridge, which can be beside the bed while you’re dialysing overnight.” “And I thought, why couldn’t this be used to provide water for people all over the world?” The Slingshot works by boiling, evaporating and condensing water, separating it from contaminants and killing bacteria. This technology has been used to purify water for years, but the central innovation of Kamen’s machine is its compact size, which makes it portable enough for use in remote locations. The device is also energy efficient, using less energy than a standard hairdryer to produce enough water for 300 people daily, and can run on electricity or diesel. It can also be connected to another of Kamen’s inventions, the Stirling engine, a generator powered by anything from methane and kerosene to decomposing cow dung, making it perfect for rural
“By March of last year, we’d produced 140,000 litres of pure water in these five schools, we’d supported 1,500 school kids...In the schools that we were in, the kids show up; they show up healthy, they show up alert, they’re not sick… Everybody loves this machine, every place we tried it.” - Dean Kamen, Segway PT
Published on Feb 15, 2013
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