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September 14, 2009 @ 10:38 am
A Slingshot to Attack Clean Water Shortage

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In my previous “Got Water…” post, I discussed at length the freshwater issues facing the world in the coming years. Dean Kamen, the well-known inventor of the Segway and a number of medical devices, has made solving the water predicament his latest mission. In this recent article, he echoed my sentiments about the potential water crisis: “In your lifetime, my lifetime, we will see water be a really scarce, valuable commodity,” he said.

SlingshotDean has been working on the Slingshot for over 10 years and he and his team at DEKA Research have been continually improving the prototypes. The device has been demonstrated and field tested in Rwanda, Bangladesh and Honduras. Explaining the 2006 Honduras test, Kamen said “The machine worked very well down there, taking virtually any water that the people from that village brought to us,” he says. “All the water that we got from the machine was absolutely pure water.” The machine runs on a small amount of electricity (less than a hair dryer) and uses a compact vapor compression distiller to boil, distill and vaporize polluted liquid to separate out clean, potable water.

The name Slingshot is an ode to the David and Goliath story and each one is approximately the size of a large dishwasher, capable of producing 250 gallons of clean water daily (enough for about 100 people). Targeting small villages in developing countries, Kamen has also developed an innovative companion generator to power the Slingshot if need be. The generator can be run on virtually any fuel and has been demonstrated successfully using cow dung!

As is often the case with new technology, cost is a major gating issue. The Slingshot costs thousands per machine to build but Kamen would like to sell the units for $2,000 once they improve the engineering and increase production. His Segway was a commercial failure because very few people were willing to pay several thousand dollars for a funny looking, self-propelled scooter. Here’s hoping he succeeds with the Slingshot.

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