An unspoiled ride: Bike that cleans water wins pedal-powered product design contest

Environmentalists have long advocated bicycle commuting as a way of reducing the harmful emissions from automobiles. But the winners of an innovative product design contest have developed a prototype for bicycle that also combats water pollution.

By Karen Dilger, contributing editor February 23, 2008

Environmentalists have long advocated bicycle commuting as a way of reducing the harmful emissions from automobiles. But who ever thought that riding a bicycle might also be a way of combating water pollution?
The members of
Morgan Hill, Calif-based Specialized Bicycles
Specialized used its Globe utility bike to generate publicity for the contest that challenged participants to create a pedal-powered solution for offsetting climate change. Other partners in the contest included Google , and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners , a San Francisco-based advertising agency.
The Aqueduct Mobile Filtration Vehicle was given the top prize amidst more than 100 qualified entries. The Aqueduct vehicle, which transports water and filters it while in motion, was designed to address the 1.1 billion people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water. The machine transports and filters water without burning fossil fuels or wood, which contributes to a reduction in CO2 emissions.
“The most significant part of the design is that it integrates both transportation and sanitation,” says Eleanor Morgan, a member of the team that developed Aqueduct. The system works by filling up a large tank that is stored on the back of the bicycle. A peristaltic pump attached to the pedal crank draws water from the large tank through a carbon filter to a smaller clean tank. Then, the clean tank is removed and closed for contamination-free home storage and use.
Before Aqueduct was created, the team of five brainstormed for ways to harness human pedal power for environmental impact. “We thought of ideas that could put out fires or fry and egg, but settled on water fairly quickly,” says Adam Mack, team leader, and an engineer for IDEO design firm in Palo Alto, Calif.
The team also was inspired by coworkers’ research projects on India and Africa. “In developing countries, women typically carry water from sources that may be four to seven miles from their homes,” says Mack. “Also, a family of four requires a minimum of 20 gallons of water a day.”
Working on a tight timeline, the team met once a week for the first month to brainstorm and collaborate. “Most of our work was hands-on with iterations done on-the-fly,” says Mack. “We story boarded our concept and looked for demographics. We sketched out our designs and dimensions and used a lot of post-it notes.”
CAD systems were used to model the design in 3D, and the team also used foam core and fiberglass to build the prototype. “We tried to consider usability in our design and what is most practical,” says Mack. The team split up tasks, working on projects individually before moving into the shop for actual welding and building.
Although the contest allowed the team to design for a real world problem, Mack stresses that the vehicle is not designed for manufacture. “Aqueduct is like a concept car—it is not feasible for the developing world because most of the materials are not available in African villages. Plus, we would need to do more testing and research to figure out how to implement it in reality.”
The judges, who included representatives from each participating company, were impressed with the quality and creativity of all entries, says Mike Sinyard, CEO of Specialized Bicycles. “Many teams completed at least 400 to 500 hours of research.”
“We wanted to create an awareness of the environmental benefits of pedal-powered energy and the possibilities of what you can do with a bicycle,” says Sinyard. The contest also hoped to stress the growing need to find alternative energy sources and modes of transportation by building solutions people can use to help make a difference.
Although the contest was geared toward university students and engineers, it attracted a wide range of participants. Sinyard attributes this to the promotion of the contest by Google, which advertised the contest on its Website and hosted video clip entries on YouTube .