Science mimics nature once again as developers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) work out a new water-collecting device based on the Namib Desert Beetle (Stenocara gracilipes), which collects condensation from coastal fog on the bumpy surface of its back. It then tips its back and lets the water roll down into its mouth, an ingenious bit of evolution that allows the species to survive in an area with no flowing water and little rainfall.
Shreerang Chhatre, an engineer at MIT, works in fog harvesting, developing materials and devices that collect inland fog and make clean, potable water available to villagers in underdeveloped regions. Chhatre and his colleagues at MIT discovered that a design based on Stenocara gracilipes’s shell is ineffective on a large scale. To reduce water loss from wind currents (as happens with a solid object placed upright in the desert), the team have used a mesh design comprising bumps to attract water and trough-like channels to divert the collected water into a retrieval basin.
Currently the material collects about one liter of water per square meter of mesh. Chhatre and his colleagues are working on improving the design to maximize its efficiency. Though not yet commercially viable, Chhatre and the rest of his team believe fog harvesting can be an important and easily integrated solution to water shortages in resource-poor countries.