Craft & Design Health & Biohacking


Providing clean water for all could be as easy as riding a bike. Or a trike, if Aquaduct has an influence.

Winner of the 2007 Innovate or Die pedal power competition, the Aquaduct Mobile Filtration Vehicle stores, transports, and purifies water as it goes.

“We came up with ideas ranging from ways to clean up oil spills in the Bay to how to boil an egg,” says Brian Mason, one of Aquaduct’s five designers, all of whom work at the Palo Alto, Calif., design firm IDEO. “But we kept coming back to the need for clean water in the developing world.”

More than 1 billion people lack access to clean water. Trekking miles to fetch it can take hours, and boiling it for sanitation uses precious resources. Aquaduct reduces the strain of hauling water, and its closed system prevents contamination.

Simply ride to a source, fill the 20-gallon storage tank — a day’s supply for a family of four — and pedal home, filtering all the way. Clean water drains into a removable container that can be brought indoors. Once that’s empty, the pedals can be disengaged from the wheels and the vehicle ridden in a stationary position to filter the rest.

“The answers are out there,” says another of Aquaduct’s designers, Paul Silberschatz. “Through design and innovation, we can find simple solutions to even the most challenging problems.”

The team, including Adam Mack, Eleanor Morgan, and John Lai, used 2D and 3D modeling to help them modify a Miami Sun tricycle frame, custom-build a peristaltic pump that draws water through a simple filter, and cover surfboard foam in fiberglass to round out the body. Simple sanding and automotive paint finished the job, explains Silberschatz, who, luckily, used to build race cars.

The IDEO crew donated the contest’s $5,000 purse — along with a $10,000 match from sponsors Google and Specialized — to Kickstart, a nonprofit that develops and markets new technologies in Africa. But they did ride away with something: each member got a brand-new urban commuter bicycle called the Globe.

Aquaduct in Action: