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Engineers Inspired by 'Star Wars' Make Water From Thin Air. Here's How They Pulled off the Miracle

A bunch of engineering students set up a start-up to build a device similar to the moisture vaporators in "Star Wars" franchise which extracted water out of thin air.
Cover Image Source: X | @uravulabs
Cover Image Source: X | @uravulabs

Climate change has led to major changes across the globe including extreme climate events, drought, heatwaves and floods. One of the most visible consequences of this drastic transformation is the scarcity of water in several parts of the world. The problem also arises due to improper management of freshwater resources which leads to insufficient quantity of water for drinking and agriculture. While there are several factors contributing to severe water shortage during the warmer months, a team of engineers from Kerala, India has tapped into science fiction for inspiration to solve the issue.

Image Source: CHENNAI, INDIA - JUNE 29: people living slum settlement from heart of the Chennai city gather near the Metro water supply tanker to collect the water for their daily usage on June 29, 2019. The locals mentioned they get water every alternate day. All the four major reservoirs supplying water to Chennai has dried up. The only hope for the city to tide over the water crisis is the water in Veeranam lake and the two desalination plants supplying 200 million litres of day (MLD) water to the city besides the groundwater. (Photo by Atul Loke/Getty Images)
Image Source: People living in slum settlements from heart of the Chennai city gather near the Metro water supply tanker to collect the water for their daily usage on June 29, 2019. The locals mentioned they get water every alternate day. (Photo by Atul Loke/Getty Images)

Kozhikode city of Kerala faced challenging times due to the unavailability of fresh water in the region, and engineering student Swapnil Shrivastav was also affected as he was receiving only two buckets of water a day just like his neighbors. Shrivastav had won a student competition a few years ago where his subject was tackling water scarcity and he had used a hypothetical template from the original "Star Wars" film, reported BBC. He decided to implement his knowledge and ideas by assembling a team of three who harvested water from the humid air.


“One element of inspiration was from Star Wars where there’s an air-to-water device. I thought why don’t we give it a try? It was more of a curiosity project,” he told BBC. For those who are not familiar with the device that inspired Shrivastav's design, the official "Star Wars" website mentions that it is called the "moisture vaporator." "Found on desert planets, moisture vaporators were stationary devices that could collect moisture from even the driest of atmosphere," the description on the website read. Those machines worked on the fictional Tatooine planet where the "Star Wars" protagonist Luke Skywalker grew up.


The fictional device is used to extract moisture from the air by means of refrigerated condensers, which generate low-energy ionization fields. Captured water is then pumped or gravity-directed into a storage cistern that adjusts its pH levels. Vaporators were capable of collecting 1.5 liters of water per day, so Shrivastav and his colleagues Govinda Balaji and Venkatesh Raja launched Uravu Labs, a Bangalore-based startup in 2019. They initially created a machine that converts air to water with the help of a liquid desiccant by absorbing moisture from the air as sunlight or renewable energy heated the desiccant to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then the moisture is captured into a chamber where it is condensed and converted into drinking water. The entire conversion process takes up to 12 hours and can produce about 500 gallons of drinking-quality water per day. “We had to shift to commercial consumption applications as they were ready to pay us and it’s a sustainability driver for them,” Shrivastav explained to BBC. The Uravu Labs continues to produce water for 40 different hospitality clients.


“We don’t use plastic bottles, we exclusively utilize glass packaging. Our innovative reverse logistics model ensures that all glass bottles are returned to us for cleaning, refilling, and reuse. This model mirrors the system employed by beverage giants like Coke or Pepsi two decades ago,” Shrivastav further told News18. “In Bangalore, we have already sold almost 3.5 lakh bottles in the last 8 months. This means that we already have a customer base that has tried our water, tasted our water, and is getting aware of the concept as well as quality." Now the trio's goal is to survive in the competitive market and make their products more affordable for consumers.


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