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A Fascinating Device Raising Questions

A new device collects water by condensation. It has revolutionary potential - but who is the inventor and who the owner of the idea?

Source: WaterSeer, VICI Labs

Water Seer Illustration
Water Seer Illustration

A simple, inexpensive device makes it possible to get clean, safe water directly form the air. The device is called Water Seer and can collect up to 37 litres of fresh water every day. It works without labour, power or damage to the environment.

The device extracts water from the atmosphere by using the difference between the ground and air temperatures. It operates through a turbine, which directs the air into an underground condensation chamber (see illustration below). Because the chamber is made of metal and gets cooled by the surrounding soil, the air turns into water vapour. The water then flows into a reservoir and can be extracted through a simple pump. The final result is pure, distilled water that is cleaner than tap water.

The development of the device into a final product is being conducted by Virginia-based VICI Labs, a type of venture capital firm for innovative ideas in their very early stages. However, Water Seer is presented by VICI as a non-profit initiative, which implies that it has decided to treat it differently than the other inventions in its portfolio.

Because Water Seer is a non-profit initiative, VICI could ensure valuable, and cost-free, support for the idea. The University of California (UC), Berkeley tested first prototypes on its Berkeley Gill Tract Community Farm in April 2016. Faculty and students of the UC's Jacobs Institute for Design and Innovation and Sutardja Center for Enterpreneurship and Technology worked on improving them until a final design was chosen in August 2016. The design selected could generate up to 37 litres per day (see video).

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Also, the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) agreed to field test the idea around the world for six months. Last but not least, being a non-profit helped ensure support for the crowdfunding campaign, which is currently running on Indiegogo. To date, the project has already raised USD 172,000 –  a multiple of its minimum target of USD 75,000. The funds will be used to further improve the design and produce a first batch of devices which will be tested by NPCA. The project's Indiegogo page implies that NPCA "and other non-profits" have also agreed to help spreading the device through "micro-finance and micro-consignment". 

Also, it is announced on the Indiegogo page that for every Water Seer purchased, another will be sent to a developing country. People can pre-order the device for USD 134 and shipping is expected to start within the next year.

However exciting the idea and its potential to improve life in the world's poor and arid regions, some questions remain: Who is the inventor of the device? Has a patent been filed and, if yes, in whose name? Why is the Indiegogo campaign not run by the inventor but by Nancy Curtis and Don Zacherl, who are the founders of VICI? Did they acquire the rights to the design? This would contradict VICI's stated principle to help investors turn their ideas into businesses. Lastly, how does treating the project as a non-profit venture comply with VICI's aim to develop for-profit businesses? Is it planned to turn the project into a for-profit at a later stage?

We will pose these questions to VICI and keep you posted on any answers.   

Update, 28 October: we have not received any answer from VICI so far.

Update, 31 October: a reader has drawn our attention to the following video which argues that the laws of physics preclude the Water Seer from working: https://youtu.be/LVsqIjAeeXw Also, the Sutardja Center of the UC Berkely has posted a disclaimer on its website referring to the Water Seer.

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The mechanism the device
The mechanism the device
WaterSeer

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