APU students create desalination pod that makes ocean water drinkable for ‘sea nomads’

Innovative Social Impact Project Champions James Dyson Award 2021

APU design talents create desalination pod for the sea nomads’ clean drinking water hailed

Design is often a silent catalyst and driving force in product innovation. The fusion of design thinking and creativity generates positive experiences for users in their daily routine. Most of the product designs are catering to the very specific 10% in achieving marketability. To create opportunities for the 90% statistic of people that have limited access to the basic amenities of life, designers always try to explore innovative solutions that can solve real-world problems.

Kudos to 3 young inventors from the School of Media, Arts and Design (SoMAD), Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU), who undertook a humanitarian mission by designing “WaterPod” – a sustainable seawater desalination pod for the sea nomads community that live along the coast, providing them with access to drinkable water.

The creative trio – Bennie Beh Hue May, Loo Xin Yang and Yap Chun Yoon were officially crowned National Winner of the James Dyson Award 2021!

The James Dyson Award 2021 national winners were announced on 25th August. The team received a cash prize award of RM10,000 and will now represent Malaysia at the international stage of the James Dyson Award, where 84 national finalists from around the world will vie for the ultimate global honour at the end of this year.

The James Dyson Award is an international student design award that challenges young people to “design something that solves a problem”. The contest is open to university-level students or recent graduates in the fields of product design, industrial design and engineering. The award is run by James Dyson Foundation which is based in Chicago, Illinois, the U.S.A.

Coursemates Beh, Loo & Yap who are in their second year of Product Design studies in APU, were mentored by their lecturers, Mr Saifullizan Bin Abdul Wahab and Mr Eekang Ooi. They learned about the reality of the sea nomads’ life through Ooi who works with an NGO serving the community.

After a series of brainstorming sessions and discussions, the trio decided to resolve the water problem of the sea nomads community that would help improve their living conditions. Currently, this community collects rainwater or barter for water from the nearest place where tap water is available. Furthermore, with access to a clean source of water, the nomads can also look into the potential farming of fruits and vegetables.

As for the design, the trio used the ‘floatation’ concept as a solution for the WaterPod installation. A wick system that mimics mangrove roots enables seawater to be absorbed while the shape of the product ensures its buoyancy on the water surface. The evaporation effects from vapours formed around the semi-spherical cover will eventually turn into water and flow into the storage chamber. Finally, the accumulated desalinated water can be pumped out for daily consumption.

“We’re excited about what WaterPod can do to improve their lives, and we look forward to translating the vision of clean water for all into a reality,” said Bennie Beh, co-inventor of WaterPod.

The students, with this winning award,  hope that it will help them to open some doors, as they wish to attract potential industry collaborators, investors and researchers to further develop the WaterPod to commercialisation. “We would love to see WaterPod being installed at the sea nomads community and make a positive impact on their lives,” enthused Loo.

“As the aim of creating this WaterPod is to provide clean water to the community to improve their livelihood, to be able to commercialise the unit will be a bonus for the sea nomads as a certain percentage of the profit can then be channelled back to work with the community,” said Yap, who regards design skills as not just about designing a beautiful product but used to improve and create an impact to the lives of people.

Besides expressing their gratitude to their lecturers for supporting them, the trio also appreciates the vast knowledge and professional skills they have gained at the university. “APU prepare us through a wide variety of skills. Besides learning the basic skills and tools for design and thinking, we are put through the different types of projects like the electronic and electrical product  and  furniture design, user experience, user interface and even automotive product design to hone our design skills.”

Thrilled by the achievement of these young innovators, Ms Christine Lim, the Programme Leader at SoMAD summarised, “the intention of participating in the James Dyson Award competition was to showcase their ideas and works. In the field of product design or industrial design, graduates need to work with various parties before their designs can be made production-ready.”

Ms Debbie Liew, the Associate Head of SoMAD added, “The success factor of this endeavour is persistence-of-vision from both students and lecturers. Their innate love and drive for wanting to curate world-changing solutions pushed them to improve their technical and communication skills despite the challenging times. The ability to never wanting to give up and not be fearful of competing nationally will give them great leverage in their careers later.”

As the university was also the Malaysia chapter Champion of the James Dyson Award in  2020, APU Vice-Chancellor Dr Hari Narayanan lauded, “It is a major achievement for the students and more significantly for SoMAD and APU. Winning this award twice is a testament to the quality, innovativeness and the depth of experience we have in the areas of industrial design and product design.”

Over the years, APU has had an excellent track record of producing highly employable graduates; graduates of SoMAD are no exception! SoMAD is equipped with state-of-art tools and capabilities and its programmes are taught by dedicated and highly passionate staff with prior industrial experience.

To find out more about WaterPod project, readers can click through for a video for it:

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