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Q&A with Core77 design winner: Pure Water bottle

Ben Kaufman’s company, Quirky, is all about finding great ideas from regular people and turning them into real, marketable products, and Core77 is all about covering the best and latest in design and technology. Throughout the Quirky series, we’ll be bringing you stories from designers, inventors and entrepreneurs who’ve either already brought their product from concept to completion or are right in the middle of that process.

Today we bring you the story of the Pure Water bottle, winner of the Core77 Design Award for Social Impact. Designed by Timothy Whitehead.

Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited, and why?

The challenge was to find a way of filtering and sterilizing water quickly from any source, anywhere in the world. While traveling though Zambia, I realized how much people rely on chlorine and iodine tablets, which take about 30 minutes to take effect and create an unpleasant taste. The aim was to create a product that was compact and light enough for travelers to carry, while providing safe, clean and sterile drinking water quickly.

I discovered that by using a big filter you reduced the amount of water the bottle can hold. Consequently, I opted for a compact filter with an ultra-violet light bulb to sterilize the water. UV has the added advantage of not distorting the taste. Another challenge was the energy required to power the bulb. I decided not to rely on batteries, and instead I used a wind-up generator, offering limitless supplies of power on demand.

What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?

I wanted to achieve a clever system which was simple and efficient. I became frustrated that the only current solutions for sterilizing water took 30 minutes and left a horrible taste, or were so big that they weren’t practical to carry around.

The brief originally concentrated on adventure tourists and aid workers, but I decided that I also wanted to make the product accessible for people living within the developing world who have little or no access to clean, safe drinking water. This meant that simplicity was crucial.

When designing this project, whose interested did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audience, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc.)

When designing Pure I focused primarily on its usability. I wanted to create a product that everyone could use simply and effectively. Cost was also very important.

Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc.)

Initially, I set out to create a better design solution to the problem I experienced in Zambia. I identified travelers and tourists who experienced similar problems and interviewed them. I was aware that the users didn’t want big, bulky units that couldn’t carry much liquid. They also didn’t want to rely on external power sources. Testing was carried out at Loughborough University to ensure the wind-up bulb was suitable to sterilize the water. In order to get visibly clear water, a filter was custom designed to be efficient, but also compact. The filter and the combination of the filter and bulb were again tested at Loughborough University. It was proven to filter and sterilize water and kill 99.9% of bacteria.

A mock up was then produced for user evaluation and testing. Simple electronics were made to measure the amount of winding required and to ensure the bulb was getting sufficient power. Once the handle had been wound for 90 seconds at the correct threshold the lights turn green to inform the user that the water is now safe to drink.

What is the social value of your design?

-13% of the world’s population still rely on unimproved water sources.

-Of the 884 million people within the African regions, 61% live without access to safe drinking water.

-Almost one-fifth of the world’s population (about 1.2 billion people) live in areas where the water is physically scarce .

Pure has been designed to improve the quality of life of people from less fortunate backgrounds. It gives them the ability to have safe, sterile drinking water anywhere and anytime. No chemicals are using during Pure’s treatment cycle which makes it better for both the environment and the user’s health. Pure combines innovative technology within a simple, useable form, making it easy to use correctly and minimizing user error.

Another key use of Pure is for natural disasters. In the aftermath of these events there’s a lot of water, yet people have no means of purifying it.

If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?

There’s a little work to be carried out on the seals around the filter. They currently work, but not as effectively as hoped. During testing it was found that some of the water leaked through. This is a relatively small improvement to the design but if it could be designed again I would address that area from the outset. Otherwise, I would not change the design.

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