These projects are beyond our scope of vision, I think every design student should see what is on the other side. It opens the door to making the impossible a possibility of hope.
– Armie Pasa and Gabriel La ‘O, Agua Pura Product Designers
The Agua Pura Project started with field research in rural Guatemala in summer 2007 as part of a student team project developed in Professor Ken Pickar’s “Design for Development/Product Design for the Developing World” , an ongoing course at the California Institute of Technology that partners with Designmatters and the Product Design Departments at Art Center on an ongoing basis. The class typically engages multidisciplinary teams that focus on social impact innovations with bottom of the pyramid applications. In the case of Agua Pura, the project continued as an independent study over the course of two academic terms through spring 2008, thanks to funding by a grant from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California secured through Designmatters.
The chief goal of the innovation proposed by Agua Pura is to develop a practical, low-cost solar-powered system that passively purifies water while storing it. Based on the initial field research, the student team led several months of ideation that have yielded a series of prototypes that allow Impure water to be pumped into a treatment area where the sun’s heat evaporates it into vapor, making it condense on a clear surface. As the water beads up and builds up it eventually drips down into a clean water storage area. The chief objective is to allow for purified water to be either collected or routed into an indoor container.
As a student project that originated in the classroom, and that has now migrated into a longer-term venture with scalable applications and impact (the team is currently in the process of testing versions of the final prototype for relevant use beyond rural communities in Guatemala) Agua Pura represents a solid case study for the promising framework that exists to incubate socially beneficial enterprises when academic environments open up to partnership across institutions, organizations and disciplines–in this case engineering, design, a public sector funder, and community-based recipients of the innovation.
Agua Pura and the partnership between design and engineering was profiled by the blog AshokaTech, an initiative of Ashoka and The Lemelson Foundation, which captures projects about technology and invention within the realm of social entrepreneurship.