Can We Survive Drought by Imitating Cacti?

VISION: During periods of drought, buildings and people collect and store water by using synthetic panels that mimic cactus spines.

TEAM: Bailey Beatt, Maurice Hampton, Jackie Huang, Sam Scheib
SCHOOL: School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2016)

Desert ecosystems often have heavy fog in the early morning. Plants in those environments have strategies to capture the water in this fog before it lifts in midday—it’s often their only source of hydration. 

Understanding that desertification, and periodic droughts, may be a feature of climate change, students from SAIC wanted to design new systems for survival. For inspiration, they looked to self-sustaining organisms in arid environments, which led them to design Dewpoint, a cactus-like water collection system. 

The genus Opuntia, or the prickly pear, collects moisture from fog by catching droplets on the tips of spines and channeling them to the pads. The team created a series of products, including mountable panels, rooftops, and helmets, that biomimic the prickly pear. By adding slight modifications, such as bumps and vertical lacerations to the conical spikes, they were able to more efficiently move water towards the base for collection. And, by designing a fashion line, they even conceived of a way for people to collect moisture directly.

“We created a lighthearted collection of avante-garde cacti-inspired couture gowns embellished with Dewpoint spines. The Dewpoint gowns were meant to be outrageous and show-stopping while collecting moisture not only from the air, but also from human respiration and perspiration,” said the students.

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Cite this Article

Beatt, Bailey, Maurice Hampton, Jackie Huang, Sam Scheib. “Can We Survive Drought by Imitating Cacti?” Issues in Science and Technology (January 15, 2021).