Water from air: how Ukrainians built a “smart oasis” on the beach of Dubai
Dubai launched a recreation area Al Mamzar Smart Park. The creators call it the world’s first smart park. There you can find smart gates without queues, virtual tours of the park, a VR training center for children and “smart oasis”, which the Ukrainian IDA team is working on. These constructions condense tens of liters of water per day by means of the sun energy. The city authorities signed a contract with the Ukrainian company for $80,000 for two such oasis. The editors of AIN.UA talked to the company’s founder Alex Prykhodko about how the idea of a smart oasis appeared, what is it, how an agreement was reached with Dubai Municipality, and what difficulties did the Ukrainian team face within the development process.
First IDA Team Projects
Alex founded the IDA Design Bureau (“Innovation Development Agency”) about four years ago. Alex had experience in the Unitrade Group, so for some time the company was engaged in distribution and selling Chinese brands in Ukraine. However, the founders were thinking about developing their own projects.
To be honest, the first attempt in this area was unsuccessful. The company took part in a tender for charging stations for gadgets that were held by the OKKO network. The client liked the concept. However, they had some difficulties on the way. “We worked with a contractor, because of which we were faced with a deadline, and the customer had been waiting for us for several months. When, as a result, the prototype was already created, it did not work on the presentation stage to the client: the engineers plumbed something in a wrong way, and we missed this opportunity. Although the concept of the device was good,” says Prykhodko.
The team then began developing a smart magnetic holder for QLYX phones, which was released in 2017. In September of the same year, the product was released on Kickstarter, where it collected almost $125,000 instead of $40,000. Immediately after this, the project was launched on the platforms Indiegogo (USA) and Machi-ya (Japan).
The team was overcautious: “At the time of the release, I ordered press molds and the production of all parts at my own expense, I flew to production site in China several times in order to double-check everything,” says the founder. However, still the company was meant to face difficulties. The software for the holder was written in Concepter, and according to Alex, it was delayed: it is still being finalized. They planned to assemble the devices in Ukraine, however, then decided to open IDA USA LLC in the USA, to establish production in Columbus, Ohio. This investment has not paid off. Due to delays in hiring employees, the assembly of the gadget was poor.
“We sent everything on time, but about 10% of backers’ comments sounded like, “Hey, guys, this is an expensive product, it should be of high quality”. Everyone for some reason thinks that Americans spend money thoughtlessly. We were repelled by the fact that the average American goes to his birthday with a gift for $50. In fact, when he buys something for himself, this is a maximum of $10 and he will also think 10 times before the purchase. If we understood this right away, we would do the product differently,” the co-founder recalls.
How did the idea of a “smart oasis” appear?
In 2016, the IDA team got to the water show in Dubai. Drinking water is produced by desalinating ocean water in the countries of the Middle East. This is a process tied to the coastline, because that is where a water intake is taking place and getting water in desert zones is very expensive. It also harms the environment, because the concentrates left after desalination are dumped back into the ocean. Technologies for alternative water extraction are in great demand here, says Prykhodko. Despite this, the exhibition hall was filled to one-third maximum, and most of the participants presented equipment for packing water in cups, cooler systems. There were no participants with innovative water extraction methods.
The team had the idea of setting up commercial production with the help of atmospheric water generators, perhaps even building a plant in the UAE. With the help of the Ukrainian business consul, the leadership in 2016 met with officials from the Sheikh’s office to discuss this idea. “We were told: “To begin with, it would be nice to see the concept proof of this technology.” And we started looking for opportunities,” says the project’s founder.
To demonstrate the extraction of water from atmospheric air, an oasis form was invented: Smart Oasis. This is a construction with live plants, which autonomously generates water and pours it into cups for everyone. The frame is designed by the Ukrainian design bureau, it consists of about 10,000 parts. The water generation system is Chinese, but the Ukrainian company has refined it and equipped it with its timers to turn on the generation system and issuing points. The solar panels manufactured by Sun Power with a capacity of about 4 kW are located on its roof. The system of automatic cleaning of sand and dust panels, automatic watering and cultivation of plants, as well as a cool fog system in the KB, were developed independently.
The power of the panels is enough to generate at least 20 liters per day and withstand the conditions of the contract. In summer, when the sun is bright, the daylight length is long, and the dew point is higher, the volume of water can reach up to 70 liters per day, but in winter it only reaches 17-18 liters per day. It is decorated with live plants and equipped with the function of “cool fog”: the frame contains ultrasonic nebulizers that break water into fine droplets, and the fans blow them out. A person approaches the construction, presses a button, and a cool mist sprinkle around.
It looks futuristic and solves the problem with drinking water, but in order for Smart Oasis to come true, the team has overcome a number of difficulties.
The first challenge was time. The team began to negotiate with the Dubai municipal authorities in April 2018. On July 25, they signed a contract, undertook to deliver the construction on it up to 8 months. But only development without assembly and installation took 3-5 months, says Prykhodko.
Secondly, it was technology. During the first demonstration of the installation, it turned out that the level of minerals in the water does not meet the customer’s requirement as it was 5-6 times lower than expected. Mineralization is measured as an indicator of TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). First, the company ordered a mineralizer for this from the Ukrainian company Ecosoft, however, it gave TDS at the level of 54 mg, and at least 100 mg was required. Now a team of IDA engineers is working on their own solution, according to Prykhodko, and the level of 125 mg was achieved.
Thirdly, it was for the money. Initially, the contract was signed at $80,000. However, now the budget of structures already exceeds $120,000 due to the difficulties in question. Only payments to two employees on site costs the company $300 per day plus travel expenses. “On the other hand, we tried to do more than promised. Our design should produce 20 liters of water per day, and maybe 200 liters if the panels are installed or connected to the outlet,” Prykhodko says.
Fourthly, there was a difficulty in the assembly and installation. Many things in the design (like the mineralizer) had to be redone on the fly and in a short time. For example, initially the construction had to be concrete, and the concrete parts were to be cast in Ukraine because of too high humidity on the coast in the UAE where the concrete would solidify for a month. However, there was no time left for casting and they had to redo the metal construction. Upon the arrival, it turned out that the customer does not have soil surveying. The team was told that the soil on the beach was sand, screw piles were ordered under it, but it turned out that the soil under the layer of sand was rocky and they had to redo geo-screws for this on the go. The team had to find a solution to strengthen the roof: it has a large enough windage, but the design must withstand any wind. The plants that adorned the oasis were supposed to be bushes of boxwood, but they were banned at customs, as a result the team took the local bush “elephant tree”.
Oasis in the storm wind:
There were also difficulties at the final assembly stage. A lot of things had to be decided on the go. “There was a very long story with a tap: we waited for it for more than two weeks after ordering. They were going to install the roof, the crane arrived in the afternoon, because the crane operator has a working day, and people are on the beach, despite the fact that the roof is 6×3 meters in size, with the slightest wind it starts to fly along the beach. I am even silent that Monday and Wednesday are women’s day at this beach, and men simply cannot be there. It’s just fantastic how many difficulties and accidents occur at the stage of development of such a product,” says the founder of the project.
According to him, all this was overcome thanks to the experience and expertise of the IDA team: the company employs engineers and scientists. The general designer is now working on his doctoral degree in metals and welding compounds, the CTO has two higher educations in the field of aerospace engineering.
Despite these difficulties, the idea of the company came true: one such construction has already been assembled and is working in the park. The second is going to be built until the end of February.