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Christchurch quake sparks innovative design idea for fast-response disaster relief

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autodesk cleantech seriesIn this special Cleantech Innovation Series sponsored by Autodesk you’ll hear unique insights from a number of entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovative cleantech companies designing and building solutions for a more sustainable future. See more here.

Innovation in natural disaster recovery

Natural disasters have always had an enormous impact on humankind. As climate change continues to affect the planet, the likelihood is that more and more people will be affected by natural disasters across the planet.

It was the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand that motivated Moira and Shaun Craill of LoooP Creative, a New Zealand-based industrial design agency, to create a product that helps natural disaster survivors access clean water, move equipment and provide basic shelter – the AguaPallet.

The idea had been rattling around in Shaun’s head for a long time following Moira’s experience after the earthquake.

“In some places it was difficult to get access to clean water,” explains Moira.  “Tankers were set up at the edge of the impassable areas, but people had to then carry the heavy water home, which was really hard work.”

“That’s what gave us the motivation to take this idea and turn it into a real product.”

Unique in its design, the AguaPallet is a multi-purpose unit that can be used as an alternative to traditional wooden shipping pallets – because it is hollow, it can be delivered to disaster stricken areas loaded with food, shelter and first aid equipment, before being unloaded and converted into a handcart that can hold 70 litres of clean drinking water in a sealed container.

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UNICEF and Socialab competition win

Not long after the AguaPallet started to take shape, the Craills entered a design competition run by UNICEF and Socialab called “The First 72 Hours Innovation Challenge” in which innovators from all over the world were asked to put forward ideas that would help the world better respond to disasters.

The competition, which attracted 300 entries from 50 countries, made the couple “think a lot more deeply about the product and it’s purpose,” says Moira.

Much to their delight, their innovative AguaPallet idea won the competition and Moira was invited to attend a mentoring trip in Santiago, Chile where the product attracted USD $15,000 seed funding, allowing the couple to continue developing their idea.

“We were thrilled to win and spend some time in Chile, where we built the first prototype,” Moira says. “Once we got the mock ups home on the plane we used our seed money to improve the prototype and design.”

The couple credit the competition process in helping them discover additional uses for the AguaPallet.

“We see a lot of advantages in how it can be used for more than just water,” says Moira, “It’s really designed for anyone caught up in a humanitarian disaster, but can also be used for years afterwards to fetch water, collect firewood and transport kids.”

Designing the AguaPallet

To help model the practicalities of the AguaPallet, Shaun used 3D design software provided by Autodesk through their Cleantech Partner Program.

“The support and engagement from Autodesk has been without comparison,” says Shaun. “We are able to tackle any design problem we encounter and have the ability to scale up the team as needed, without worrying about the cost of additional design tools.”

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The Craills say that, although working on the AguaPallet has to fit around their ‘day jobs’ at these early stages of design and testing, the support from Autodesk has enabled them to realise their vision for positive change.

“It seems a natural fit for Autodesk to get in behind these kinds of projects and it’s great to see them take a leadership role in identifying opportunities,” says Shaun.

“I’ve found that Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software has been good for quick conceptual stuff and design on the run; I went to the 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli in April, and I was able to continue to design the AguaPallet in Fusion 360 on my tablet while sitting in a hotel lobby in Istanbul.”

“Autodesk Inventor is a bit more robust for things like associative assemblies and component drawings. As we progress the project, we’ll start using more of the simulation tools to refine the design.”

Shaun adds that the importance of good design software like the Autodesk’s Fusion 360 and Inventor should not be understated for start-up companies wanting to impact lives.

“When thinking about it holistically, design is the process by which our future intentions become manifest,” says Shaun. “Design is about problem solving with intent, very little about it is accidental; you might get a flash of inspiration when trying to solve a problem – that’s the creative bit – but in my experience, that has always happened when applying yourself to solve a specific problem.”

The future of AguaPallet

The couple say that their long-held interests in sustainability, combined with their backgrounds in industrial design and product development, have melded nicely on the AguaPallet project.

“When we see humanitarian disasters on the television we look at it and think ‘wouldn’t it be easier for them if they were pushing an AguaPallet’; that’s the ultimate goal, to help someone out who has been forced into that situation.”

“It’s really an amalgamation of our personal philosophies, our design skills and our backgrounds – we want to see the product out there in the world having a positive impact.”

Since returning from the mentoring trip to Chile, Moira and Shaun have entered into a consortium with the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) to apply for funding from the British based Humanitarian Investment Fund, which enables people to get their projects moving.

“We’ve approached AUT to add depth to our team. By combining our design work with their analytical abilities, humanitarian and engineering experts, we now have a very capable team.”

As for other aspiring innovators with brilliant humanitarian ideas rattling around in their heads, Moira advises to hold onto the mental image of their project helping people.

“It motivates me to see a solution to the problem,” she says, “If we can use our skills and experience to help people, that’s the end game.”

aguapallet design

 

autodesk cleantech series

Looop Creative is part of the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program. The program supports clean technology innovators who are developing innovative solutions to solve the world’s environmental challenges. As part of the program, eligible companies receive world-class software to design, visualise, and simulate their ideas and accelerate their time to market through 3D Digital Prototyping. To apply for or learn more, visit www.autodesk.com.au/cleantech  

This post is sponsored by the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program.  

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