Witmer’s inspiration from the idea came from his many camping trips where he cooks over open fires. Even though he cooks outdoors, the smoke from the fire still burns his eyes and irritates his lungs, which made him realize that the negative side effects are way more intense for people cooking with open fires indoors. In fact, more than 2 million people die every year because of indoor air pollution. Witmer wanted to use the Prius technology to help improve the air quality for people living and cooking in small huts.
Using a solar panel that was stripped from a Prius, Deeplocal engineer Patrick Miller created ventilation system that can be adapted to different homes, climates, and cultures while still being inexpensive to manufacture. The system built by Miller used an expandable metal dryer tube and custom hood that fit inside a small plywood hut that they built. The team made it clear that the materials could be easily swapped for pieces that made more sense for different types of dwellings in developing countries. The goal is for the system to meet the needs of a culture, not change them.
The solar panel on the Prius is a Kyocera solar panel that can generate up to 56 watts of energy. That big of a panel is unnecessary and too expensive to use for powering a small system in a hut, so Carnegie Mellon University professor Illah Nourbakhsh worked with the Pure Air team to determine exactly how small of a panel would work. Using dark film, the team blocked sunlight from the panel and tested how long it took for the fan to get up to full speed. At full power, it took the fan two seconds to blow up a garbage bag. Using just 12 percent of the power, the fan still only took 4 seconds, meaning that a 7 watt solar panel would do the same ventilation job as the 56 watt panel.
The real fun started when the team actually began using the ventilation system and testing the effects it had on the hut’s air quality. To make the situation as real as possible, Nourbakhsh whipped up a batch of traditional Middle Eastern kebabs for Witmer to cook inside the hut. Without the vent over the fire, the air sensors in the hut maxed out at 24,000 parts per million — an extremely high amount of pollution for such a small space. Once they placed the vent over the fire, the number dropped by half in less than five minutes, meaning that the ventilation system really does make a life saving difference.
Toyota donated $100,000 to CMU for continued research and development on the five winning ideas, and Nourbakhsh is very optimistic about the future of Pure Air. Within a year, he hopes to roll out a large scale prototype of a couple hundred (or even thousand) ventilation systems that they could test in the real world.
We hope that more companies follow Toyota’s lead and open up their technologies and innovative designs for others to use, because if the Toyota Ideas for Good challenge showed us anything, it’s that good things happen when you share.
Images © Jessica Dailey for Inhabitat