Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prior Art from the Silver Screen

Prior Art From the Movies

In 1977, George Lucas released Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, forever changing the special effects industry and the public’s expectations of SFX in movies.
Episode IV was set on the fictional desert planet of Tatooine. These deserts contained scattered agricultural outposts. Wikipedia describes them thus:
Moisture farms are small agricultural settlements found in the deserts of Tatooine that utilize a large amount of moisture collecting devices spread over a wide area to harvest water from the relatively dry air of the planet. Luke Skywalker spent his early years living with his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru on a moisture farm. Moisture farmers harvest water vapour from the atmosphere, and use it to grow crops in underground hydroponic labs.”
Here is a movie still showing Luke and a moisture vaporator:
Fast forward 34 years. On January 11, 2011 Jan Vetrovec and Katerina Vetrovec of Larkspur, CO were issued Patent Number 7,866,176 for an “Autonomous water source.” Assigned to Aqwest LLC, also of Larkspur, the patent is classified as 62/235.1, which places it with other refrigeration inventions that subject a material to the sun’s heat energy. This invention is found within the patentECO Water Index.
Claim 1 states:
“An autonomous water source apparatus for extracting water vapor from atmospheric air to produce liquid water comprising;
a housing;
a closure to selectively open said housing to communicate with outside atmosphere or restrict said housing from outside atmosphere;
a sorption medium inside said housing;
a condenser forming a wall of said housing, said condenser adapted for rejecting heat in real-time to environment outside said housing;
a heat transfer element for heating said sorption medium;
a passageway for delivering condensed liquid water to the exterior of said housing;
said sorption medium and said condenser each being constructed and arranged for communication therebetween by a closed natural convection loop of air flow inside said housing;
said natural convection loop being operated by addition of heat from said sorption medium and removal of heat by said condenser.”
The Vetrovecs’ invention extracts atmospheric water through an adsorption-desorption-condensation cycle using a sorbent material to extract moisture from ambient air and condensing the water vapor driven off from that material by subsequent heating, followed by condensation. The condensed is collected and delivered by gravity to a plant to reduce thermal stress and to support growth. The invention is envisioned to provide, according to the abstract, “a sustainable source of irrigation water for agriculture and forestry, including areas where no water resources exist or are not economically viable. It can be tailored in size, and therefore, output capacity, reflecting the desired water requirements of a particular application, and can be used to replace most agricultural situations now reliant on surface water drip feed systems. The device is simple, rugged, invulnerable to rain, snow, and freezing conditions, and can be designed to last for many years without service as there are few moving parts and power required for operation is provided by sunlight.”
Here is a representative figure from the patent:
This is certainly not the first invention foreshadowed by movie fiction. eReaders, tablet computers, and iPads were also described in an even earlier science fiction classic — “2001: A Space Odyssey.”