When Doug Martin read about a billboard in Lima, Peru, that turned humidity into drinking water for the local population, an innovative idea struck: What if cars could be a source of water?
Condensation from vehicle air conditioners, which usually just drips to the pavement below, could be used in much the same way. Martin worked with colleague John Rollinger to bring the idea to life, creating a prototype system that collects, filters and pumps the condensation directly to a faucet located inside the car.
Martin and Rollinger’s innovation is one of a growing number of inventions created by Ford employees in recent years. The increase in innovation – as measured by invention disclosures – is expected to reach a company record in 2016, topping last year’s record of more than 6,000.
The number of inventions isn’t the only figure increasing at Ford; the number of individual Ford employees creating inventions has reached record levels since the start of 2015, with more than 3,500 first-time inventors submitting new innovations.
“The significant increase in first-time inventors is a result of our push to drive innovation in all parts of our business,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, product development, and chief technical officer. “At the same time, we’ve ramped up global innovation challenges, where we seek new ideas company-wide and then – coupled with input from employees – see how we can further those ideas.”
Ford innovations highlighted today at the company’s annual Further with Ford trends conference include a passenger-centric, remote-control SYNC® system that could give ride-sharing passengers control of the infotainment screen; and a transportable device that can move people and objects short distances where cars aren’t accessible.
Martin’s idea to turn cars into a source of water boils down to the reality that fresh water is a scarce resource.
“All that water going to waste should be recovered to serve a purpose,” said Martin. “The real vision is that this idea could eventually help people who don’t have easy access to water, in remote locations such as the Australian Outback, for example. I’m trying to make my twin daughters proud, and make the world a better place for them.”
To test his idea, Martin discovered that a car can produce more than 64 ounces of water per hour, the equivalent of nearly four water bottles. Naturally, this means fewer roadside stops to pick up bottled water on a road trip, a nice convenience, along with fewer plastic bottles filling trash heaps. But the benefits extend much further, potentially curbing the global water crisis, which, according to the World Health Organization, affects one in 10 people and leaves hundreds of millions without clean drinking water.
Innovation comes easily to Martin, a Ford powertrain controls engineer who holds roughly 70 auto-related patents. After graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, he came to work for Ford. He’s been with the company for a combined 22 years.
This Ford innovator envisions a day in which people might say, “I can’t believe we used to waste all that water.”