Lehigh University
Lehigh University


A tricycle built for H2O

Adam Mack ’06 (brown shirt, second from right) and four co-workers at IDEO designed the Aquaduct tricycle.

The Aquaduct’s big blue frame conceals the tricycle’s true beauty: a water filter.

Adam Mack ’06 and four co-workers at IDEO designed the machine to draw attention to the approximately 1.2 billion people in the world without access to clean water. Many have to walk long distances to fill containers with water that is, more often than not, contaminated, and then lug the heavy containers back home.

With a filter attached to the pedal crank, the Aquaduct demonstrates a solution to both transportation and sanitation issues.

Mack’s team created the Aquaduct for the Innovate or Die Pedal-Powered Machine contest, hosted by Specialized Bicycles, Google, and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The contest, designed to inspire unconventional approaches to environmental issues, offered prizes for the best innovations fueled by pedaling. Entries were submitted through a self-produced, two-minute film posted on YouTube.

The Aquaduct was awarded the grand prize in January 2008. Each member of the IDEO team received a Specialized Globe bike and donated the $5,000 prize money to a non-profit organization that develops and markets new technologies in Africa.

The IDEO team beat 101 other entries, including a snowplow, a computer system powered by a cycling team entered by MIT, and a blending, knife-sharpening, corn-grinding machine.

Mack developed a passion for traditional cycling when he moved near Palo Alto, Calif., to work at IDEO, a global design consultancy whose culture nurtures creativity. IDEO takes a human-centered approach when working with clients to identify opportunities for growth and innovation. In the past few months, he’s worked on low-cost water pumps in Africa and collaborated with a variety of companies in the States.

“My job has me wearing many different hats and working with many different industries,” says Mack, who now works out of IDEO’s Boston office.

It’s an ideal job for the former mechanical engineering major and prolific inventor. As an undergraduate, Mack and his childhood friend and classmate, Mike Psathas ’06, built and sold bed lofts to their classmates.

In recognition for their entrepreneurial venture, they received the university’s honorable Leonard Pool Prize. Mack also designed “SpeedVision” goggles that won Lehigh’s Integrated Product Development (IPD) Student Entrepreneurship Competition. His team explored ways to integrate heads-up display technology into goggles for winter sports.

Innovate or Die

When a co-worker sent an e-mail seeking volunteers for the Innovate or Die contest last year, Mack eagerly responded. The IDEO team met after work for six weeks tossing around an assortment of ideas for pedal-powered devices. Their concepts ranged from a machine that cooks eggs to one that whisks oil out of the San Francisco Bay.

“Then we thought, how cool would it be to leverage this contest to raise awareness about water-related issues?” Mack says.

The Aquaduct tricycle has been featured in Wired Magazine, Manufacturing Business Technology, NBC, the San Francisco Examiner, and several other news sources.

The first versions of the Aquaduct were constructed from cardboard and tape and propped up in IDEO’s office, allowing co-workers to make suggestions on their way to the water cooler. The team also sought guidance from industry experts and potential users.

“We weren’t necessarily out to win, but we wanted to put our best foot forward,” Mack says.

The final product has a peristaltic pump attached to the pedal crank to draw water from a 20-gallon storage container under the rider’s seat and through a filter. The filtered water is then collected in a two-gallon tank, which can be removed and used for sanitary water storage. The rider may disengage the pedals from the wheels to filter water without traveling.

Once the prototype was constructed, the team designed a Web site and a story line to accompany it.

“We created a complete package around the Aquaduct,” Mack says. “We didn’t just build a cool-looking bike. We put it in context of its use.”

Right now, the Aquaduct exists only as prototype and is not practical for mass production, but the team is discussing the concept’s potential with investors. Regardless of its future, the tricycle has had undeniable success in calling attention to water-related issues.

A clip featuring the Aquaduct has received nearly 800,000 hits on YouTube and for one week was one of the top 10 most viral videos on the Internet. The tricycle has also been featured in Wired Magazine, Manufacturing Business Technology, NBC, the San Francisco Examiner, and several other news sources. It’s appeared at various green expositions and at the 2008 annual Arkansas Earth Day Festival in William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park.

The flood of positive responses has been “surprising and humbling,” Mack says.

--Becky Straw

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin, Winter 2009 issue

Photos courtesy of IDEO

Posted on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

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