- When you think of technology that came from NASA, maybe you think of orange flavored Tang or freeze-dried food or space blankets.
- But how about an endlessly hot shower with a full, high-pressure waterfall?
- Orbital Systems, a startup from former NASA industrial designer Mehrdad Mahdjoubi, has created a shower system that does exactly that, while using 90% less water than a typical shower.
When Mehrdad Mahdjoubi was in college, he landed an internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center working in the Mars program. Those in the space industry are deadset on sending humans to colonize Mars, and the notion has taken on an epic, even romanticized aura.
But what people don’t realise is that life on Mars, especially for those early colonists, cannot possibly equal the lifestyle humans have on Earth, given the lack of infrastructure.
“The whole notion about going to space is attractive,” Mahdjoubi told Business Insider. “But if they tell you’d have to wear a diaper and you could never take a shower again, you would think twice.”
Therefore, NASA works with industrial designers like Mahdjoubi in a variety of ways to help create human-friendlier environments that take into account the total lack of resources in space, or on Mars.
They don’t take showers on the space station, exactly – astronauts sort of wipe themselves off with a soap-like substance. One problem that engineers were able to solve is how to recycle every drop of water. Americans go all-in, too. Not only do they recycle so-called grey water used on washing up, they even turn their urine into drinkable water.
To do this, the designers for NASA created a special high powered filter. It removes any stray particles, as well as bacteria or other dangerous things, and returns just potable water.
When Mahdjoubi left NASA and moved back to his home country in Sweden, his time at NASA inspired him to create his own version of that filter, and build it into a shower for earthlings. His design uses far less water than a typical shower, while maintaining its heat and water pressure.
He has since launched a company called Orbital Systems to manufacture the shower and sell it worldwide.
Instead of a stream of water going down the drain, this shower constantly and instantly recirculates a fixed amount of water, typically a mere 5-10 litres, filtering it as it goes. It saves up to 90% of the water of a typical shower, Mahdjoubi says, and it tracks such statistics for homeowners with an app.
The shower, which is more than a shower head but is a whole kit-and-caboodle shower, currently costs $US2,500 and is usually installed during new construction or a bathroom remodel.
But as Mahdjoubi grows the company worldwide, he hopes to bring costs down to $US700- $US1,000 per unt, he says. and to make it affordable to enough to sell in some of the water-starved developing nations.
“We get a lot of basic reactions, like ‘eww, is the water clean? What if you pee in the water?'” he laughs (to which I pointed out that this is a question that, as an adult woman, never occurred to me to ask). The answer is the same, regardless. “We sterilize water.”
Orbital Systems has won an armload of awards for its design and has been certified by the Space Foundation as being a business built on space technology.
Plus, as a hot startup in Sweden, Mahdjoubi attracted the backing of two of the country’s most famous tech moguls-turned-investors: First Skype founder Niklas Zennström, who became a seed investor and mentor. Zennström sold Skype twice, first to eBay in 2005 $US2.6 billion. He and others bought it back from eBay and sold it again to Microsoft for $US8.5 billion, and now runs VC firm Atomico. The other big early investor is Peter Carlsson, a former Tesla exec.
Orbital has raised $US35 million so far.
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