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YouTubers create a Dune-like real life Stillsuit

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Stillsuits are suits that can, supposedly, infinitely recycle your body’s precious water to help you survive extreme environments.

 

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In Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, water is so scarce on planet Arrakis that it’s absolutely sacred to the desert-dwelling Fremen, who wear special Stillsuits that capture and recycle nearly all their body fluids. Now, a YouTuber has built one for real.

 

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In first Dune book, which has recently been made into a two-part movie epic, planetologist Liet Kynes explains the stillsuit to Duke Leto Atreiades as follows:

“It’s basically a micro-sandwich – a high-efficiency filter and heat-exchange system. The skin-contact layer’s porous. Perspiration passes through it, having cooled the body… near-normal evaporation process. The next two layers… include heat exchange filaments and salt precipitators. Salt’s reclaimed. Motions of the body, especially breathing and some osmotic action provide the pumping force. Reclaimed water circulates to catch pockets from which you draw it through this tube in the clip at your neck… Urine and feces are processed in the thigh pads. In the open desert, you wear this filter across your face, this tube in the nostrils with these plugs to ensure a tight fit. Breathe in through the mouth filter, out through the nose tube. With a Fremen suit in good working order, you won’t lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day…”

And thus was a “one day build” project launched for YouTube channel Hacksmith Industries. Movie-inspired builds are certainly a theme for these guys; they’ve previously built versions of Thor’s Stormbreaker AxeCaptain America’s electromagnetic shield, and a plasma-powered lightsaber that burns through doors, flesh and plastic stormtroopers at 4,000 degrees.

 

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The scope of these guys’ projects is sometimes way beyond what you’d expect, and the stillsuit project is a much more humble enterprise, but certainly a fascinating concept. Can body fluids really be captured, filtered and recycled into drinking water in a practical way?

Well, first things first: the team left the urine and faeces recycling to the Fremen. This suit is limited to two body fluids: sweat, and the moisture in the wearer’s breath. Our disappointment is immeasurable, but we shall persist.

In other ways, the new suit’s pretty true to the source material, though. The team starts out with what’s effectively a waterproof bag-suit, and installs a heat exchanger in the back, powered by a small LiPo battery pack. This presents a cold surface on the interior of the suit, onto which any humidity can condense, and then drip down into a catchment bottle.

Then, a one-way filter mask is attached to a tube, such that the wearer can breathe in fresh (filtered) air, but then as they breathe out, that warm, moist air is sent back down into the suit and blown directly over the condenser element to have its water content harvested.

 

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The catchment bottle feeds a CamelBak bladder, and the CamelBak’s nozzle is run back into the mask where the wearer can drink from it, with a four-stage water filter set inline to make the whole thing a tad more palatable. A quick test shows the concept does indeed produce some drinking water, which apparently tastes no worse than CamelBak water does at the best of times.

For the final suit, most of this gear remains, but the suit itself is switched out for a more form-fitting plastic clean-room bunny suit, over which it’s possible to fit a stillsuit costume. The final result might not pass muster stood next to Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet – particularly the bulky gas mask on the front, but it’s not a terrible look. Check it out:

 

 

Does it work? Yes, to a degree. Under exercise and sauna testing, Hacksmith’s head of video production “Darryl” certainly generates enough moisture to sip on. But the suit definitely has its limitations; it can only harvest moisture from humidity at the back of Darryl’s neck, so I presume the bulk of the sweat he generates is simply rolling down the inside of the bunny suit and sloshing around his ankles. So there’s work to be done to get down to that famous thimbleful a day.

 

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Still, it’s a fun project – and one that might have some relevance as humanity prepares to spend more time working in spacesuits on the Moon in the next few years, and working towards setting up a Mars colony. The International Space Station currently manages to recycle some 98% of all water used by astronauts on board, and the more we expect astronauts to be doing in space suits, the more important it’ll be to retain as much of that precious water as possible.

Source: Hacksmith

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