When I moved to Japan in the '90s, the whole country was so hi-tech I felt like I was living in the future. Except for one thing: No one in my entire town owned a clothes dryer. My apartment came with a washing machine…and a bunch of rope and clothespins. My neighbor explained to me that since electricity in Japan was so expensive, no one used dryers when clothespins and patience could achieve the same results for free.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory also realize that clothes dryers are energy hogs, and this week they released a video showing a much more efficient solution they're working on. Rather than using lots of electricity to create heat to evaporate the water, they use a little electricity to create sound. Specifically, ultrasound, using an amplifier. Aimed at wet clothes, the ultrasonic waves essentially shake the water droplets right out of them, enabling them to dry a wet rag in just 14 seconds!
What I found especially interesting was their inspiration for the solution. Last week we Tweeted the following photo (in frustration that we could not determine who created it), and its message is apt here.
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That the researchers drew the connection between drying clothes and creating humid air obviously required them to be aware of what exists in the greater world outside of their laboratory. As with the architect who loved skiing, I think it's important for creators to have a broad range of interests, and to often look outside of their own fields of expertise, in order to create new solutions.