Namib Desert beetlePhoto by John Cochran.

US startup NBD Nano is aiming to mimic the way a beetle survives in an African desert to create a self-filling water bottle capable of storing up to three litres every hour.

To survive in the desert, the Namib Desert beetle faces into the wind with its body angled at 45 degrees. Its hardened wings are covered in hydrophilic bumps that allow humidity in the air to gradually accumulate until water droplets form. These droplets roll down waxy hydrophobic troughs straight into the beetle's mouth.

NBD are mimicking the beetle's back to develop a bottle with the same water collecting idea.

"We see this being applicable to anything from marathon runners to people in third-world countries, because we realize that water is such a large issue in the world today, and we want to try to alleviate those problems with a cost-efficient solution."
— Deckard Sorensen, NBD co-founder

Here's a very early prototype sketch showing a solar powered fan to help air pass over the bottle surface.

NBD bottle prototype

Eric Harvey from WaterAid told the BBC that the prototype wouldn't be able to satisfy the needs of an entire community. "Even in water-scarce areas, communities need more water than what they would consume for themselves — livestock and agriculture in arid environments are very important," he said. But he went on to mention other potential markets, such as the military and outdoor/camping use.

Along similar lines is this Dew Bank project that won bronze at the 2010 IDSA Awards.

So much of what we design is inspired by the natural world. If you're interested in a couple of relevant reads, Maggie Macnab shares a lot of good info in her books Decoding Design (2008) and Design by Nature (2011).

Namib Desert beetle inspires self-filling water bottle, on BBC
Solving the world's water crisis with a beetle? On CBS Boston
Water bottle harvests water from air, on Astounde
Fog-harvesting mesh, on Ask Nature (2011)
Like water off a beetle's back, on Natural History Magazine (2004)
Beetle's shell offers clues to harvesting water in the desert, National Geographic (2001)