Ford’s prototype On-the-Go H2O system collects, filters and pumps water directly to a faucet hanging over the cupholders.

Ford’s prototype On-the-Go H2O system collects, filters and pumps water directly to a faucet hanging over the cupholders.

In an age of energy conservation, the car remains a prime source of innovation. From the increased usage of recyclable materials to the reduction in fuel consumption brought on by more efficient engines and alternative fuels, engineers work day and night to bring the automobile into a more sustainable future. But what if we looked at conservation in different way?

That’s what Doug Martin did. A powertrain controls engineer at Ford, he was inspired by a billboard in Lima, Peru, which condensed the city’s humid air into drinking water for the local population. Martin saw that the condensation from air-conditioning condensers, which usually drips onto the road below, can be used for the same purpose – and discovered that a car could produce more than 1.9 litres of water every hour.

“All that water going to waste should be recovered to serve a purpose,” said Martin. “The real vision is that this idea could eventually help people who don’t have easy access to water, in remote locations such as the Australian Outback, for example. I’m trying to make my twin daughters proud, and make the world a better place for them.”

Martin worked with colleague John Rollinger to produce a working prototype that would convert all this fluid into clean drinking water. The system, dubbed On-The-Go H2O, takes the water from a reservoir and pumps it through an 0.1-micron filter to remove organic impurities, then channels it to a faucet on the centre console cupholder. It can also be used to filter polluted water from other sources.

On-The-Go H2O would ensure that drivers will need to make fewer stops to buy bottled water, hence reducing the number of plastic bottles that end up in landfills. However, Ford adds that the benefits of the system could go even further, helping to alleviate the global water crisis – the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that it affects one in 10 people and leaves hundreds of millions without clean drinking water.

This, of course, isn’t Martin’s first invention – he holds around 70 automotive-related patents, and has been at Ford for a combined 22 years, having joined the company after graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. “I think it would be pretty exciting to actually see this going into production somewhere and make a difference,” he said.

Martin’s system is one of three innovations highlighted at the Further with Ford trends conference, which also included a passenger-centric Sync Remote Control system that could give ride-sharing passengers control of the infotainment screen, as well as a Carr-E transportable device that can move people and objects short distances where cars aren’t accessible.