Ernesto Escamilla who works the front desk at Hotel Indigo enjoys a glass of water from the SkyWell machine.
Paul Wellman

Though it sounds assuredly space age, turning air into water isn’t really a new technology at all. Refrigerators rely on the basic concept of chilling the nearby atmosphere into a liquid form, and even ancient peoples were known to employ massive sails in harvesting H2O from their seemingly arid skies. But by fine-tuning the filtration process and developing a slick, user-friendly device, the Los Angeles–based company Skywell plans to turn the technology into an everyday drinking-water solution for the office, if not a way to help save the world’s water woes.

Jonathan Carson, a cofounder of Skywell, said that “1970 sci-fi has become 21st-century reality,” as he unveiled the company’s “air water dispenser” during a recent event at the Hotel Indigo, where he reminded that Luke Skywalker’s character in Star Wars was a “moisture farmer” before becoming a Jedi. Along with cofounders Ron Dorfman (who invented the technology over the past decade) and Eric Kurtzman (Carson’s former partner at a renowned tech consulting firm), Carson’s goal is “to be positively impacting our global water crisis through focused entrepreneurship.”

During the September 10 event, Carson gave a TED-like talk to about 30 people in attendance as they sipped on Skywell water, flavored with blackberry and sage, strawberry and Meyer lemon, or grapefruit and rosemary. Most were from Santa Barbara businesses interested in buying the device, which can track how many plastic bottles are being saved and how much individuals are hydrating themselves. Plans for a mobile app are also forthcoming, and companies can post their own logos on the front screen for branding purposes. It’s also the hottest and coldest water available on the market, according to the Skywell team.

In addition to bringing a more eco-friendly and cutting-edge type of water to the masses, Carson believes this technology can help what he calls a “disturbing … global water crisis.” That’s because Skywell can both create water in places where it is physically scarce and, perhaps more impactful, bring a clean source of water to places where cholera and other water-borne diseases frequently erupt.

Carson claimed that there is more water in the atmosphere than in all the rivers on Earth, but also admitted that how much water can be created in a given day depends on the climate. For instance, Carson said that in his Santa Monica office on a typical day, the Skywell will produce five gallons of water, but in super-dry Las Vegas, it might not be able to produce any. When the air does allow water collection, the resulting liquid is treated inside the device with ultraviolet lighting in a three-step filtration process. When not in use, the water is shifted between tanks to keep it from getting stagnant.

There are a handful of other companies with this technology, but Carson believes Skywell has the most market-ready model and the grandest global vision for the possibilities, such as the 100-gallon unit that could even be used for irrigation. The basic model is now available in Southern California for $2,795 a unit (or one can be leased for $85 a month), with plans to expand elsewhere. So it may be only a matter of time before you, too, can, as Carson suggested in his concluding remarks, “pour yourself a glass of fresh air and enjoy the taste of innovation.”



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