25 Nov Time to suit up
From Marty McFly’s iconic hoverboard in Back to the Future and Tony Stark’s personal AI assistant J.A.R.V.I.S in Iron Man, to the stillsuits from Denis Villeneuve’s new sci-fi epic Dune, cinema is often where we get our first glimpse of futuristic technology.
While some of these high-tech visions have gone from the silver screen to the real word (think self-driving cars and augmented reality), the stillsuits – worn so effortlessly by Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet as they transverse the desert planet Arrakis – are seen as some way off becoming a reality. But are they?
As climate change continues to heat Earth, it is possible there will come a time when our planet becomes inhospitable and conserving water will be vital for survival. Enter the stillsuit.
H²0 on the go
The benefits of the stillsuit are twofold: it protects wearers from external damage caused by violent sandstorms, and it captures any moisture that leaves the body and recycles it back into drinkable water using the body’s own kinetic movement – circulating it around the wearer to keep them cool and hydrated.
While recycling our body’s waste into drinkable water is not something that appeals at first, it is something that is happening right now on the International Space Station. For more than a decade, astronauts aboard the ISS have been using different types of technology to distil the water vapour in urine and use it to create drinking water.
The future is now
In fact, BioTech company Aquaporin has developed biomimetic membranes that incorporate aquaporin proteins to filter water faster and more energy-efficiently than ever before, helping transform water purification treatments in people’s homes and even in space.
While the stillsuits in Dune are made to be lightweight but durable, protecting the wearer from the extreme heat and deadly sandstorms on Arrakis, the concept of a wearable exoskeleton-type suit is not new either.
SuitX, a Californian company, has created a powerful exoskeleton suit that makes users stronger and less susceptible to muscle fatigue. The suits are being trialled in manufacturing and agriculture settings, where they can prevent excess strain on people’s backs, knees, and joints – and enhance productivity. And there may be more to come, with global exoskeleton revenues expected to rise from $392m (£284m) in 2020 to $6.8bn in 2030, according to a study by ABI Research.
While we will undoubtedly learn more about the stillsuit when the next movie in Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation is released, we may not have to wait as long as we first thought until we can wear one ourselves.