Oasis in a box 

Oasis in a box 

It’s early morning, deep in the Arabian desert. A large truck lumbers into view, carrying what looks suspiciously like a 30 cubic meter dumpster, covered by a tarp. The truck stops before reaching a low spot lying between two dunes that rise up high along either side of its path. There’s sand, and the truck. Nothing else is to be seen for kilometers around. The driver activates the lift and pulls forward a bit, dropping the dumpster in the sand. He drives a few dozen meters away, parks, and walks back. A light sheen can be seen on his brow, only a hundred casual steps and a few moments divorced from the air-conditioned cab. He completes a slow circuit of the dumpster, climbing up to examine the tarp a few times. Inspection finished, he steps up to a panel at the corner of the dumpster. He taps out a short pattern on a touch screen, then pauses for a moment to consider the result. Nodding to himself as if in agreement he taps the screen once more. The low thrum of a large, well tuned air compressor washes over the desert, competing only with the wind.

In moments the tarp is shown to be other than what it seemed. Already twice as high as the dumpster – which really is a dumpster, if a bit newer and shinier than most – the heavy cloth continues to balloon upward, like a bouncy castle inflated by God’s own lungs. The driver wanders half way back to the truck, expands a small collapsable stool, and sits down to read a book.

After a while – a chapter, perhaps – the inflating cloth reaches its full height: a fifty meter tall wedge stands before us, its base neatly fitting inside the container it arrived in. Quantities of limp cloth on either end of the inflated section clearly indicate that it is but one of many.

The driver looks up at a noise: a dozen telephone poles are scurrying away from the dumpster like centipedes, spreading out along an east-west line. Each of the creatures is connected to the cloth by a cable; as each section of the cloth is pulled taut the attached centipede stops, scurries ten meters to the south, and begins to dig itself into the sand. Once the poll is completely buried, with the cable seeming to rise out of the sand from nothing, the robotic anchor will open up like an upside-down daisy. A hundred tonnes of sand anchoring the towering black monolith against nearly any storm. The man goes back to his reading. Time passes.

The nearly inflated wall bounces gently against its moorings, casting its shadow upon the container it arrived in. The heat of the sun has warmed the air inside, turning it into a giant hot-air balloon of sorts. As the last wrinkle is stretched smooth by the inrushing air, the sound of heavy straps being tightened is heard. The balloon settles firmly to the ground, anchored by cables that tighten themselves. The air compressor shuts down and the silence of a light breeze returns. A light bell chimes.

Stretching, the driver walks back to the dumpster, verifying that the inflation went as planned on the way. He climbs up the side of the now empty dumpster and reaches inside to grab the only cable still connecting the inflated wall to the box. He jumps down, pulling the remaining length of the thick cable out of the dumpster in the process, and plugs the end into a port near the control panel, then taps out a new command and steps away to watch.

More noises and the inside of the north wall begins folding upward, as if hinged along the length of the top. Reaching a forty five degree angle the wall-turned-lid stops rotating and locks itself into place. Like an expandable dining table, the lid extends itself out towards the south until it hangs over, and well above, the southern wall of the container. Supporting braces fall into position and lock, pulling a plastic barrier into place with them. The dumpster is now capped by a highly mirrored lid angled upward and towards the north, and sealed on the long south length by plastic.

Visible through the triangular open ends, white tiles cover the inside of the lid. Peltier cooling devices, much improved by the march of time and technology. The reflective material on the top of the lid is an advanced thermal radiator, its function is to radiate the heat from the hot side of the Peltier tiles. The cold side of the Peltier tiles, or what will become the cold side, face the inside of the container.

The driver types one last command. Nearly two million watts flow from the massive inflatable solar panel and into the container. Condensation begins to form on the cooling tiles. A drop of water falls.

It will take about five hours of full sun to fill the box, depending on the humidity. Nearly six thousand liters per hour. The driver is satisfied; he doesn’t need to wait. He’s done this every day for almost a year now, and he will do it again tomorrow, just a few kilometers away.

Tomorrow water will flow out of the container onto the sand, beginning the short journey into to the small valley. The first of many steps on the way to an oasis.