He should know. Having won the Bright Ideas competition two years ago, Markham is only now on the brink of turning his flood protection invention into a commercial reality. “You need to prepare yourself for a long road in taking an idea from concept to marketable product,” he says.
He won the Disaster Relief category, one of 17 sections in the Wellington regional competition, which is aimed at ideas with a commercial benefit. The Hutt City Council-sponsored Bright Sparks competition focuses on environmentally sustainable proposals that benefit the community.
Markham, a council officer, says winning was a real confidence booster, but even entering the competition proved useful because it forced him to refine his proposal and think about market potential.
And he now knows the potential is enormous. His lightweight, portable barriers are the first real alternative to slow, labour-intensive sandbagging. They self-fill, using the very water they are intended to defend against.
Markham says there are endless uses worldwide. Anywhere prone to flooding could have need of a stockpile of his barriers: utilities to protect vital infrastructure such as substations, homeowners to protect their houses, local authorities to shore up flood banks, farmers to protect sheds, road authorities to safeguard routes near rivers or in lowlying areas.
Each plastic module is hollow and interlocks with its neighbour to form an obstacle against rising waters. The barrier can be as long as there are modules to lock together. The design’s ingenuity lies in the way the barriers can withstand the advance of water while empty, but fill up as the water level rises, forming a strong, effective defence against flooding.
To achieve this, there are strategically positioned holes and vents in the side facing the approaching water. A profile that tapers outwards towards the ground adds resistance against collapse.
Markham says a Weltec engineer tested a scale model against slow-rising water and it refused to topple over. Development is under way to allow their use on uneven surfaces. He is now in talks with a company about making and distributing the modules in Australia and New Zealand. He envisages they would be a metre high and nearly two metres long.
“Two men and a truckload of these barriers will be able to achieve in a hour or two what hundreds of volunteers filling sandbags couldn’t do in a day,” he says.
Bright Sparks organiser Geoff Stuart says the competition aims to draw attention to the range of talented people living in the city and their efforts to improve the environment.
The prize will depend on the nature of the winning entry, but may include up to $2500 in cash from local law firm Thomas Dewar Sziranyi Letts, the services of up to 50 volunteers and design and prototype work by Weltec staff.
Bright Sparks is open to Hutt residents, businesses, schools and council employees. Submissions open on June 11 and close on July 6.
Rules and guidelines will be made available on 11 June 2012.