Businesses always swarm to South by Southwest, trying to come up with creative ways to exhibit their wares to the throngs in Austin, Texas. This year, you could find employees of a Japanese company taking showers in public.
Calm down ... they had pants on. These soapy, wet folks were demonstrating Hotaru's new portable shower, available in America in 2017 for about $3,000. According to the startup's website, the company is focused on a mission of "water freedom" to personalize water treatment so we — the Great Unwashed — can live anywhere. Hotaru told Gizmag they're named after the Japanese word for "firefly," not because the founders are big Joss Whedon fans, but because those insects live near clean water.
Let's start with the eco-friendliness of this device. Hotaru says the shower will recover 95 to 98 percent of the water used in every spray session. It does this through reservoirs in the unit that store and filter the H2O. By their math, that allows a family of three to take five-minute showers every day for up to two weeks. If true, that saves 150 gallons (568 liters) across 50 showers compared to a traditional at-home shower (which uses roughly 2 gallons, or 7.6 liters, per minute, assuming a low-flow showerhead). The filters themselves have a two-month lifetime, the only catch being that you need to use "mild body cleaners."
But you're not going backpacking on the Appalachian Trail with this thing. Right now, it weighs about 70 pounds (32 kilograms), and to even get cold water flowing it needs to be plugged into a car's cigarette lighter. If you want the comfort of hot water to burn your filth away, you need a power outlet. The plastic base holds 5 gallons (18.9 liters) of water. You attach an expandable, nylon tent that stands about 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall to the base. Finally, add a telescoping pole with a handheld showerhead. Once it's all assembled, hose yourself down with 60 psi of water pressure. It'll wash your blood, sweat and tears down a drain that collects the dirty water and runs it through those purification filters. Rinse and repeat.
So who's going to spend $3,000 to carry a shower into the middle of nowhere? The idea certainly appeals to those of us who want to go off the grid but still cling to the whole "cleanliness is next to godliness" thing. Right now it's a luxury purchase, albeit an eco-friendly one. However, there may be some future applications here that go beyond the glamping crowd. It's probably an easy way to add an external shower to your home, maybe for the pool. It would also work in a remote, outdoor location, so long as you had a power generator there, too. Military and disaster relief organizations could also make use of it on the go. Consider how welcome these would probably be in Flint, Michigan. Or for homeless relief organizations.
Hotaru seems to be angling for contracts with construction companies and space agencies, even showing a cartoon astronaut using one on another planet. But what will really be interesting is how the company can adapt this design into future eco-friendly modifications to our running water infrastructure. Imagine drinking water from your shower, or even your toilet.