The Hydrautomat (a.k.a. 'Water Staircase') -- Is a self-powered water pump that was invented in the 1920's by Thomas Gaskell Allen. It uses both air and water pressure to lift water upward into successively higher tanks. It was hailed as one of the greatest engineering marvels of the 20th Century, even prompting famous physicist Sir Oliver Lodge to opine:
The Hydrautomat is a device that has a lot of promise for the world, especially for bringing water to areas where water pumps aren't readily available or are too expensive to operate.
What Is It? – The Hydrautomat is a series of interconnected open and closed tanks, which are powered by a vessel known as the Operating Tank, which periodically fills and drains to produce partial vacuums and pressures on the closed tanks above it. These negative and positive pressures cause the water to be cyclically pushed and pulled upward into a series of open and closed tanks. The action of the water being pushed and pulled upward in a piecemeal way had prompted observers to nickname the device a “Water Staircase”.
About the Hydrautomat – The Hydrautomat was found to be 80% efficient in terms of the air pressure used, and it's ability to pump water is proportional to the distance between the Feed Tank, Operating Tank, and the end of the Siphon. The distance from the Feed Tank to the Operating Tank largely determines how high water can be pushed upward during the pressure cycle. And the distance from the Operating Tank to the end of the Siphon largely determines how high water can be pulled upward during the suction cycle.
How Does It Work?
How Does It Work?
The Hydrautomat works by filling a container known as the Feed Tank (C) with water from a stream or other water source. This water is then fed into a tank known as the Operating Tank (D), which is designed to work like a piston when it is filled and drained.
When the Operating Tank (D) drains, the fleeting water will pull the air down with it, creating a partial vacuum. The Closed Tank (B) that is connected to the Operating Tank (D) by an Air Tube will also have a partial vacuum created in it by the Operating Tank (D), which causes the water in the Feed Tank (C) (which is also connected to the Closed Tank) to be pulled up into the Closed Tank (B) by the partial vacuum. When the Operating Tank (D) fills up, the water filling up from the bottom of the tank will compress the air inside the tank and push the water in the Closed Tank (B) up into the Open Tank (A). These two operations are controlled by an automatic switch that periodically turns off the supply of water from the Feed Tank (C) to the Operating Tank (D) during the suction cycle, and turns on during the pressure cycle.
How it all began
How it all began
Discovery of the Hydrautomat – I first found out about the Hydrautomat on a research website. I wasn't very interested in the device at first, but the idea of the action of a siphon being able to lift water was intriguing, so I learned more about the device and all of the possible uses for it. When I started to find out how important this device could be for the world (namely developing countries): I decided to build one.
With only a patent illustration, news articles, and excerpts from a few books as guides: I set out to design and develop a fully functional Hydrautomat.
First Prototype – The first attempt toward replicating the Hydrautomat involved using a series of plastic containers with small 1/4” vinyl tubes to transfer water from one container to the other. The design also incorporated a tank with a float switch inside to replace the lever-type switching device that T.G. Allen used. This switching device didn't work, and the rubber grommets and acrylic caulk that were used as bulkhead fittings would leak. So many improvements needed to be made.
Second Prototype – The second prototype featured many different improvements over the first. The first of these was the selection of components for the bulkhead fittings, these components combined connectors for tubing with couplings. The second improvement was the use of a 15 quart container with an automatic water feeder that was caulked with marine bulkhead caulk. This design, although more leak resistant, would still experience water and air leaks. And the caulk used for the device had many disadvantages, among them being: long cure time, inability to bond to certain plastics, difficult to remove, made a terrible mess, and the caulk would still allow leaks. The caulk seals on the Operating Tank would also break with very little force, as the caulk did not bond with the plastic container that was used.
Successful Prototype – I finally succeeded in replicating the Hydrautomat when I used a 2 gallon refrigerator bottle for the Operating Tank, and settled upon creating a container that held an upside-down float valve with a tray at the end that would act as a flow switch. The tray of the flow switch was connected at the end to a pulley and counter-weight, which replaced the see-saw type of device that T.G. Allen used for the original Hydrautomat. The device also had an improved Input Tank, and used check valves to prevent water or air from flowing back containers.
Current Hydrautomat – The current replica of the Hydrautomat is a smaller modified version of the original 1921 Hydrautomat, with plastic tubing and containers in place of metal pipes and containers. The lever-type switching apparatus that T.G. Allen used was replaced with a pulley-type switching apparatus. The whole switching apparatus is also housed within a plastic container, which increases the modularity of the device, as it can be taken out and repaired with ease. The Feed Tank also has an automatic waterer attached to it, so the flow of water going into the Feed Tank will automatically shut off when the water reaches a certain level in the Feed Tank.
This version of the Hydrautomat is essentially the same as the original. And is light-weight, easy to maintain, and inexpensive to build. The device features Flexible PVC tubing (which is much easier to handle than the vinyl tubing), plastic bulkhead fittings , and a 3/4” tube with an adapter to allow the device to directly connect to a garden hose.
How to Build the Hydrautomat
How to Build the Hydrautomat
The Hydrautomat is a relatively simple device and can be build from materials you can get at the hardware store, Amazon.com, Ebay.com, Walmart, and Mc-Master Carr.
The device can be made from many different types of materials (such as pipes, tanks, tubing, refridgerator bottles, etc.), but the simplest way I have found is to use sealable plastic containers, flexible PVC tubing, bulkhead fittings, barb fittings, and other plumbing accessories.
See the video to the right for more information. Click the YouTube button at the bottom of the video to go directly to YouTube.com, where you can skip to each specific chapter by clicking the links in the description.
The Hydrautomat is a suprisingly versatile device and can potentially fulfill a variety of different roles. Some of these roles include:
It's simplicity also allows it to be easily modified and even hybridized with other technologies to better enable it to fulfill certain roles. Some variations include: