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UW students Bethany Weeks, Matt Rogge and Brandon Bowman in London. Photo via the 3D4D Challenge.

A group of University of Washington students have won first prize in the 3D4D Challenge, earning $100,000 for a giant 3-D printer device that transforms waste plastics into low-cost, lightweight and energy efficient toilets. The machines also are designed to work in conjunction with rainwater barrels, bypassing traditional plumbing methods which often lead to leaks and failures.

The team behind the project are all involved in WOOF — a 50-person student 3-D printing club known as Washington Open Object Fabricators. Team members Matt Rogge, Bethany Weeks and Brandon Bowman plan to form a nonprofit around the technology, working in conjunction with the nonprofit Water for Humans in Oaxaca, Mexico to bring the idea to market.

The WOOF team with ‘maker’ and entrepreneur Bre Pettis

“We built drilling equipment for our own well, and then built our own pump out of plastic,” said Rogge. “There were a lot of parts that took a fair amount of skill to make.” A mechanical engineering student who came up with the idea after his years working in the Peace Corps, Rogge became frustrated trying to make custom parts for devices in areas where resources weren’t available.

Enter 3D printers, which allows users to create physical objects from basic designs.

The competition — sponsored by the U.K.-based charity — included six teams from around the world.

Advisors include UW mechanical engineering professors Mark Ganter, and Duane Storti, both of whom run the Open3DP Lab. The team tested the 3-D printer, which they dubbed “Big Red,” at the Milk Carton Derby at Seattle’s Green Lake earlier this year.

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