Beating out a fascinating list of other entries, the O-Wind Turbine has taken out the UK£30,000 (US$39,000) first prize in this year's James Dyson Awards. This crooked, vented spherical device is designed to hang from skyscraper balconies and generate electricity in the chaotic wind conditions of a high-rise metropolis.

Traditional wind generators are very efficient, but only when they're pointed straight into the wind. You don't see much wind generation in large cities, because the built-up environment plays havoc with wind patterns, causing swirling three-dimensional vortices where wind constantly changes direction.

So there's plenty of wind to draw energy from – urban winds can be very strong – but if you want to convert them into electricity, you'd need something that could take wind from any direction, including upwards, downwards and everything in between, and harness it into rotating a turbine in a constant direction.

And that's what we've got here. Inspired by NASA "tumbleweed" technology designed to use the swirling winds on Mars to continually push an exploration ball in a single direction, the O-Wind team set out to design an omnidirectional turbine shape.

The structure uses a more or less spherical shape, covered with vents that have large entrances and small exits for air to pass through. Thanks to Bernoulli's principle, pressure differences are generated that cause the sphere to rotate clockwise around a single fixed axis no matter which direction the wind is coming from. This rotational energy can then be used to drive a generator and produce electricity.

The team, from Lancaster University, tested their prototypes with a hairdryer, which was enough to prove its initial efficacy and win the UK national Dyson award a month ago, before being announced as the global winner today.

Team member Nicolas Gonzalo summed up the significance of the device saying, "it allows people living in apartments to generate their own electricity."

House owners have had the option of solar for many years now, but the O-Wind turbine could give similar power production capabilities to city high-rise dwellers in a world that's urbanizing quicker by the year.

We look forward to hearing more from these guys as they work toward commercializing the device.

Check out the turbine in the video below.

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