Every year home appliance giant Electrolux throws down a design gauntlet to students from all over the world and challenges them come up with some novel ideas for household gadgets of the future. The company has just announced this year's eight Design Lab finalists and extended an invitation to the public to get involved to choose a favorite. What sort of gadgetry do young designers think will be available to us over the next 90 years?
Thousands of designs from students in more than 100 countries have been submitted to the Electrolux Design Lab since it started in 2003. Participants not only get the opportunity to present their visions to a global audience but occasionally strike gold and are snapped up by R&D departments of influential companies. Even the famous Swedish titan, Electrolux, has employed a number of finalists from earlier competitions.
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Run with a theme
Each of the annual challenges has asked designers to work on a different theme, from the first "user-driven solutions" to last year's "designs for the Internet generation". This year's theme is "designs for the next 90 years" (to commemorate the company's 90th anniversary) and has produced over 900 weird and wonderful suggestions from students in more than 50 countries.
Some examples from this year's pool of ideas include a robotic kitchen assistant who would "cook meals, order and collect food, as well as interact with kitchen utensils and appliances"; a smart steam cleaner that "refreshes and cleans clothes" while gathering and displaying useful and helpful information about the garments being cleaned; a vaccine refrigerator that can keep over 1,000 doses at various temperatures depending on need; and a science fiction-inspired teleport fridge "eliminating the time and distance a person has to travel to buy fresh groceries or products from a store or farm".
The winner of this year's Design Lab will receive €5000 (about USD$7100) and a six-month paid internship at a global design center run by Electrolux. Runners up will receive €3000 (about USD$4260) and €2000 (about USD$2840) for second and third respectively.
The people responsible for the difficult task of choosing a winner will include Henrik Otto (Senior Vice President of Global Design at Electrolux), Nipa Doshi (furniture designer and co-founder of Doshi Levien design studio), David Fisher (Design Director of international product design consultancy Seymour Powell) and Marisol Manso Cortina (Manager of the Color Design Group at Nissan Design Europe).
The final countdown
The eight finalists will present their designs to the esteemed jury on 24 September at the UK's architectural and design show, 100% Design London. There's also a chance for the public to get involved in the competition by voting for their favorite design concept on the Design Lab page. The winner of the public vote will be presented with the "People's Choice Award" as other prizes are awarded.
Of course, this is not about technology which is available now, it's about what might be possible and what could be useful. Although some of the gadgetry on offer in the final eight may very well work now using existing technology, others will have to wait until innovations come along to make the impossible possible. So, what do the students of today see being the must-have kit of tomorrow?
Le Petit Prince
Martin Miklica of the Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic has set his sights on Mars with his Le Petit Prince concept. This autonomous, self-contained robotic device will carry plant-life as its payload. It'll seek out areas for optimum growth (a good spot for warmth or light or liquid perhaps) using on-board sensors and wirelessly communicate its position and progress with other bots so that they can learn from each other. Miklica sees the robot being made from synthetic plastics that might incorporate some form of nanotechnology to provide greater strength and resilience while being powered by the sun.
Renew from Louis Filosa of Purdue University in the U.S. is a smart steamer to help clean or refresh clothes passed through it. Sensors not only pick up information from the garments being cleaned and display useful hints on fabric care or suggest future purchases based on user style on the OLED screen but will also disable the device should a foreign object (such as a finger or hand) be detected. Excess steam is also removed from the blade area via a vacuum system and a WiFi interface offers numerous update and interaction possibilities. Made using recycled materials and adaptive to clothing technology of tomorrow as well as fabrics of today, the machine also benefits from being just a quarter of the size of current washing machines.
Sweden is represented by Rickard Hederstierna of the Lund Institute of Technology and his cooking solution, Cocoon. Banking on a growing world population consuming genetically-engineered flesh in the future, the cooker uses radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to identify the meal within and suggest optimum cooking times.
Teleportation has been a common feature in science fiction for a very long time and Dulyawat Wongnawa of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand sees it being a useful food acquisition, storage and disposal solution for the future. Using a touchscreen interface on the Teleport Fridge, shoppers can order groceries for either storage in the refrigerated section of the device or delivery to the tray for immediate consumption and have them materialize instantly. Inversely, there's no reason why such a concept couldn't include the facility to place waste products in the tray and have them teleported to a recycling or waste disposal operation.
Sticking with food for now, Germany's Nico Kläber of the Köln International School of Design furthers the idea of creating sumptuous culinary delights by examining food at a molecular level with the Moléculaire. The device will use a layer by layer molecular 'printing' process using particles from a host of diverse ingredients to produce two- and three-dimensional parts of meals. The process should combine accurate repetition of recipe components and simplicity for the user.
After a meal you could probably use a drink but with clean water becoming an increasingly scarce resource, future supplies could very well depend on devices like the Water Catcher. Penghao Shan of the Zhejiang Sci-tech University in China imagines his device flying around collecting airborne water droplets and then returning to a base station where the water is purified for consumption. Shan states that the purification process could even be personalized for unique individual health needs, with particular compounds added while the water is being made safe.
The Bifoliate is a dual dishwasher concept that solves a storage problem too. Toma Brundzaite from the Vilnius Academy of Art in Lithuania proposes a wall-mounted, space-saving system where diners would place dirty dishes into one compartment and set the dishwasher going. In the other compartment would be some washed, clean dishes for the next meal. Simply sliding the touchscreen door mechanism between the two compartments would ensure families always had access to clean dishes. Brundzaite proposes using ultrasonic wave technology for the cleaning process which would make the product less reliant on dwindling resources.
Using negative ions to clean nano-coated fabrics of tomorrow is how Zhenpeng Li of Zhejiang University in China sees the future of washing clothes. The Naturewash would clean or refresh clothes at the touch of a button and you wouldn't even have to take your clothes off while they were being cleaned - you'd just tilt the device like a chair, sit back and enjoy.
As mentioned earlier, most (if not all) of the design concepts in this year's final rely on technology that hasn't been developed yet. The concepts lack technical detail because it's simply not possible to dissect all of the inner workings of technology that doesn't currently exist. The proposals are visions of what might be in the future, which is exactly what Electrolux asked for.
You can vote for your favored design in the People's Choice Award at the Design Lab page and can also watch the entire event live on the website on 24 September.
Rather than providing commentary and opinion on the proposals featured here, we at Gizmag would be interested to hear your thoughts via comments, being mindful that the designs are very much future concepts.
Watch a video overview of the final eight entries below: