Competition yields several new viable computer concepts

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January 16, 2006 In years to come, people will no doubt scoff at the primitive early form factors of the computer. As the miniaturisation of computers continues, there is no imperative for there to be any particular visible form for any part of the computer other than input and display facilities, and both of those aspects are clearly in the early stages of their evolution too. Accordingly, if you’d like to stretch the brain cells about what the future of the PC might look like, the recent Microsoft/IDSA-sponsored competition to rethink the Windows-based PC experience threw up a number of interesting ideas and the site is well worth a look. The Judges' Award went to a doozie of a design named Bookshelf that was developed by two Purdue University industrial designers

The Bookshelf was selected by a panel of IDSA-member judges from the International PC and industrial design community, and it shows (IDSA stands for "The Industrial Designers Society of America"), for although there are many fine ideas, all of which can be examined in detail by genre here, we think the Bookshelf can and will find commercial success.

Four award winners emerged from the plethora of ideas, with two Grand Prizes, each of US$50,000 (one selected by an IDSA-member panel and one by Bill Gates himself) and two public choice awards each of US$25,000.

The sChOOL pack, designed by Prashant Kumar Chandra of New Delhi, India, received the Chairman's Award, selected by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect , Bill Gates.


The Bookshelf concept computer eliminates the most common problems – digital copyrights and inconvenient accessibility – in the multimedia entertainment business today, says graduate student Sungho "Oho" Son. Son teamed with Scott Shim, a professor of visual and performing arts, to design the Bookshelf.

"How this computer is used closely resembles the traditional use of a bookshelf," says Son, a second-year graduate student from Seoul, South Korea. "Digital contents are downloaded through subscriptions, then arranged in each hardware attachment, which are provided by the subscription's service. The physical configuration of the unit permits users to visually navigate the categories of content as they do with books on a bookshelf.

"Up until now, personal computer designs seemed to be based on the issues of processing speed or performance rather than the user's convenience."

The personal computer physically resembles a bookshelf and functions like a bookshelf as books and magazines – or in this case, hardware – are placed on it. The foundation of the computer is its central processing unit, which is a 7-inch cube. The Bookshelf operates with add-on hard drive attachments that are supplied by digital service providers so they can protect copyrights while still accommodating user convenience and portability. The hardware attachments – containing multiple movies, games, or magazines – will vary in width, but its other dimensions will be the same as the Bookshelf cube. As the hardware attachments are added, the Bookshelf becomes its own multimedia library custom-built by its owner. For example, users can watch movies by connecting to a television or computer monitor.

All the components sit on a shelf where they are held in place with latched bookends. This is made possible by the universal design of the hardware attachments, which feature sidelocking mechanisms.

Son realized the need for such a computer while helping a friend with a large digital video disc collection move. Last spring, Son began researching designs and products available on the market, and he even spent time in cafés and libraries to observe laptop users.

"We didn't just want to focus on the aesthetics, because we wanted to create a solid business model," says Shim, adviser and team member for this project. "The basis of this concept is to provide a model that users can personalize and configure as part of their own system in this digital era."

One of the greatest concerns in the computer and digital industries today is copyright, Shim says. Studies show that consumers are more likely to disregard the ownership and copyright of digital contents because such files lack the physical properties of format media such as compact discs (CDs), laser discs (LDs) or digital video discs (DVDs).

"Because of the Bookshelf design, users comprehend the psychological aspect of ownership to secure copyright," Shim says. "It's just like owning a book."

Shim and Son are looking into bringing the computer design to market. The design they submitted to the competition was rendered with Alias Image Studio software.

Purdue's industrial design program is part of the Patti and Rusty Rueff Department of Visual and Performing Arts. Purdue industrial design graduates have found jobs in corporations and consulting firms focusing on the design and development of products for manufacturing. Industrial design students also have worked in transportation, commercial and residential equipment, recreation, medical equipment, electronics and exhibits.

Son earned a bachelor's degree in industrial design from Kookmin University in South Korea. Before coming to Purdue, he worked at the Daewoo Electronics Design Center in Seoul and was senior designer at a design consultancy firm for five years.

Son and Shim were colleagues at Daewoo Electronics Design Center, where Shim worked for six years before coming to Purdue in 2003. He earned his bachelor's degree in industrial design from the University of Illinois-Chicago and a master's degree in design development from Ohio State University.

Shim also was part of a team last spring that won the grand prize at the Ninth International Bicycle Design Competition in Taiwan with a new design called SHIFT. The design, which topped 853 entrants from 56 countries to win the $15,000 prize, looks like a tricycle, but as the child gains momentum and learns to balance, the two rear wheels shift inward to merge into one wheel. This causes the balance to gradually shift from the bicycle to the child. SHIFT also was included among the most innovative inventions in 2005 by Time magazine.


The sChOOL is targeted at the massive market of school and college students and the idea behind the sChOOL is that it replaces a conventional "school bag" with all its books, note taking pads, pencils etcetera with a trendy compact PC. The sChOOL makes use of both "laptop" and "tablet PC" functionality but many aspects of the Pcs functionality can be limited to cater for those school markets where teachers and parents insist that the learning process must mimic conventional methods of schooling. e.g. a student making notes in a notebook rather than simply copying them from a word document. Similarly, the sChOOL would be crippled in some connectivity aspects in an effort to prevent young students from seeing and experience things they are not supposed to see. There are some interesting aspects to this computer beyond trying to solve the myopic problems of the educational system and it is definitely worth a look.

The Public's Choice Awards were selected via the virtual showroom last November and went to designs named janet, which is a completely new concept of navigation and communication at your fingertips and BE free.

The BE free Pc is designed for frequent travellers who wish to be able to enjoy all aspects of digital entertainment as if they were in the comfort of their home.

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