This year’s James Dyson Award provided potential entrants with a pretty broad brief – develop a problem solving invention. The international jury has now whittled down the 501 entries received from university students hailing from 18 countries around the world to 15 finalists. We take a look at the projects still in the running to claim a slice of the £20,000+ (US$32,385+) prize pool up for grabs.

The BETH Project from U.S.A.

Designed to overcome the problem of ill-fitting prosthetic sockets endured by amputees around the world, the BETH Project’s prosthetic socket uses an elastomeric bladder filled with a jammable material that conforms to the shape of the amputee’s residual limb. The concept is similar to the
universal robotic gripper that uses an elastic membrane filled with coffee grounds that conform around an object when loose and is then frozen in shape when a vacuum is applied to the bladder. Such an approach also allows the prosthetic socket to be adjusted to accommodate the growth of the amputee’s residual limb or slightly modified to deal with slight weight changes or the development of sores and infections.

Stephoe from the U.K.

To ease the burden placed on the backs and upper bodies of farmers in developing countries, Mohammed Daud from the Royal College of Art redesigned that most basic of farming tools, the hoe. The Stephoe is an adapter that fits between a traditional hoe’s wooden handle and metal blade to add a footstep that makes it easier for users to leverage into the ground. Having spent time growing up in Pakistan, Daud has already tested the full scale Stephoe prototypes there and has further trials planned there and in other countries.

Smart Aid from Austria

Smart Aid is an interactive emergency call system that would allow members of the community to provide first aid to people in the case of an accident or medical emergency. The system consists of a smartphone app that allows a person to call an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that would deliver a first aid kit and defibrillator directly to them. The smartphone app would then instruct the caller on how to administer first aid to the patient. The developer envisages the UAVs being mounted on rooftops around cities so they would be able to deliver the vital first aid equipment as fast as possible.

Safety Net – Escape Rings from the U.K.

The Safety Net system aims to decrease the number of juvenile and non-target fish from being caught up in commercial fishing nets. The main focus of the system are Escape Ring devices that provide smaller fish with an escape exit when caught in mesh trawling nets. These illuminated rings provide a highly visible exit for the fish, which often have trouble seeing the mesh nets. Along with a battery-powered version, the developer has also designed a model that is powered by a turbine that rotates as the net is pulled through the water, so fishermen won’t have to worry about replacing any batteries after the rings are installed. The lighting is also switched on and off to attract the fish’s attention and preserve power. The rings would come in various sizes, be retrofittable and can even be removed and fitted to other nets.

ReWired from Holland

Taking its inspiration from the cable systems used to send cameras zooming around over stadiums, the Rewired replaces the stadium with a typical room and a camera with a ceiling light. The result is a system that lets you locate the overhead light where it’s needed. Employing a pulley system and three separate drives for the x-, y- and z-coordinates, the position and height of the light can be controlled via dragging it to the desired location on a smartphone or tablet touchscreen. The user can also set up fixed locations for specific purposes, such as reading, eating or cooking.

Revival Vest from New Zealand

Automatically-inflating life jackets are designed to inflate after the jackets come into contact with water, which is fine for those traveling on top of the water, but what about those already under it? The Revive Vest addresses this problem by monitoring the diver’s respiration. Using smart fabric technology from New Zealand-based company Footfalls and Heartbeats, the Revive Vest is designed to detect changes in bodily signs that occur during drowning, which triggers the vest to inflate and bring the diver to the surface in an upright safety position. While a chest strap is in direct contact with the skin to ensure accurate readings, the vest is designed to not restrict movement.

Reach & Match from Australia

Designed to improve Braille literacy of blind and visually impaired children in developing countries, Reach & Match is a tactile toy designed to introduce children to the concept of using touch as a form of communication and give them a positive enough experience to make them want to learn how to understand it. The system consists of four different colored mats with simple tactile symbols on one side to provide toddlers with pre-Braille learning skills, while the other side is aimed at preschoolers and features different shaped holes into which small tiles that feature Braille symbols and can be placed. The different shaped tiles are also designed to help in the development of the child’s motor and spatial skills.

O2 Pursuit from Australia

The second finalist from Australia is something that has graced our pages before. Instead of filling up with gas, the
O2 Pursuit is a motorbike that fills up on compressed air. A functioning prototype has been built that is powered by the DiPietro Air Engine developed by Engineair Australia. The creators envision air could be compressed using solar or wind energy to provide a truly green ride. Designed with both off road and city commuting applications in mind, the O2 Pursuit would require compressed air refuel stations to be established to make the bike a feasible transport option. A smartphone and GPS system integrated into the bike would direct riders to the nearest refill point.

LOUIS from France

LOUIS are paving slabs designed to make drab outdoor spaces a bit more interesting on wet days. When dry, the slabs appear blank, but when rain falls on them a pattern reveals itself. The patterns can be customized with the creators envisaging LOUIS being used in public spaces, around the home or by companies wishing to display their logo on the exteriors of their buildings.

Hop! following suitcase from Spain

Hop! is another finalist that has already appeared on Gizmag. It is designed as a form of next-generation luggage that saves travelers from physically dragging their suitcase around. Containing three receivers that create a virtual tether to a traveler’s smartphone via Bluetooth, the Hop! suitcase moves on a dual caterpillar track-type system located on the underside of the case. Multiple suitcases can also be configured to follow each other in a line.

GiraDora from U.S.A.

Yet another entry to have already gained our attention is the
GinaDora human-powered washer and spin dryer. Here’s the description of the device from our original story. “GiraDora is a plastic tub tall enough to sit on. In fact, it’s designed to be operated while sitting on it to keep it stable. Inside, there’s a second tub like that in a conventional washer mounted on a center post. The post is connected to a pedal on the base of the tub. The machine is filled with clothes, water and soap and the lid put back. The operator then sits on the tub and repeatedly presses down on the pedal with her foot. This works the mechanism that agitates, cleans and rinses the clothes. When the clothes are clean, a stopcock in the base is opened and the pedal worked again. Now the washer becomes a spin drier and the clothes can be hung up to complete drying in a reasonable time.”

Fil’o from Singapore

As any parent will attest, crying is the primary form of communication used by young children. This poses a problem for deaf parents and it’s the problem the Fil’o is designed to address. The concept consists of a device worn on the parent’s wrist that pairs with a sound detector disguised as a toy that is located near the child. When the child cries, the sound detector relays a signal to the wrist device that then provides the parent with a visual and tactile alert that the child needs attention. The level and pattern of vibration and the visual display will also vary depending on the detected sound level. With some people more sensitive to light than vibrations when asleep, the system also includes a light that will glow dimly for soft noises, working up to repeated bright blinking at higher sound levels.

Emergency Airdrop from Germany

The Emergency Airdrop is a clever packaging design intended for airdrops of emergency supplies in disaster areas. The packaging consists of a three-wing system made of wax-coated cardboard that fits around the outside of a triangular box. In transit, the wings are folded up to maximize the amount of cargo that can be transported, but when the package is freed from the confines of the plane, the wings fold out to let the package spiral to the ground like a helicopter seed. When falling, the bottom of the three-wing system creates a double bottom that further cushions the impact of the package upon landing.

Balde a Balde from U.S.A

While most of us take running water for granted, those relying on buckets in developing countries are exposed to a number of health risks. Basic hygiene practices like the washing of hands becomes difficult and a lot of the precious resource can be wasted as water is transferred from bucket to bucket for different purposes. The Balde a Balde is a portable faucet that provides the health and convenience benefits of running water to those without piped connections. A universal clip allows it to attach to any existing container and a continuous flow of water is initiated with a pump of the siphon pump. The flow is turned on and off with a touch of the spout and the water volume is regulated by a twist of a valve.

Alto from the U.K.

The Alto is a new take on sewing machine design that is intended to appeal to those put off by the steep learning curve of traditional sewing machine operation, thereby encouraging beginners to “recycle, customize and repair” clothes that would otherwise be headed for the trash. The current foot control is a carry over from the time when sewing machines were pedal powered, and you have to wonder why that’s still the case. The Alto shifts the speed control onto the unit itself by way of a force-sensing rubber foot on the underside of the machine. As the user pushes down, the machine speeds up. The Alto also features a distinctive arch enabled by a flexible drive shaft in place of the traditional pulley system that provides far greater room for fabric on the right of the sewing area.

Decisions, decisions

The James Dyson Award jury is in the process of evaluating these 15 finalists and selecting the winners for each of the prizes up for grabs. Two international runners-up will take home £2,000 (US$3,212) each, while the international winner will receive £10,000 (US$16,062) for themselves or their team and £10,000 for their university department. The jury’s decision will be announced on the 8th of November, but you can let us know your favorites now in the comments.
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