Seven brilliant inventions from the world's biggest student design show
What does innovation look like without the pressures of commercial success? Design students operate in a space where their creations needn't answer to venture capitalists and Kickstarter crowds, making them uniquely positioned to conjure up solutions to problems that might often be passed over. With 150 projects from the world's leading design schools on show, the Global Grad Show in Dubai is an annual celebration of all the creativity student design has to offer. New Atlas was on the ground at this year's edition to sniff out the brightest ideas.
Now in its fourth year, the Global Grad Show takes place during Dubai Design Week and now occupies a prominent piece of real estate in the city's design district. Where the 2017 edition was spread out inside a huge tent a short buggy ride away, organizers brought this year's exhibitors in under the roof of a glassy, atrium-equipped building right in the midst of all the action.
And this is an interesting side-note, because it was a deliberate move to pack the student designers, who hail from 100 different universities and 61 different countries, into a tighter space to encourage more interaction. This year, for the first time, the students also took part in the Dubai Evolution Challenge, where they were grouped into teams to design improvements to everyday objects and services they encountered in Dubai.
There were 150 inventions on display at the 2018 Global Grad Show, including contributions from the likes of MIT, Harvard and London's Royal College of the Arts. Taken as a whole they provide some fascinating insights into how this next generation of designers is thinking about the future.
From Melbourne's Monash University, Peter Cheah's robotic plant pollination system is built in response to rapidly declining bee populations. Lewis Hornby from Imperial College London designed water drops disguised as jelly treats to help dementia sufferers – first and foremost his own grandmother – stay hydrated. John Teo from the University of Singapore built an app to deliberately add friction and opportunity for contemplation in the era of convenient cashless payments.
Then there is a laundry solution for long-haul truck drivers in Iran by Masoud Sistani and Mohammad Ghasemi from the Art University of Isfahan. The duo's C.Mile device converts the truck's wheel hub into a mobile washing machine that relies on the motion of the vehicle to tumble and clean their clothes.
NOAA POR, by the University of Cincinnati's Julianna Probst, is a filtering device for treating oils spills. But rather than simply retrieving oil from the water, the system uses magnetically charged iron-oxide nanoparticles and smart filters to separate the two and then repurpose the oil for re-use.
This is just a snapshot of the creativity on show, with other projects addressing things like water security, furniture solutions in cramped living quarters, urban mobility, the dehumanizing impacts of social media, how we'll interact with AI, and treatments for anxiety, migraines and stress. But here are seven that really caught our eye.
Did you know that most of the cleaning products found around a typical home are at least 80 percent water? As Mirjam de Bruijn from Design Academy Eindhoven points out, this means four-fifths of the trucks, ships and planes that carry these products around the world are really just carrying water.
"Why would we transport water in 2018?" she says. "Every kilometer a truck drives is around a kilogram of C02 emissions, so that's a lot of emissions. And then there's the plastic. For the Emirates alone, it's about two million kilograms of plastic from shampoo bottles a year, let alone all of the other kinds of products."
Her collection of dehydrated household products are designed to eliminate this waste with capsules that can simply be placed into a bottle of water and shaken.
"At home you put in a bottle, you add water, it dissolves within a few minutes and you have a product with the same viscosity and the same quality as the product that you are used to."
Brilliant. And the jury thought so, too, crowning de Bruijn the winner of the Global Grad Show for 2018.
"Every year one billion mascaras are sold worldwide, and in three to six months time these are sent to landfill," explains Pippa Bridges from England's Loughborough University. "So there's a massive waste stream in the cosmetics industry currently. My project tries to tackle this, and not only is it completely sustainable in a closed-loop cycle, but it is also re-inventing the way to apply mascara so it is a better user experience."
Bridge's solution consists of a reusable capsule built to replace disposable mascara tubes, and a new fingertip applicator she says can last for 10 years. Once the mascara is used up, the capsule can be used again with only the refill component needing replacing every three to six months. Given our lack of expertise when it comes to applying mascara, we had to ask her to explain the improved user experience.
"So it's a shorter element and it's applied like a ring. It's on your fingertip so you've got more dexterity in the first joint," she says. "Compared to the traditional brush, it might take a bit of getting used to, but once you do, all my research and user testing has found that it's a much easier experience. And some of the older users I tested it on, if they've got problems with their hands, they found that the closer range offers more control."
Zhang Liye from China's Huazhong University of Science and Technology took part in last year's Global Grad Show, and it was there he found inspiration for this year's project. While he saw plants lining Dubai's streets he couldn't help but wonder if they could do with some extra nutrients and minerals.
His project, Acorn, is an entirely biodegradeable base made from raw materials gathered from crop waste, that is fashioned into frames to raise plants in the desert. Within the material are nutrients and minerals that are absorbed by the plant as water is added. After four months, the Acorn will have entirely decomposed leaving just a strongly rooted plant in its place.
"You completely bury the base and the plant into the ground and the most important part is it will completely degrade, but at the same time it provides nutrition and minerals for the plants," Liye says. "This is a design for Dubai, these kinds of desert cities have soil that lacks minerals and nutrition, so we just need to give them what they need."
"We give so much thought to living sustainably while we're alive, but what about our footprint after we're gone?" Shaina Garfield from New York's Pratt University is rethinking Western burial practices with what she bills as a sustainable coffin.
Made from a biodegradeable rope and reclaimed materials, her coffin is designed to not just offer an alternative to the expensive and elegantly crafted wooden boxes many currently rot away in, but actively improve the fertility of the soil.
"My coffin has a dye that is embedded with spores, so once the body is buried a fungus grows to speed up the decomposition," she explains. "And more importantly, in 2018 our bodies are really toxic, because of the pesticides we eat and the chemicals we put on our skin. And so the fungus actually eats those toxins so that only our nutrients go into the soil. This gives us a wonderful opportunity to plant trees and other plants above our burial site and really make our bodies have a greater purpose after we die."
The porters that toil away loading luggage onto trains in India are often underpaid and overworked, leading to long-term health problems that result from repeatedly lifting heavy objects over many years. Rishabh Singh from the Indian Institute of Technology has designed a special backpack to lighten the load.
"The porters carry about 20 to 40 kg (44 to 88 lb) over their heads, and in a day they do about eight to 10 trips and some of those trips are at least a kilometer (0.62 mi) long because they have to transport luggage from platform to exit and exit to platform," he tells us. "So what happens is this continuous loading in the long term creates cervical spine pain. After 40 or 50 years it becomes permanently damaged so you have to be on continuous medication if you want to live."
His Sahayak load-bearing backpack consists of an aluminum mechanical frame that forms a platform over the wearer's head to hold the luggage. An inexpensive torsion spring then redistributes up to 75 percent of the load from the point of contact on the head to the shoulders, hopefully reducing the chance of long-term injury to the user.
Tiny Home Bed
The tiny house movement is rife with space-saving ideas, and this creation from the University of Art and Design Lausanne's Yesul Yang is a great example of this kind of thinking at work. It consists of a single mattress on a raised wooden bed frame, with plenty of space for storage underneath.
"The Tiny Home Bed is a bed for people living in small spaces," says Yang. "Many young people, like students or young professionals don't have that much money to live in nice spacious apartments, so I combined two essential furniture items, a bed and a storage unit, so you can save a large amount of space."
A particularly thoughtful feature of the Tiny Home Bed is the action of the fabric curtain that encloses the storage space. With no fixed location, the curtain can slide freely around the entire perimeter and therefore be made to open and close at any point.
"You can change the position of the opening, so depending on the layout of your house, you can choose where you want to access your things," Yang says.
The Wasserläufer, a name that translates to "water strider" in English, is an invention by Frauke Zoe Taplik from Germany's Offenbach University of Art and Design. The inflatable boat packs down to a cylinder the size of a 1.5-liter water bottle and weighs just over one kilogram (2.2 lb).
"My idea was to have a boat that you don't need to bring tools for and is light so you can carry it in your backpack," Taplik explains. "So this boat is open to one side like a plastic bag. You scoop the air in with the open side towards the wind, the boat will catch the wind and then you roll a sealing over the top that compresses the air inside. And that's it, then you're ready to go on the lake."
More information: Global Grad Show
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In fact, previously many microbiologists had done precisely that - "Oh dear, the nasty mould has killed my bacterial culture, I'll just have to throw it away and start again!".