Braille eBooks and mask recyclers among James Dyson Award finalists
The James Dyson Award is an international competition to recognize and encourage engineering students to get creative to solve some of the most pressing problems facing the world. The national finalists from 28 regions have been announced for 2021, ahead of the international leg of the competition.
Now in its 15th year, the James Dyson Award gathers some of the best design ideas that could one day change the world. Overall, the inventions focus on a few areas of importance, including environmental concerns, making life easier for people with disabilities, and dealing with the current pandemic.
Last year’s winners were the Blue Box, a home screening kit for breast cancer, and AuRUES, solar panels that harvest UV energy.
Here are just a few of the finalists vying for the top gong in October.
LUNA Modular AFO
Hereditary spastic paraplegia is a progressive disease that affects a patient’s gait, so that they often require assistive devices such as an ankle foot orthosis (AFO), which fits over the lower leg and foot to support the user. However, child patients often outgrow them quickly, leading to cuts, bruising and blistering.
The LUNA Modular AFO, created by Aaron Nguyen of Australia, is designed to grow with the child. It’s made up of two components – the LUNA Module which is a base that fits all users of an age group, and the LUNA Surface which is 3D printed as a custom fit for each wearer. As the child grows, a section on the back visually indicates when they’re too big for it, and need an upgrade.
It’s a cruel irony that the majority of the world’s surface is covered in water, yet only a tiny fraction of that is drinkable. The WaterPod is a solar desalination system designed to provide drinking water to sea nomad communities in Malaysia, where engineers Bennie Beh Hue May, Yap Chun Yoon and Loo Xin Yang picked up the national win.
These floating pods use wick cords to absorb seawater and deliver it to a layer of black fabric inside a transparent plastic dome. As the Sun heats it up, the water evaporates and condenses on the plastic, where it runs back into a collection tray. Users can pump the fresh water out to drink.
The WaterPods themselves would be made with recycled plastic waste from the ocean, and their stylish and practical design means they can fit into the lives of the seafaring communities they’re made for.
For many people living with cerebral palsy and other conditions that limit hand mobility, creative expression such as painting, drawing and writing may be difficult or off the table entirely. And that’s the problem that Canadian winner Lianna Genovese set out to address with her new mechanical assistive device called Guided Hands.
The device uses a system of sliding shafts that somewhat resemble a 3D printer. A user takes hold of a handpiece attached to a sliding arm that can be moved vertically and horizontally, and rotated at the wrist. The idea is that it taps into a user’s gross motor skills in the shoulder, to make up for loss in the fine motor skills of the hand. By attaching a pen, pencil, paintbrush, stylus or similar instruments, users can draw, paint, write or use touchscreen devices.
As important as they are in the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks pose quite a major environmental hazard, with billions of them ending up in landfills, the environment or oceans every month. The winners from Poland, Mike Ryan and Aleksander Trakul, set out to find a way to recycle them with Xtrude Zero.
This system is a vending machine-sized unit that takes used face masks and converts them into reusable plastic pellets. The masks are cut up, the materials separated, shredded, heated and melted into a filament. This is then cut into little plastic pellets, which can be used to make a range of plastic products.
More and more of our reading is now done on screens, but that convenience doesn’t track well for visually impaired people who may rely on Braille. To give them more options, Russian winner Aleksei Rezepov has designed a Braille eBook.
The device looks like a chunky tablet, with a tactile panel displaying an array of cells that can raise dots to represent characters in the Braille alphabet. Text can be uploaded to the device, which will translate them into Braille and output to the panel. Buttons around the sides are used to control the device.
It’s worth noting that all of these ideas, as well as the 23 other national winners, are still just concepts at this stage, but they’re all in the running for the overall prize which will be announced on October 13.