No scratches from this foldable power plug

A7D_E7B_1What do you do when a power plug’s pins scratch your laptop or desk? A lot of us might have just mumbled about it, but when Min-Kyu Choi took a scratch from a power plug in 2009, while studying at London’s Royal Academy, he started redesigning the ubiquitous power plug together with friend Matthew Judkins. The foldable power plug designed by the duo is a radically new design that can fit in the user’s pocket. The design won prestigious design awards, and is now being manufactured and marketed as the Mu Foldable Plug, through their London-based startup Made in Mind.

What’s inside: Redesigning the power plug is no easy task, since it has been in its current form for decades now, and people have fixed notions about how a power plug should look and work. So, when Choi and Judkins started redesigning this everyday product, they first analysed the whole element of the product, and figured out what could or could not be changed. What could not change, due to standardisation, were the dimensions of the pins. So they just rearranged the pin positions so that the end-product could be made slimmer. The result of their design explorations is a technology called PVT that allows the live and neutral pins, on the bottom of the plug, to pivot 90 degrees so they align with the earth pin on the top. The two flaps on the side then collapse, helping push everything into a little compartment that measures only 14×55×60 mm3—70 per cent less than standard the UK plug sizes.

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The folding power plug took three years to develop and is protected by six patents. It is now available in the market as a USB charger for smartphones, tablets and music players. Its developers are now working on developing a Mu power cord for charging laptops.

Smart fruit bowl that detects mould

1E7_2It can be quite irritating when you pick up a fruit from a bowl and realise that it is spoilt. Not only does it smell and taste rotten, it could also spoil the other fruits in the bowl. How many times have you wished there was some way to know in advance when a fruit is nearing its end-of-life? Jagjit Chodha of Brunel University, London, has designed a smart bowl that could do just that. Showcased at the Made in Brunel 2013 exhibition, the bowl caught the fancy of many a visitor.

What’s inside: The solution comprises a sensor system embedded in the fruit bowl, and an array of lights for notification. The sensors monitor the levels of ethylene—a gas released during the ripening process. When the levels increase, it triggers the alarm, which warns the user to consume the fruits before they rot. A seemingly simple solution, it can surely help contain food wastage if developed and manufactured at a reasonable cost.

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A smart mask that measures city pollution

A17_3It is common these days to see people wearing masks to keep out dust, other pollutants and air-borne infections. This is so in China too. Due to the poor air quality there, current-generation Chinese people are finicky about preventive healthcare, and therefore there are a lot of bulletins, mobile apps, etc that give updates about air quality there, quite like traffic updates. However, there is another catch there, as the Chinese are also very sceptical of faceless data. Hence Frog Design has come up with an air mask design called AirWaves that serves a dual purpose: it acts as an air mask, and also helps read and feed air quality data into a central system. By leveraging community and bringing granularity into air quality data, it is expected to make the information more trustworthy. However, in an interview with BBC, one of the company’s directors admitted that there will be several political and governmental discussions to get through before this product is brought to the market, as the air quality is a key aspect of socio-economic development and is a ‘loaded’ topic.

What’s inside: By adding particle sensors to an air mask, AirWaves combines the filtering and measurement of air quality into a single product. The Bluetooth-enabled mask reads many parameters of air quality, and passes on this data to an associated mobile app, which feeds it into a larger network. The app also lets you browse the consolidated, real-time data at the desired level of detail: in your city, neighbourhood or places you will be passing on your route. The project is still in an early stage and many challenges have to be overcome before it can be even prototyped. For example, there is the mechanical challenge of how to fit a particle filter, model, battery and power management unit into the mask without compromising flexibility and comfort. It is likely that the end-product will be a combination of a plastic shell to house the components, and a softer material at the skin contact points, not to forget the traditional filter tissue. All of these might get done soon, since the project is in the hands of Azure Yang and Mingmin Wang—two of Frog’s best designers. Once the product is designed, they will start working on the connectivity and software aspects.

A shape-changing smartphone

E5Z_15E_4We tend to put our phones on silent when we get into a meeting, but sometimes the vibration is so subtle that we do not notice an incoming call unless we are holding the phone at that time. In an attempt to overcome this problem, researchers at the Ontario-based Queen’s University have developed the MorePhone—an instrument that curls up when a call arrives! Developed using thin, flexible displays, the smartphone can morph its shape to give users a silent yet visual cue of an incoming phone call, text message or email. The MorePhone has been developed by Dr Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab, School of Computing, Queen’s University, and his students. He thinks bendable, flexible cell phones are the future and MorePhone could be in the market within five to ten years.

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What’s inside: MorePhone is made of a thin, flexible electrophoretic display manufactured by Plastic Logic—a British company and a world leader in plastic electronics. Sandwiched beneath the display are a number of shape-memory alloy (SMA) wires that contract during a notification, causing the phone to curl either its entire body or up to three individual corners. Users of the MorePhone can customise how they want each notification to be. For example, they can set one corner to curl up when an SMS arrives, two corners to curl up when an email arrives, and three corners to curl up when a call arrives—or any other way they are comfortable with. They can also configure the corners to keep curling repeatedly when a high-priority message or call arrives. This curling of the MorePhone is made possible by the use of SMA—an alloy that remembers its original, cold-forged shape. After curling, it can return to the original shape when heated. SMAs are considered a light-weight, solid-state alternative to motors and actuators, and generally used in medical and aerospace applications. It is interesting to note its use in phones.

Techie friendship band

C51_5Friendship bands are all the rage now—gifted on special days, parties or just about any time you want to connect with a friend. While even a simple thread can serve to remind you of a loved one, what if the band also had facilities to record and recall memories? Mnemo, designed by Frog, is an interactive friendship bracelet that enables you to record, relive and share time spent with your friends using pictures, audio and location information. The bracelets are collectible and customisable. Although designed for single-event use, two or more can be linked together to combine common moments and create collective memories of shared experiences.

What’s inside: Mnemo is constructed with a brushed copper and steel perforated body, with magnetic snaps and cast rubber bands. People can weave colourful threads through the bracelet to customise it as per their wishes. It has a clear touch sensor, a Bluetooth 4.0 chip, a near-field communications (NFC) chip and a flexible battery. When a user wears the bracelet for the first time, he activates it by simply holding it close to his phone. When the event begins, he can set it in record mode. Mnemo starts collecting time and location information, and snapshots of people, media and music. To relive memories after they have been recorded, users simply have to tap the wristband on their phone or attach it to a computer with the dongle. Once connected, they can scroll through a timeline of collected memories. To share overlapping memories with friends, two or more bands are linked together during or after recording, and common memories from all users combined to create a collective memory.

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Intelligent saucepan that prevents spills and accidents

C51_6London design agency Precipice created Simr as part of BBC’s Imagineering project, but it is something we would all like to have in our kitchens! The goal of Simr, an intelligent saucepan, is to improve cooking skills, reduce accidents, and make product care and maintenance easier. The saucepan has a lid that can be tilted to allow steam to escape and for straining; twin skin construction that allows a heat exchanger to be used between the skins to provide more even heat distribution; and a curved design and hydrophobic coating that make cleaning easier. A removable smart module on the handle monitors cooking temperature, weight, etc, and sounds an alarm if the contents are about to boil over.

What’s inside: Using advanced analytics, Precipice looked at consumer expectations, desires and concerns, together with discursive analysis (the conversations in culture), semiotic codes (clusters of visual meaning) and cultural/visual trends to identify key design opportunities. The team then investigated these opportunity areas to focus and identify potential product solutions. Visual language, colours, materials and finishes, human factors and new technologies were incorporated into the design to meet the identified needs. Simr has a unique construction, using a distinctive mono-frame handle component, which allows a twin-skin bowl assembly. This double wall thickness provides many benefits: it helps fit in a heat exchanger, improves heat distribution and energy efficiency, and also keeps the outside wall temperature low. Heat and temperature sensors allow Simr to identify when the pan is about to boil over or boil dry, and actively warn the user. The removable smart handle has several modes including a timer, a weighing mechanism, a thermometer, and an alarm for the pot boiling over. A removable digital display provides live feedback on temperature, weight and timing of the saucepan contents. The design suggests conventional materials like steel and copper for the saucepan, with touch points moulded in colour-coded elastomers to provide better grip, visual reference points and insulated details. Internal surfaces are coated in a superhydropic coating for non-stick properties and easy cleaning. Aluminium is used for the handle for lightness and strength, and polycarbonates are used for the scratch-resistant screen.

The author is a technically-qualified freelance writer, editor and hands-on mom based in Chennai