Friday, February 23, 2024

Innovation Is Also About Improving Everyday Objects

Innovation is not just about creating new technologies and products but also about improving everyday objects such as, say, saucepans or fruit bowls with the use of technology. While it might seem quite futuristic to have a saucepan with a chip in it, that might happen in the future as chip costs really go down and people realise the joy of not having to sponge up spilt milk! Here we are with this month’s dose of inspiration, which includes a few such ‘everyday’ objects too. -- Janani Gopalakrishnan Vikram

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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.

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.

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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.

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


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