Five unconventional designs proving that the best ideas can sometimes be right under our noses.
Inventor Kavita Shukla's design journey began when she accidentally drank some tap water in India. Her grandmother quickly gave her a spice tea, and remarkably, she didn't get sick. After years of experimenting, Shukla discovered that these very spices had amazing preservation qualities.
Using this traditional remedy as a basis, Shukla came up with FreshPaper. The sheets are infused with organic spices, like nutmeg and fenugreek, which inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. By storing your fruits and vegetables with a sheet, they can stay fresh 2-4 times longer than normal.
With its simple and sustainable approach, FreshPaper is a low-cost solution to a complex problem. It’s a remarkable way of combining an old tradition with new knowledge to create an easy-to-use consumer product for everyone.
Kavita was awarded a patent for FreshPaper at the age of 17, and today, FreshPaper is available in stores across the globe.
When inventor Manu Prakash saw a centrifuge being used as a doorstop – as there was no electricity to run it – in a remote Ugandan clinic, he realised the desperate need for a low-cost, human-powered alternative.
Using spinning toys as inspiration, Prakash began exploring ways to convert human energy into spinning power. When he set up a high-speed camera to check the speed of a “whirligig”, a toy made from a button on a string, he couldn’t believe that it was spinning at 15,000 revolutions per minute.
Paperfuge is a 20-cent hand-powered centrifuge made from simple household materials. It works like a traditional centrifuge and can spin biological samples at enough speed to separate plasma from a blood sample. This is a standard yet critical diagnostic procedure for many illnesses.
The simple solution now empowers local healthcare forces to work smarter, faster and, most importantly, with fewer expensive resources. With wide distribution of the Paperfuge, particularly in low-resource areas, killers like Malaria, HIV, and Tuberculosis can be more quickly diagnosed and treated.
When Swedish inventors Terese Alstin and Anna Haupt asked the public why they don't wear bicycle helmets, most said they simply don't like the way they look. Knowing that people want to be safe, but, not at the expense of their hair, the designers came up with a creative solution.
Hövding is essentially an airbag hidden in a collar. If a cyclist is in an accident, the airbag instantly inflates to surround and protect the head and neck.
The trigger mechanism is controlled by sensors that monitor and respond to abnormal impact.
In many tests, Hövding has shown to be far superior to its competitors. In a recent Stanford University study, the airbag was compared directly to conventional helmets. The results concluded that the Hövding protected cyclists from concussion eight times better than a traditional helmet.
Today, the Hövding is sold in 836 stores in 17 countries around the globe. The company is aware of at least 800 cases where a Hövding has protected a cyclist in an accident, potentially saving their life.
"We set out wondering: How do you make a bicycle helmet that is invisible? Then [the idea] just came like lightning," says Haupt.
Designer Massoud Hassani spent his childhood in Afghanistan making wind-powered toys and chasing after them. But this fond memory was horribly tarnished when many of his friends were killed or seriously injured after encountering one of humanity’s most destructive inventions: the landmine.
Twenty years later, as a student of Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Hassani scaled up one of his childhood toys, and equipped it with tools that literally save lives.
Mine Kafon is a giant wind-powered minesweeper. The legs are made of bamboo and plastic, while the iron centre holds a GPS unit to map the areas cleared of mines. The ball's suspension mechanism allows it to easily roll over bumps and holes.
Globally, more than 100 million landmines kill up to 20,000 people each year. Professional removal of a mine typically costs around $1,200, and can take days. In contrast, a Mine Kafon costs around $40 to produce and can sustain up to four explosions, equaling a price of just $10 per removal.
Hassani recently developed a Mine Kafon drone that he successfully crowdfunded with more than $200,000 on Kickstarter.
Thomas Edison’s most iconic invention was the light bulb. But, naturally, the bulb didn’t reach full commercial potential until the public could access electricity. The same goes for the electric car. Most people won’t buy one if there’s a lack of infrastructure to support them.
The “Aha!” for Better Place founder Shai Agassi happened at the World Economic Forum in 2005, when he was asked: “How would you run a whole country without oil?” Three years later, in a now famous TED Talk, Agassi told the world how electric cars would usher in a new industrial revolution.
Launched in 2008, Better Place was a $1 billion startup with worldwide ambitions to replace petroleum-based cars with a network of cheap electric vehicles (EVs). The forward-thinking system comprised countrywide grids full of charging stations and automated battery-switching stations.
At the battery-switching stations, robots removed depleted car batteries from underneath, and replaced them in just a few minutes. Better Place owned all batteries, enabling the company to dramatically reduce the price of an EV, and to upgrade the batteries as the charging technology improved.
Better Place filed for bankruptcy in 2013 mainly due a market penetration far lower than originally predicted. However, the company remains one of the true pioneers behind the booming EV market in cities around the world.
Fenugreen, Hövding (Photographer: Jonas Ingerstedt), Massoud Hassani, Manu Prakash, Better Place, and INDEX: Design to Improve Life®