Your cell phone knows where you are through triangulation. A Hungary-based company called Leonar3Do has taken that principle and applied it to a 3D mouse: by integrating several antennae into the form factor, a reading device can determine, with pinpoint accuracy, exactly where the mouse is in space. Have a look:
Until Ideso's PowerPac goes into production, I'm on the lookout for a human-powered charging device, inefficiency be damned. Next time I'm caught unprepared in a blackout I'd like to be able to charge my phone and iPod Nano for the radio. Eton's BoostTurbine 2000, a hand-cranked generator/battery that charges via a USB connection, seems it'd fit the bill nicely.
The device is apparently popular--as of press time, they were sold out--but puzzlingly there's not a single review of it on Amazon, the first place I typically check for things I'm thinking of buying. What I really want to know is how long it takes to produce a watt-hour, but the product copy makes no mention; they do say, however, that "in one minute the hand turbine power generator can produce enough power for a 30-second call or a few critical texts. When fully charged, BoostTurbine2000 fully charges most smartphones."
Before I take the gamble, do any of you have experience with human-powered electricity-generating products? If not, you'll have to wait until the next "Dispatches from the Dark" series to read the review.
After he completed his Masters degree at the Institut Supérieur de Design in his home country, Maxence Derremaux left France for San Francisco, which he describes as "the intersection of art and commerce, high style and DIY, globabl awareness and local engagement." His concept for a new approach to earbud assembly, a personal project with a certain high-end audio company in mind, recently caught my eye.
Citing headphones' general lack of repairability, Derremaux set out to design a more versatile earbud, figuratively dismantling the glue-based assembly process of cheap 'phones.
Karim Rashid sez: "Human beings touch an average of 600 objects a day." I'm guessing that number drops, and becomes much more focused, during emergency situations. Here are the two things I touched most during the recent blackout.
Surprise winner: The iPod Nano I never ordinarily use.
The Nano's built-in radio tuner was my only link to mass media, and as I live in a city well-covered by broadcast towers the reception was crystal clear. The device is tiny and unobtrusive, easy to clip on the lapel of a shirt. It only had a sliver of battery life left, yet lasted hours longer than I thought it would, because after you turn the screen off it uses such little juice.
The Nano will now be a go-to piece of kit for me, as soon as I get around its only drawback (proprietary charging method) by acquiring a battery-powered iDevice charger. I'd recommend it for anyone not requiring a powerful antenna.
Expected winner: Surefire flashlight.
Undoubtedly the object I touched the most during the blackout whether cooking, trying to take a pee, or confronting someone I thought was breaking into the darkened diner downstairs (turned out to be the diner owner, who offered me free bagels in gratitude). I can't say the model I have, the E2L Outdoorsman, is any better or worse than competing ones, as the only thing I have to compare it to is the relatively wan Mag-Lites I grew up with. The ergonomics of tactical LED flashlights are obviously superior, requiring just one hand, and the beam is almost absurdly bright for something so small. The metal clip is sturdy and makes it easy to keep the thing at hand at all times.
However, there are two central design flaws that I see with LED flashlights like this. 1) A lack of visual feedback on power levels, and 2) no well-designed way to attach extra batteries.
1) When this flashlight does run out on you, it's completely without warning. One second it's working, one second it's not. Old-school flashlights start to get dim, telling you it's time to switch batteries.
I realize this would add to the cost, but I'd consider it a perfect object if there was an indicator of exactly how much battery life was left. I'd settle for a sequence of LED dots, but I'd pay more for a counter that dumbed it down—the way new cars tell you you've got 72 miles left in the tank—by telling me how many more minutes I could leave the thing on for.
2) The CR2 batteries required by LED flashlights are not easy for me to find locally, so I stock up on Amazon. But I don't like that they sit in the back of some drawer. I wish the Surefire had some type of clip-on thing so I could always keep the extra batteries together with it, in case it runs out while I'm in the middle of doing something important. I'm guessing someone makes a holster that holds both the flashlights and extra batteries, but I'd prefer not to have a separate thing, I'd like to see it built into the flashlight itself.
Yesterday Apple released the much-anticipated iPad Mini, and the company's talking points were clear: They do not consider it a shrunken iPad but instead, a separate device in its own right. It delivers the same amount of pixels (1024×768) as the iPad 2, but in a more portable size, coming in at just under eight inches tall and just over five inches wide.
While everyone knew the smaller tablet was coming, what surprised some analysts was the starting price point of $329. Industry watchers had assumed the iPad Mini's raison d'etre was to wipe out competitors in the small-tablet space, like Amazon's $159 Kindle Fire or Google's $199 Nexus 7.
If Apple had taken the traditional route, where a bunch of marketers determine that competitors are undercutting them on price, they surely could have manufactured a tablet selling for less. But it probably wouldn't have that beveled edge meeting the glass, or the A5 chip, or the 163 ppi screen resolution, or two cameras (including one that shoots 1080p HD video), or it wouldn't have been made with an aluminum unibody and absurdly thin 0.2mm-thick glass, et cetera.
No, the $329 price they've set conveys a clear message: We are not competing with anybody. The company has earned a position where they can pretty much design whatever they want. And those end up being things that consumers want. While competitors envy Apple's financial success and market share—at yesterday's presentation, Tim Cook made the startling announcement that last quarter they sold more iPads than any manufacturer sold PCs—designers have to envy the fortunate circumstances Apple's design department has worked themselves up to.
Last month we blogged about the new line of laptop desks La Boite Concept debuted at 100% Design during London Design Week.
The LD series, available in 100, 120 or 130 watts, is still the first and only high end docking station dedicated to the laptop, as opposed to the iPhone. The USB DAC Hi-Fi sound card is integrated inside the speaker to improve the sound quality of your laptop independently from its sound output, which is projected from six speakers—two medium woofers (13cm), two tweeters with domes (silk 25mm) and two full range rear drivers for the unit's patented Wide Stereo Sound, a system developed by La Boite Concept that improves the range of the surround sound so that a listener positioned at any point in the room gets the full surround sound effect. And whether you want to use the desk to work on or DJ from, the desktop is made from silicon in a range of colors to prevent the speakers' vibrations from shaking the laptop.
Things seem to have gotten a little hairy for the Paris-based design studio with their new limited edition collection designed in the image and likeness of electro-pop musician Sebastien Tellier, whose long locks have been draped on either side of a unit made complete with a silhouette of Tellier's signature sunglasses. According to Claire Marion, La Boite Concept's UK Manager, the idea came to La Boite's designer and co-founder, Guillaume Cagniard, while he was visiting a hair stylist friend who has thousands of hair extensions on hand. He "thought it could be funny to add hair to our LD series legs," Marion said. "From this crazy idea, Sebastien Tellier became the inspiration."
Cagniard took his idea to Tellier's people, who "had such a good laugh looking at the pictures of this hairy sound system project that they said yes immediately." Tellier used the LD to play music at a recent album release party at Galerie Perrotin by connecting it to a "magic piano" playing the album, My God Is Blue. No word yet on what a magic piano is, but perhaps La Boite Concept will come out with one soon. In the meantime you can purchase a hairy LD120 by placing a special order with Cagniard.
You'd think two of these would've been axed at a design meeting, but Lenovo's either taking no chances, holding off on making tough calls, or using an appeasement strategy to deal with internal design department beefs. In their experimentation to develop a hybrid laptop/tablet that people will want to use, they've developed no less than three different form factors that will hit store shelves in just a few weeks.
The ultra-lightweight Lynx is the most simple design of the three, as it's basically a laptop where the screen pops off—or a tablet that plugs into a keyboard accessory, depending on how you look at it:
Industrial design graduate Lena Goldsteiner is currently showcasing her graduation project "Theatre of Destruction" during this year's Vienna Design Week. In the "Gschwandtner" location—a disused all-purpose-hall from the 19th century—she installed the complete set up to perform her project, which is all "about repair, destruction and reproduction".
Visitors are invited to bring apparently worthless and broken household devices, so they can be given a new life. Various squeezers and shredders on site encourage and enable people to chop up and fragment discarded plastic parts. These shards could then be re-processed into a plastic wire to feed a 3D printer, with which the new part, necessary to fix the broken household device, could be printed.
I am writing "could," as the machine for transforming various types of plastics into spools of plastic filament for 3D printers is not quite put into existence yet. But thanks to the Kickstarted project Filabot it will be soon.
Although our friends at Teague tipped us off about their Labs' latest project prior to Tad Toulis's unveiling of 13:30 at Maker Faire this past weekend, his presentation was our first time seeing the 3D-printed headphones. It's both a thought experiment and a case study for personal fabrication, challenging the convention of "the current consumer electronics paradigm," which is "all about mass production and distribution." "Using 3D printing technology and consumer-sourceable components, 13:30 creates an equivalent product at an equivalent price, but made on demand—just for you."
And while we've been admiring (and using) the prefab pair they sent us over the weekend—complete with custom packaging—they've also posted the plans on none other than Thingiverse.
With 3D printers becoming more accessible we decided to have a think around the concept "life in beta" as a future scenario. What if printed prototypes could become actual products? Meaning, once off the print bed an object could be assembled without any tools and be made functional by readily attainable components. Electronically simple yet functionally complex, headphones seemed like a good fit to stress test the premise.
Our first go resulted in a good-looking functional model created on a professional ABS FDM machine (Dimension 1200ES: print time 13 hours and 30 minutes, hence the name). It worked out well, but the machine we used isn't accessible to the average maker, and two of the critical parts relied heavily on soluble support printing—a non-issue for professional 3D printers, a major issue for desktop 3D printers.
My other life as a recreational cyclist often influences the occasional product reviews that I write, whether the product is actually a bike accessory or not. Outdoor Technology's Turtle Shell is somewhere in between: the LA-based company offers an optional bike mount for the wireless speaker, which is designed expressly for outdoor and urban settings. Complementary usage scenarios notwithstanding, I found it more impressive as a portable speaker as opposed to a bike accessory, handsome and entirely practical in a variety of settings except when mounted to my handlebars.
The thoughtfully designed packaging of the Turtle Shell promises premium product within: the acrylic box looks fit for an Apple store and is easily repurposed for all variety of knick-knack and tchotchke. As per the description on the Kickstarter page, it comes with a USB charging cable and a wall adapter, as well as a 3.5mm audio cable for non-Bluetooth audio sources, plus a carrying pouch that's perfect for the speaker but doesn't quite fit all of the accessories.
It's not quite usable out-of-the-box: the quickstart guide advises a full charge prior to use. Charge time comes in at a completely reasonable 2.5–3 hours for up to eight hours of music playback; it's obviously too soon to tell how the battery life holds up over time, but I found that I was able to use the Turtle Shell on and off for a couple days at a time without recharging it. In fact, it never completely ran out of juice on my watch, and I assume that the indicator light, which blinks red when charging, does the same when the battery is low.
The controls—three buttons and a backlit on/off switch—are located on the outer edge of the device, as are the USB and line-in ports (neatly concealed with a protective flap). I happen to like the old-fashioned jog dial myself, but it turns out that the buttons are multifunctional (especially in 'Talk' mode, below), allowing for both volume control and previous/next track function. The interface isn't quite intuitive—the red/blue indicator and loud-ish beep can be a bit arcane—but all that you really need to know is that holding down the center button activates 'pairing mode' for new devices.
Four years ago La Boite Concept, the French sound product designer and manufacturer, introduced La Premiere, a hi-fi laptop dock in a tall, standing unit with an overall appearance that can best be compared with an arcade game. Its retro body yet superior acoustics wowed analog fans, but not everyone has space or the budget for what's essentially a modern day jukebox. With that in mind, La Boite Concept develop a new line of sleeker and more functional laptop docks called the LD series, which they debuted at the 100% France exhibition at 100% Design during London Design Festival.
The LD series, available in 100, 120 or 130 watts, is still the first and only high end docking station dedicated to the laptop, as opposed to the iPhone. The USB DAC Hi-Fi sound card is integrated inside the speaker to improve the sound quality of your laptop independently from its sound output, which is projected from six speakers - two medium woofers (13cm), two tweeters with domes (silk 25mm) and two full range rear drivers for the unit's patented Wide Stereo Sound, a system developed by La Boite Concept that improves the range of the surround sound so that a listener positioned at any point in the room gets the full surround sound effect. And whether you want to use the desk to work on or DJ from, the desktop is made from silicon in a range of colors to prevent the speakers' vibrations from shaking the laptop.
Full specs are available on La Boite Concept's website.
For two years, inventor Scott Starrett and RKS Design have been working on the Jorno, "a truly durable and elegant keyboard" that does something amazing: It folds up into a little 3.5” × 3.5” × 1.2” box.
Meant to be paired with a tablet or even a smartphone via an included cradle, the Bluetooth keyboard weighs less than 9 ounces and has a battery that reportedly lasts for 30 days under normal usage.
As keyboards are such tactile objects, I'd have problems bidding on something like this without testing it out in person; it maxes out at 8.5” wide, and as the keyboard on my MacBook Pro is just under 11”, I'm not confident I could adjust to it. But more than anything I'm impressed with the engineering, and if it takes off, I'm hoping they'll also make a larger size.
At press time they were nearly 20% of the way towards their $100,000 target, with 27 days left to get in on the action.
Continuing with a theme, Orée is a new company offering a "range of lasting & customizable handcrafted tech objects made out of premium materials," the first of which is simply known as "Board." Of course, the premium peripheral has keys as any text input device, offering all of the functionality of a bluetooth keyboard in a handsome handcrafted maple or walnut package
The Orée Board is eco-designed: each unit is made from a single piece of wood which is cut into three "sheets" to preserve the wood grain across the shell and keys while also minimizing waste. We select wood varieties which are made to last, offer elegant aesthetics and that create a warm tactile experience for the user. We source them from sustainably managed forests to offer the most natural, durable and renewable material on Earth. In addition, the Orée Board is powered by a low power Bluetooth 3.0 chipset from Broadcom and a high quality key mechanism to offer extended durability.
Of course, the French company is well beyond the prototype phase: tech entrepreneur Julien Salanave founded the company earlier this year in Languedoc in Southern France, and Tent London (which opens on Thursday) will see the launch of Orée with the "Board."
Orée is the result of a unique partnership between a technology entrepreneur, a product designer and a master woodcraftsman ("Compagnon"). Orée is about reconciling tradition & novelty to create exceptional objects through an exclusive combination of timeless woodworking techniques passed down through generations of French woodcrafters & cabinetmakers with cutting-edge milling technology.
We all know that it takes more than 24-hours to create a fully realized product, but in what might be the world's fastest product launch, Quirky teamed up with Fab to host a 24-hour iPhone 5 Accessory Design-a-Thon. Although some of these ideas could use an extra 24-hours or more, the suite of accessories will go from concept to market in less than a week with the winning designs available to consumers beginning on Wednesday, September 19th on Fab.com.
Things kicked off last night as 53 potential products (culled from an initial batch of 1,750 ideas from the Quirky community) went through a rapid-fire evaluation at Quirky's New York City offices. Panelists included Ben Kaufman (Quirky Founder and CEO), members of the Quirky team, Lukas Thomas and Devin Guinn (both buyers from Fab).
With the clock ticking, the panelists quickly narrowed the accessory options down to 18 products and set varying design teams to hammer down the design details and packaging options to ready the products for manufacturing. By 2AM, the teams presented their sketches to the broader Quirky community via livestream to narrow the feature set and details for the final products. See the Quirky blog for more info about the 24-hour Design-a-Thon! We've always been a cheerleader of prototyping fast and early so to go from concept to the factory in 24-hours is pretty remarkable. If only all our products were manufacturer-ready after the first prototype!
As of press time, the design teams were busy prepping the final CAD files for manufacturing. Here's a snapshot of some of the accessories we're most excited about seeing in their fully realized state (click the image to go to the product page):
After nearly half a decade of research and development, we're pleased to announce that it's finally possible to pre-order their first iPhone-to-Polaroid device as of this very morning: the Impossible Project has launched a Kickstarter project for the Impossible Instant Lab, which allows cameraphone shutterbugs to print their images as genuine Polaroid snapshots, iconic white border and all. Dr. Kaps recaps the journey and demos the Lab in the pitch-perfect pitch video:
Over the next few weeks we will be highlighting award-winning projects and ideas from this year's Core77 Design Awards 2012! For full details on the project, jury commenting and more information about the awards program, go to Core77DesignAwards.com
Pulse is an analog device capable of displaying information obtained online. Pulse is meant to be hung on a wall in your living room or kitchen, where it will constantly keep you up to date on whatever information feed you connect it to. By tilting Pulse you are able to switch between three different information feeds of your choice, all of which are easily programmed by pairing the device with its online platform.
How did you learn that you had been recognized by the jury?
We we're both out and about traveling in France and Interning in Spain when we got the Email from the crew at Core77 (Sarah), so It took us a while to get back home and actually realize our project was recognized by the jury. Jon read it first since we applied with his account, so we ended up having a little celebration over Skype with Beer in Seville and KÃ¶lsch in Cologne.Â
What's the latest news or development with your project?
Since we applied for the award with some concept renders we have had the time to further develop the idea into a working prototype. It's been a pretty bumpy road with quite a lot of mechanical difficulties and many nights in the RISD workshops, but we managed to overcome almost all of them and we now have a working prototype that shows us a weather feed via the Google weather service. We are planning to build an online platform and make it open source so users can easily create and share their own feeds for Pulse and hopefully one day when we iron out all the details get it onto Kickstarter.
What is one quick anecdote about your project?
Jon can't code and Christian hates electronics. Maybe that's why it took us almost three months and 13 servo motors (We burnt 7 motors by wiring them up back to front) to get Pulse just right. All jokes aside we couldn't have don't it without the Gadgeteer electronics prototyping platform and the help of Prof. Andy Law and Nic Villar from Microsoft Research. We're just better at bending aluminum and turning parts on the lathe.
What was an "a-ha" moment from this project?
We were trying to figure out how to avoid any buttons on Pulse so we could keep it as simple and pure an interaction with the information as possible, yet we still wanted to have three different modes for the user to switch between. We were stuck for quite some time until one of us standing in front of an early prototype started playing with it by twisting it on the wall - we both looked at each other and went A-HA!. Really.
Next month Lapka Electronics is set to release Lapka, its much anticipated new environmental monitoring device and app for the iPhone. Once you download the free app you can plug in one of four lead-free, PVC-free, water resistant sensors to track radiation, organic matter, EMF (electromagnetic fields) and humidity in your immediate environment (from right to left in the image above). The radiation sensor is professional grade, counting every particle and then translating that data into how it might be affecting you. The organic sensor uses a stainless steel probe to detect significant amounts of nitrates in raw foods and drinking water caused by residues or synthetic fertilizers. Try it out at your local farmers market to see if those high-priced organic peaches are really and truly organic. The EMF sensor detects the electromagnetic pollution caused by electronics, telecommunication transmitters and power lines. You might use it to locate the least electromagnetically polluted area in your home for your bed or your child's room. The last sensor for humidity compares generally accepted comfort standards with the temperature and humidity in your immediate environment. (While we don't need an app to tell us that August in New York ranks in at miserable on the comfort index, it's nice to know when our frizzy hair, shiny faces and sweat-soaked shirts are scientifically unacceptable.)
On a more practical level, we can see the app's ability to translate data into easy-to-read values (which it puts into context with global standards, averages and suggested tolerance ranges) being especially useful not just at home or in the office, but in public spaces like parks, airplanes, hospitals or your child's school. You can take environmental 'snapshots' throughout the day to create a personalized 'comfort diary' that you can share with a global community of users. If enough people get involved it means that we'll be able to view accurate, real-time environmental data from locations around the world and record and track the data to analyze changes over time. That's not only fun and helpful for the curious everyday user, but it's a potentially significant source of information for medical researchers looking at how environmental factors impact health and the regional spread of infection and disease. And if your goal is to make your home a less toxic environment, you can get precise feedback on changes you make to your space.
Lapka is expected to be available in December 2012 for $220.
The oasis of your workspace can sometimes get a bit lonely. Don't worry, it happens to the best of us. Fortunately, David Weeks recently designed a desktop USB Hub for Kikkerland to help battle the work-day blues. The elegant peripheral brings a bit of cheer to the often isolating experience of hacking away at your computer. The glow of the hub reminds us that once we unplug from "Lonely City," the promise of a world of adventure awaits. Windows and Mac compatible, four 2.0 hi-speed USB Ports. Godzilla and action figure not included.
Tombox is a line of portable speakers produced in Germany, and their retro looks are not the result of imitative design; each speaker is an actual loudspeaker of yore, cleaned up and repurposed by a duo known only as Laudahn and Holldobler.
We reuse discarded loudspeakers and give them a second chance as portable amplifiers. The built-in, rechargable battery will keep the system running for a period of up to two weeks (depending on volume). [Each] comes with a charging device, a 3.5mm cable and plug, suitable for laptops, mp3 players and much more.
With all the recent hubbub surrounding simplified gaming consoles, we'd be remiss to neglect our more dedicated gaming readership. Inspired by military combat equipment, the Vengeance C70 Gaming Case was designed by CRE8 in an ammo-box style with a rugged all-steel exterior and interior. The fourth line in Corsair's popular gaming line Vengeance, the C70 is designed for the serious gamer with an integrated flip-up carry handle, quick release latches on the side panels for easy access, and the standard Corsair interiors that allows for expansion capabilities and cooling permutations including two places to mount liquid coolers.
The form clearly targets fans of first-person shooters—from the welded steel protection frame to the finish options that include "Military Green," "Gunmetal Black" and "Arctic White," the company describes the case as Combat Ready. From the reviews, the actual interior of the C70 doesn't differ significantly from Corsair's Obsidian 550D, but we're interested in how the hardware design will be received by this pre-existing and dedicated group of users.
We've seen Scandinavian headphones before, but Zound Industries differentiates themselves by specifically addressing DJs' needs while maintaining a minimalist-yet-highly-functional approach to design. Their latest product in the UrbanEars line of headphones, the Zinken, was "developed with the professional DJ in mind, with respect to the wallet of the unpaid amateur"—at $140, we're assuming they're referring to amateur DJs—boasting two key features as well as attention to detail such as noise isolation and materials.
While the swiveling cans and "an adjustable headband and specially selected materials that absorb sweat and odors" are certainly nice, UrbanEars has turned its focus towards the cable itself. The Zinken comes with an independent 1/8”-to-1/4” cable that connects from source to 'phone, which accepts either jack, such that the cable is effectively reversible. Thus, the so-called "TurnCable" is the company's "solution to an adapter-free life."
With a coiled section on the cord, the TurnCable lets you move about without getting unplugged and disrupting the sound coming from your headphones. It's also designed for maximum durability with a rugged Kevlar core—a material strong enough to stop bullets.
The Zinken also features a "ZoundPlug," a 1/8” output on the other phone, which allows a friend or fellow DJ to hear the same audio, eliminating the need for a Y-splitter. (This feature was previously debuted with their flagship over-the-ear Platten model.)
We've got a sneak peek here of Ghostly International's Brian Fichtner interviewing John Sundermeyer, the industrial designer, Coroflotter, co-founder of the Pull Experience creative agency and ex-RKS designer behind the KOR One water bottle. Fichtner asks Sundermeyer about the design process behind Audyssey's Audio Dock Air, the diminutive, desktop wireless-streaming speaker with the monolithic design.
GI: What was your starting point and how did the form factor emerge?
JS: There are two main components here:
1. The Configuration
Audyssey already had a very unique form factor with their original wireless Audio Dock, which is narrow and deep, unlike the majority of docks on the market that generally have a very traditional "landscape" aspect ratio. We had a lot of positive feedback from end-users about this form-factor because its footprint is very efficient, especially in a space sensitive environments like a desktop or nightstand. This form factor also has some performance advantages, most notably the side-firing drivers which provide better stereo separation than traditional dock configurations.
2. The Form
I had the general idea for this design before creating any sketches. It was originally based on two pure intersecting forms, an elevated cloth cube and a frame. One of the thoughts was to keep these elements and different materials separate, to have a very strong break between the form and the materials, as opposed to a singular form with incidental material breaks.
How many iterations did the design go through en route to the final production version?
There were really only two main iterations, the first being the original concept sketch direction, the second being its refinement and subsequent 3D development. I consider everything else to be refinement/implementation. As with any product, details had to be honed and finessed as the design was being implemented by the engineering team and manufacturer, however, these iterations were very small and did not impact the essence of the device.
Are there any aspects to the design that you're particularly proud of?
The final design is true to its intent. Actualizing a minimal design like the Audio Dock Air's requires a lot of attention to detail and shared vision by the entire team. Audyssey understood this innately and having everyone aligned on this vision was crucial to ensuring that superfluous details didn't creep in along the way.
The full interview will be up on Ghostly's blog next week, so be sure to check it out. Our thanks to Fichtner and co. for letting us get the drop.
(For those of you unawares, cultural curator Ghostly International is a design house, technology innovator, record label and online store all rolled into one.)
Core77 had an opportunity to sit down with Alex Knox, Dyson's Industrial Design Director after his keynote address for the 2012 Sustainable Operations Summit. Knox, one of the longest-serving members of Dyson, has helped the company grow from a small team of engineers working out of a garden shed to a global technology company employing 3,900 people. 17 years later, he continues to lead the design and development of new Dyson machines.
In our conversation with Knox, we learn more about Dyson's long history with issues of sustainability and their current focus on engineering efficiency.
* * *
Core77: In your presentation, you put out a challenge to modern manufacturers. Can you share a little bit about your perspective on "engineering efficiency"?
Alex Knox: We think that the right thing for manufacturers to do is to focus on engineering efficiency. It's not a new concept. It's not contemporary, even. I gave a number of examples of great engineers through history. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, when he was developing the steamships and perfecting the screw propeller, effectively achieved an incredibly efficient design. It's only five percent different from modern day propellers, which is an incredible feat when you consider that he was doing it all on bits of paper and metal scale models. Essentially, he was striving after efficient design because it made it faster and fuel-efficient.
That's exactly what Dyson tries to do today. It's a fundamental part of engineering discipline. But it's tricky. It's difficult to do; it takes time, it takes money and it might all go wrong. It's no guarantee you're going to succeed.
One of the examples we talked about was Boeing, who'd just done the 787 Dreamliner. They embarked on this massive research and development program for developing composites for the fuselage or wings. It's a pretty incredible undertaking—never been done on that scale before. They suffered all kinds of setbacks and delays, which they got chastised and castigated about, and it was an immense piece of work.
Yet what they'd actually managed to engineer was a plane that had fewer parts. It was lighter, it could fly faster and it burned 20 percent less fuel—that's a huge amount.
Yet they were getting flak for taking a bit longer than when they first planned it out. You got to be brave and have a vision about where you're going with it. And we were just reading in the press that they're now starting to effectively use that technology on smaller planes. If you got the heart and the vision you can get through the difficult bit and start to see the benefits.
Exactly, and as with all these things, the first time you do it is the hard time. The second generation or third generation—well, it becomes a hell of a lot easier because you've made the mistakes, you've had the failures, you've learned from all of that and that's what Dyson is all about. That's the spirit of it, so we're very fortunate that James [Dyson] is completely wedded to the view that that's the way that we should design machines. What we'd like to see is other manufacturers do the same thing.
You also mentioned that now "green" is a term that's ambiguous enough as to be almost meaningless. What's the alternative?
In terms of an engineering point of view, rather than trying to stick green labels on something that doesn't mean anything, what we're interested in is actually creating a good engineering solution. If you have a good engineering solution, you're already considering efficiency because efficiency is just a fundamental part of an engineering approach to something. So, if you've done a good job, you'll end up with something that is efficient in the way it performs, efficient in the use of materials and efficient in the use of energy. And as you know, for some appliances energy usage is the biggest one to get right from a sustainable point of view.
Our friends at Portland design studio Industry are pleased to present their latest project, a wireless digital speaker unit for fellow PDX'ers Aperion Audio. The ARIS was "fully designed, engineered and tuned in Portland" over the course of three weeks with the pithy mission of "Hi-Fi over "Wi-Fi."
The Aperion ARIS gives you Hi-Fi via Wi-Fi for Windows, so you can enjoy your favorite tracks instantly. So what if your music library achieves its vastness through files scattered on every desktop, laptop, notebook, tablet and smartphone in your world? As long as the device connects to your network, you're covered... Set up ARIS on your network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet in minutes, then use Windows built-in Play To feature to pick and play your music to the ARIS speaker located wherever you want to listen...
Principal Oved Valadez shared a short deck with Core77 for a bit more insight into the whirlwind design process, which focused on "a shift from the traditional sustainable platform, back to quality and value. We call it deep sustainability":
The Challenge: How can a brand rooted in a traditional hi-fi audio shift their focus to a younger, more tech-savvy design-centric consumer? How can product design tell this story?
The Opportunity: By identifying an opportunity to speak to a new consumer, this design establishes a lifestyle product icon for a new audio platform; Wi-Fi enabled Hi-Fi. It shifts the focus from a traditional audiophile listener to instead reach a more design-savvy, technologically progressive consumer.