The James Dyson Award might feel like naked self-promotion (why is the first name necessary?) but it does encourage young designers to come up with practical solutions to real problems – and as well as providing some cash for the winners (it has given over £1 million to more than 300 projects to date) the publicity generated for those on the shortlist is often good enough to get their ideas into production and/or their selves into employment.
Submissions are judged initially by country (and not countries are represented, of course), with the 28 country winners providing the shortlist for the overall international winner. To date the UAE entries have not made to this pinnacle – this year’s, from an Ajman university team, was Shield, a smartwatch anti child abuse system that detects abuse, takes a picture of the assaulter and sends parents the location of the child. It looked useful but a bit cumbersome; the software looks doable, but the automatic abuse detection involves a smartwatch with a skin conductivity sensor and a special belt and clothes that include resistance sensors. And how do you persuade a kid to wear that much kit in this heat?
By contrast, the winners this year were all slick and neat. There were two main winners (each receiving £30,000) and one runner-up (£5,000), and all three look eminently amenable to production.
The ‘International Winner’ was invented by a team of students from Warsaw University of Technology: SmartHEAL (top) is a smart sensor for wound dressings which indicates how well the healing is going by measuring the wound’s pH level.
It uses RFID, which is an established technology for remote reading of data (it’s a bit like a barcode, except that the data can be refreshed and you don’t need a line-of-sight connection). The pH level is a key indicator, so SmartHEAL can be used to assess a wound’s condition and detect infection without removing the dressing.
The team aims to have a clinically certified product ready for commercial distribution in 2025.
The ‘Sustainability Winner’ is Polyformer, from a two-person team at McMaster University, Canada. This is another very practical solution; while working at a makerspace in Rwanda, While working at a makerspace in Rwanda, Swaleh Owais and Reiten Cheng saw that the unit’s 3D printers were underused because of the high price of imported plastic filament. So they invented a low-cost machine that turns used plastic bottles into 1.75mm filament ready for the 3D printer.
Polyformer is simple and compact, the cost of $150 or so is financially accessible for many communities, and the pair are developing add-ons to improve its value. Polydryer evaporates moisture from printer filament (plastic bottles inevitably absorb some of the water they’re filled with); Polyjoiner automatically joins multiple strands of filament (a single 500ml bottle only produces 3m of filament – not enough for most 3D print jobs); and Polyspooler automatically spools the filament to make it easier to use.
We like the idea of recycling bottles into 3D printed prototypes in emerging regions; that ticks lots of boxes. The entire Polyformer project is 100% open-source, too, with all CAD, code, and build instructions available on a discord thread.
The runner-up prize goes to Charlotte Blancke of the University of Antwerp for Ivvy. This one is very specific; it’s an alternative to the conventional IV drip-on-a-pole for at-home infusion treatments. Ivvy instead provides a compact wearable device that provides patients with more mobility, an easy-to-use infusion pump, and on-board software so that nurses can monitor their patients remotely.
As james Dyson’s citation says, “Ivvy is a simple concept that could improve people’s treatment and enhance their quality of life … It shows the brilliance of simple design”.