Super-smart shopping cart for James Dyson

The problems of the future will be solved by today’s bright young engineers and scientists. But they need inspiration and encouragement.” That’s the ethos behind the James Dyson Award; and whatever your views about Mr Dyson himself, the award has certainly produced some excellent ideas – innovative solutions to genuine problems. There’s no clickbait here.

The Award competition is open to current students and recent graduates, and submissions are reviewed by a panel of independent experts (including but not limited to Dyson’s people). Each winner takes home a prize fund and will get the chance to earn media exposure that should help to kick-start their career and commercialise their invention.

The first round of the award is national, and some 30 National Winners have just been announced from a total of nearly 2,000 entries.

The UAE is one of the countries that have signed up, and the UAE winner is a Heriot-Watt University team with SMEFA, “Shopping Made Effortless For All”. Basically it’s a smart shopping cart aimed primarily at the physically disabled – it can attach to a wheelchair – that uses a built-in scanner controlled by a low-cost processor (Arduino Uno). Information about a scanned product is displayed (price, calories, allergens) and a credit card used for payment.

The other clever aspect of the design seems to us to be a load sensor linked to a spring-linkage mechanism – as the user adds or removes an item, the whole cart can move down or up respectively using. That means maximum leg room for a wheelchair user and effortless lifting of the basket.

We don’t get to see the full spec, of course, but it would be interesting to understand the overall data requirements for the scan. There are a lot of products out there in multiple stores, not all of which maintain dietary details and product descriptions in the same database formats; being able to access dietary information is very useful, but unless there’s a link to some kind of global product database the functionality might be limited to the basic barcode-type information.

The current design also looks a bit clunky, especially by comparison with some of the super-slick solutions on offer from other national winners. But that’s recognised by the design team, and it is of course solvable, they say future development will focus on more automation, weight reduction, improved payment options, a stacking function, and more portability.

The SMEFA team consists of Noel Binoy, Ashvin Vijish, Aditya Subin, Manush Dheen and Adhil Sidhik

The UAE runners-up were HydroPurification from a Curtin University team, a portable four-layer greywater purification system; and FarmFlock, also by Heriot-Watt University, a swarm of mobile robots equipped with sensors for delivering data about the health of chicken flocks.

There’s a good deal of variety on the list, with some alternative approaches to the same problem (cycle helmets, colostomy bags), several medical (prosthetics manufacturing, pulmonary rehabilitation, post-surgery chest brace), a couple aimed at potentially lifestyles (Alzheimer’s, blindness, asthma, ADHD), and some that sound great but look difficult to get into production (hybrid retrofit for petrol engines, a hygroscopic water collection system). But they’re all serious. Here are ten that caught our attention:

  • Low cost-cost petrol-to-hybrid retrofit for car engines (Australia)
  • Wearable memory aid for Alzheimer’s sufferers that responds to Bluetooth tag reminders (Belgium)
  • A fully-foldable yet fully-functional cycle helmet with an interchangeable external design such as a beanie or cap (France)
  • Externally-applied cooling material for buildings that is made from recycled glass (Hong Kong)
  • Colour recognition device that allows blind people to react to traffic lights and pedestrian crossing signals (Japan)
  • Educational toy that teaches children how to wash their hands correctly (Malaysia)
  • Automated mechatronic system for pulmonary rehabilitation that can be used by multiple patients and so reduces pressure on pulmonary physiotherapists (Poland)
  • Support brace for post-open heart surgery that produce the ideal pressure and comfort level (Singapore)
  • Advanced wheelchair that combines with a walking aid for elderly individuals with limited mobility (Taiwan)
  • Alga-based bio-oil fuel (Thailand)

A shortlist of the top 20 inventions will be announced on 18 October, from which the 2023 global International and Sustainability winners will be selected a month later.

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