Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Don't preorder this in Currys

The white goods company Electrolux has been running a lab design competition to come up with designs for domestic appliances for 2099 (as, apparently, Electrolux is 90 years old). There are eight finalists who have come up with various unlikely possibilities, of which the most fruit-cakey are the two I have included here.

I'm all in favour of designers being given a bit of free rein with creativity, but there seems to be a problem with the criteria used to select these designs. Two essentials are missing. Scientific practicality - will this be feasible in 90 years time? - and practical relevance. Who would want a domestic appliance that does this? Each of these 'novel' ideas falls down at one of these hurdles.

The first is a teleporting fridge. According to designer Dulyawat Wongnawa: Technologies seem to be progressing at an increasingly faster rate nowadays. In the next 90 years, we will see a lot of technologies that today we think are completely impossible. Even though my teleportation concept might sound far-fetched, scientists have already succeeded in teleporting small particles such as photons. So over the next 90 years, this technology will have time to develop and become part of our everyday lives.

Unfortunately there's a disconnect of logic here. The same people who are teleporting photons are very clear that there is no prospect for teleporting an object like the apple portrayed in the picture. I love the whole business of quantum teleportation - it's one of the stars of my book The God Effect - but I'm really not convinced that it is going to be used to move food around 90 years from now. Note, by the way, that moving is all it does - so that ham that your fridge teleports would have had to be sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Sounds complicated to me.

But at least this is based on real science, and there's a point. It would be kind of handy for your fridge to be able to summon up produce through the airwaves (though, to be honest, if I were designing it, I would have the items delivered into the fridge, rather than an open box). By comparison, the other design I want to highlight does something of magnificent pointlessness. It's a greenhouse designed to roam around Mars, scouting for material to keep alive a single plant in the top of it.

Why? In what possible way would anyone want one of these for the kitchen? Designer Martin Miklica struggles to answer the question 'What are the main consumer benefits of your product?' with this magnificent piece of woffle: One thing you notice on Mars is the silence and serenity. That’s quite good for one week’s vacation in the countryside, but for modern people it’s very depressing to live in such a place for several months or years. Therefore, the main benefit of Le Petit Prince is that it’s not just a machine, but more like a pet or silent friend that you can speak to when you aren’t in the mood to talk to people. On top of that, it is a good gardener that grows any plant you want or need to bare [sic] life or just for its beauty.


If you'd like to see more of the eight finalists, take a look at the Design Lab page.

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