The Cooper Hewitt may not be reopening to the public until December of this year, but the design museum is still keeping busy. After rebranding earlier this year, they released their bespoke typeface to the public, continue to digitize their unparalleled collection of design objects, and are once again presenting the People's Design Award - the only National Design Award detained by public vote. Last year, the prize was awarded to the PackH20 Water Backpack, which was designed to provide a cleaner, safer way to transport water in developing countries. The backpack was one item in a diverse field of projects that included computer software, a snap-together circuit board, hi-tech bike handlebars, a telepresence device, and an emergency cell phone. This year, the nominated projects are varied, but there is a noticeable trend: wearables. To put it more boldly, these design projects go far beyond oversize calculator watches to give us a glimpse of a very cyborg-friendly future where our sense will be electronically extended and magnified through bio-tech peripherals.
The DEKA Arm is the most obviously cybernetic component on this year's list. It's the most advanced prosthetic arm ever designed, capable of helping users with the most delicate of tasks - like turning keys, zipping zippers, and, as an AMA on Reddit revealed, painting your nails. On the other hand (literally), another nominated design, PHL gloves developed by researchers at Georgia Tech, send small vibrations to help the wearer learn to read and type Braille - it's essentially a way of passively programming your brain to learn new skills and has clear potential beyond helping the visually impaired. And on the subject of touch, InFORM is a new type of display that , while not a wearable, allows users to sort of extend their sense of touch by interacting with virtual objects - you can feel something that's not really there.
The Eyeronman is a electronic vest designed for the visually impaired that uses a bevy of sensors to communicate location through vibrations; similarly, “super shoes” send small vibrations to the wearer’s feet to help him or her navigate city streets without staring at a phone. Another obvious wearable, the Silic shirt doesn’t offer any electronic enhancements, but it is waterproof and stain proof. Epideral Electronics is a translucent stick-on skin patch system that goes far beyond popular fitness trackers to provide detailed health data. And finally, the ICEdot Crash Sensor is a black box for bicyclists that, upon impact, triggers an alarm and sends your GPS coordinates to emergency services.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a brief glimpse at your cyborg future. These objects are all impressive on their own but added all together they have the capability to make the us better, stronger, faster and maybe even smarter. And hopefully it won't cost anywhere near 6 million dollars. Even if one of these cyborg wearables don't win this year’s competition, it's only a matter of time before the technology hits the market. In the future, we'll all be cyborgs. Resistance is futile.
But will one of these designs win the title of People’s Choice? That’s up to you. So cast your vote before 6:00 p.m. on October 6. The winner will be announced live at the National Design Awards Gala in New York City and on Smithsonian.com on October 9.