A Label You Rub To See If Food Has Expired and Other Finalists for the Dyson Award

There’s also a pen that lets you know when you should reapply your sunscreen and a device called Luke Stairwalker

Rub the label to see if the food inside is still good to eat. (James Dyson Awards)

James Dyson, who has made his fortune as inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, launched the James Dyson Award in 2007 to encourage the next generation of industrial designers. The international competition showcases some of the more ingenious ideas of college students and recent graduates for products designed to solve everyday problems. Judging by the winners in recent years, he has clearly inspired some creative thinking. 

Two years ago, for instance, British designer Dan Watson won the $45,000 prize with the invention of a “humane” net that makes fishing more sustainable by preventing small fish from being trapped as bycatch. Last year’s big winner was a team of students from the University of Pennsylvania who created a device called the Titan Arm, a battery-powered, upper-body exoskeleton that provides superhuman strength and allows a person to do physical therapy in his or her own home.

This year, the Dyson Foundation selected 20 finalists. A packaging label that you can rub to see if the food inside is spoiled and a marker that will let you know when you need to apply more sunscreen vied for the distinction, as did other clever inventions addressing health problems. James Roberts, a 23-year-old graduate of Loughborough University in England, took top prize with MOM, his inflatable incubator for preemies born in refugee camps.

Editor's Note: This story was updated on November 21, 2014, to reflect the international award winner.

Bump Mark

Don’t trust expiration dates? A 23-year-old industrial designer named Solveiga Pakstaite has come up with a better idea. Her labels aren’t meant to be read, they’re meant to be rubbed.

Pakstaite has developed a label called Bump Mark that changes texture as the food inside begins to decay. Her labels contain gelatin, which is a protein, and as such, it begins to decay at the same rate as protein-rich foods, such as meat, fish, cheese and milk. So when the food starts to go bad, the gelatin in the label also begins to break down, transforming from a smooth surface to a bumpy one.

Because gelatin labels actually reflect what’s happening to the food inside, they would be far more accurate than an estimated expiration date printed on a package. Pakstaite came up with the idea while focusing on innovations that could help blind people.

For her invention, Pakstaite, who recently received her industrial design and technology degree from Brunel University in London, was the winner of the national Dyson competition in the United Kingdom.


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