Each year, the People’s Design Award, presented by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, highlights projects that have the capacity to revolutionize our daily lives through innovative design. Past winners include Pack H20 Water Backpack, Toms Shoes, the Zōn Hearing Aid, and the Trek Lime Bicycle. This year, our team of experts from the Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian.com selected 20 nominees, ranging from material built out of mushrooms to a shirt that is truly stainless, that emphasize how innovative design can make a difference in our everyday lives.
Who will win this year? You tell us! Cast your vote for your favorite design before 6:00 p.m. ET on October 6. The winner will be announced live at the National Design Awards Gala in New York City and here, on this site, on October 9.
CONGRATULATIONS TO SPIRE, the WINNER OF THE 2014 PEOPLE's DESIGN AWARD!
Drift Light by Saffron
Smarter than your average light bulb, the Drift Light, designed by a company called Saffron, mimics the setting sun to ease you into a more natural, peaceful sleep. Flip the Drift Light’s switch once, and it functions like a normal light bulb. Flip it twice, and it dims over a period of 37 minutes, preparing your body for rest and allowing you to sleep better. The bulb was also designed to give off less blue light, which can suppress melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles.
Mushroom Building Bricks
A visitor to New York this past summer would have had the opportunity to see first-hand the transformative properties of mycelium, a root material in fungus that grows into mushrooms, in a free-standing architecture installation at MoMA/PS1 (developed by previous People’s Design Award nominee Ecovative). Another person engaged with this technology is mycologist and mycotect Philip Ross, who has developed Mushroom Building Blocks. Beneath the surface, mushrooms grow mycelium, a network of thin, root-like fibers; when this is dried, it becomes an extremely strong building material, resistant to water, mold, and fire. Ross grows mushrooms in his lab and hopes that eventually his mycotecture will have a myriad of uses, serving as an eco-friendly building block for things like insulation and building foundations.
Tactile Navigation Tools has developed Eyeronman, a vest that employs three kinds of sensors— LIDAR (similar to the laser being used in driverless cars), ultrasound, and infrared—to help the visually impaired travel in the easiest way possible. When the sensors detect an object, they work together to convert both its size and location into a code, which is communicated to the wearer as vibrations. In the future, the company hopes the vest will assist soldiers in combat and firefighters whose vision may be impaired by smoke.
SuperShoes: Facilitating Urban Rediscovery
Despite the name, SuperShoes are actually a set of “smart” insoles. Choose a destination using your smartphone, and microcontrollers in the flexible silicone designs connect to an app, determining the best route and sending what creator Dhairya Dand calls “vibrotactile ticklers” to your feet to indicate directions. Dand, from MIT, originally wanted to encourage travelers to look at their phones less, but realized the device had bigger implications for everyday life. After learning your preference for sushi, for example, SuperShoes may walk you by a highly rated restaurant; or on accessing your to-do list, remind you when you are a near a location that’s relevant to an important task.
While the Silic Shirt may not actually clean itself, it still does an impressive job of repelling stains. Founded by Aamir Patel, Silic uses hydrophobic technology to bond billions of silica particles to the shirt’s fibers. This creates a microscopic layer of air, which protects the fabric from any water-based liquids, making it difficult to soil and impossible to stain. Soft and breathable, this material is currently only used for T-shirts.
Made from shatter-resistant glass, the Soma is not only eco-friendly, but visually stunning as well. The Soma team was inspired to design a filtered water bottle that would fit in at a nice dinner party. Dedicated to sustainable design, the group developed a biodegradable filter using coconut shells, silk, and plant-based casing; even the packaging contains recycled materials. To a sustainable design that’s beautifully executed, we say: drink up!
Designer Max Gunawan developed the Lumio Lamp with the idea to “give people the freedom to experience beautiful lighting wherever they are.” A wooden binding disguises the light as a book—just open the cover and its ‘pages’ emit a warm, dimmable LED light, while powerful magnets allow users to attach or hang it from any metallic surface. Combined with an 8-hour battery life and a durable, water-resistant interior, we’d say Gunawan has achieved his goal.
“It's the power of the sun - in your pocket,” say the designers of Spor, the portable, solar-powered battery charger. Although it’s not the first solar-powered battery charger available, it is among the first to be compact, efficient and easy on the eyes. Spor can charge two devices at once, and to charge it, either plug it into an outlet, or expose it to sunlight. Users can customize its shell with 3D home printing. This good-looking little gadget makes energy more affordable, more accessible and pretty cute.
Spire aims to get you healthy, but its focus isn’t limited to heart rate measurements or how many steps you take in a day. Clip this little device (shown charging) to your clothing, and Spire can deduce your general state of mind: an elevated heart rate and shorter breaths indicate stress, while slower breathing and a lower heart rate signify a more peaceful state. If Spire senses symptoms of stress, it will send a reminder to your phone, offering helpful suggestions to encourage you to relax. Conversely, if Spire senses you’ve been having a lazy day, it may send texts inspiring you to get active. Consider this your personal trainer and pocket yogi, all in one.
Array of Things: Urban Sensor Network
Kind of like a fitness tracker for an entire city, the "Array of Things" project was designed to measure and track the general health of Chicago. High-tech sensors affixed to lampposts throughout the city will continuously record things like weather, pollution, air quality, noise levels, temperature, carbon dioxide, and possibly even pedestrian traffic. The data will be accessible to the public, in hopes that developers will create apps that can organize the figures into helpful systems, such as programs that alert users to icy roads or neighborhoods with especially high pollen levels on a given day.
The DEKA Arm is a bionic device that will allow amputees to perform tasks that require dexterity not possible with current prostheses. Electrodes, attached to the muscles close to the area where the prosthesis is attached, are prompted by those muscles to send signals to a computer. The computer then reads the signals and interprets them as a movement or movements, which the hand carries out. The new device can help amputees turn a key in a lock, operate zippers and pick up small, delicate objects.
SAM Junctional Tourniquet
This ultra-simple tourniquet is one of the best new products for military combat. Weighing just over a pound, it’s easy to use, with instructions printed directly on it and auditory feedback to tell the user when it's properly set: one click means it’s secure, two clicks means it’s appropriately tight. There are pneumatic air bladders hidden under the ballistic nylon surface, which inflate to staunch bleeding; a clever shut-off valve prevents medics from over-inflating the device and further injuring their patients. Perhaps most importantly, the tourniquet can be deployed in under 25 seconds—a critical benefit in a combat scenario where a medic typically has only 90 seconds to save a life.
The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves reports that 4.3 million people die worldwide each year from exposure to cookstove smoke, and that over 20 percent of global black carbon emissions come from cookstoves. In an effort to address this issue, the creators of EcoZoom rocket stoves have designed several different stoves, all of which efficiently burn wood, charcoal or solid biomass fuel while significantly reducing smoke output. According to the company, just a handful of sticks or charcoal can be enough fuel to cook an entire meal or boil water.
This ultra-thin, soft stick-on patch is bringing wireless health monitoring to a whole new level. In addition to providing a more accurate picture for those with fitness goals, Epidermal Electronics can track your health on a bigger scale, providing doctors with data that could alert them to things like early onset Parkinson’s disease. If tracking everyday health and wirelessly sending reports to a phone, computer and doctor isn’t enough, this little device also has the potential to revolutionize EKG and EEG testing, removing the need for multiple wires and bulky pads. A single clip-on to this little patch has proven to perform just as well as traditional tests, while being significantly more comfortable.
Don’t have time for doctors’ appointments? Check out Cue, a medical device in the shape of a three-inch cube that provides at-home testing for five conditions: vitamin D, testosterone, inflammation, fertility and flu virus, giving the results in real-time. According to its creators, it provides analytical precision on par with the results produced by massive and expensive desktop lab equipment. All you have to do is put a nostril swab sample or drop of blood or salivia on a wand, and insert it into a disposable, color-coded microfluidic cartridge. Cue analyzes the samples and delivers the results to your phone via an app, essentially bringing the doctor to you.
inFORM: A Dynamic Shape Display
Think of inFORM as a revolutionary touchscreen. A surface that three-dimensionally changes shape, it allows users to interact with digital content. Its creators, Daniel Leithinger and Sean Follmer, say the technology behind inFORM isn't that hard to understand: “it's basically a fancy Pinscreen, one of those executive desk toys that allows you to create a rough 3-D model of an object by pressing it into a bed of flattened pins. With inFORM, each of those ‘pins’ is connected to a motor controlled by a nearby laptop, which can not only move the pins to render digital content physically, but can also register real-life objects interacting with its surface thanks to the sensors of a hacked Microsoft Kinect.” Create and manipulate models, or hold hands with a person on the other side of the world—according to Leithinger and Follmer, that’s just the beginning.
Sabi wants Baby Boomers to age in style. To its product line of chic pillboxes and canes, the company has added Sabi Space, a 13-piece set of easy-to-install bathroom accessories. Sabi asked the design firm MAP to create mirrors, towel racks, hooks, grab bars and toilet paper dispensers that either twist on or adhere by magnet to a standardized peg. The peg sticks to the wall, no drilling required, making any remodel a cinch. Sabi suspects that dorm dwellers and young professionals renting apartments might see the appeal too.
ICEdot Crash Sensor
For the off-roading and extreme sports fans, ICEdot offers ease of mind for those attempting solo trips. ICEdot is a sensor that can attach to any helmet, monitoring movement and detecting harmful changes in G-forces and rotational forces. Upon a crash or fall, it triggers an alarm on your smartphone via low-level Bluetooth, starting a countdown that must be stopped. If not, your emergency contacts are notified of your GPS coordinates and that you may need help.
“Top Chef” alum Spike Mendelsohn and his surfer friend Charlie Dougiello have come up with a way to keep sand at the beach, where it belongs. Their preppy Shake totes, made and sold by the website Quirky, are canvas, but have a panel that can be unsnapped to expose a mesh bottom. Shake, as the bag’s name suggests, and any sand filters through the netting.
These gloves, designed by researchers at Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing, made headlines earlier this year for devising an innovative way of teaching Braille, but the technology opens up many new possibilities. The invention is an example of “passive haptic learning” – where the brain learns new kinetic skills without directed instruction. With the haptic glove, tiny vibrating motors stitched into the glove’s knuckles taught the wearer how to type Braille, and their research showed that their experiments also taught subjects how to read Braille. The implications of this work are far-reaching, and could present new techniques for the visually impaired and, more broadly, those undergoing rehabilitation for physical disabilities.