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The Week in Design: Dynamic Learning Tech and the Back of the Design Class

a selection of this week's concepts
The Web is teeming with the unrealized ideas of both students and established designers who set out to produce astonishing renderings and prototypes for unusual products. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, money, or technology, many of those products never progress from the planning stages to the mass market. But that doesn't mean we can't salivate over them, nevertheless.

As our knowledge grows, so must our learning tools. We found three fantastic designs this week that meet the challenges of an increasingly digital life headlong, incorporating new interfaces in objects that seem as familiar as they are new. But some designers just won't learn, and -- despite their good intentions -- end up flunking our critique this week.

Braille Buddy by Yasaman Sheri

Braille Buddy by Yasaman Sheri
Why do designers love Braille concepts? It could be because the digital age has put such an emphasis on sight -- with touch-screen interfaces and gesture controls that require the gift of vision to operate -- that many feel like technology is leaving the vision-impaired, once empowered by Louis Braille, behind in analog times. Yasaman Sheri's Braille Buddy concept, a learning tool for the blind that combines a tactile sensibility with voice commands, questions this ellipsis in tech. The Buddy begins at Stage 1, when the user is first learning Braille. Here, a tactile, refreshable electro-active polymer "screen" displays each letter and then speaks it aloud to the user, who then mimics the bumps on a keyboard. In the second stage, the Buddy turns out to become a standard simplified Braille keyboard, bringing the user from learning the keystrokes for each letter to more complex typing. This dynamic tool evolves with the student, streamlining the Braille education process in a single device.


Pas a Pas by Ishac Bertran

Pas a Pas by Ishac Bertran
Before we get into the specs of Ishac Bertran's 'Pas a Pas' learning system, let us freak out on its gorgeousness for just a moment: it's like playing with tangrams on your dad's awesome '70s hi-fi! But the colorful blocks aren't just boring old Colorforms; kids use them to create their own stop-motion animations (as 'Pas a Pas' can be translated as "step-by-step"). The system comes preloaded with lessons on digital cartridges for varying age groups with sessions on math, physics and art. Students follow along the preloaded animations by placing the blocks on the large central screen, and then can make their own to be stored on the cartridges. An overhead camera tracks the placement of the blocks and records new animations. And if the lessons get stale, the teacher can tap into the Pas a Pas online community to share and receive new lessons and animations. How neat is that?


BabelFisk by Mads Hindhede

BabelFisk by Mads Hindhede
Designer Mads Hindhede must be a true geek at heart; why else would he directly reference the infamous Babel fish of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'? Hindhede's BabelFisk glasses don't plug straight into the brain -- nor do they translate Vogon poetry, we imagine -- but they do display real-time speech-to-text data on their lenses. While we've balked at neverending streams of augmented reality straight to the eyeball before, BabelFisk has a simpler goal: a hearing aid that lets you read what's being said and know from where it's coming. The only real issue we have with this design (definitely not the sleek spectacle frames) is that it could think a bit broader; invoking the Babel fish itself, why not look to the burgeoning field of real-time text translation? Imagine how much easier it would be to immerse yourself in a language when you could read it within your field of vision as you hear it?

Pure System Sanitizer by Chang Shin Gwak

Pure System Sanitizer by Chang Shin Gwak
As both and avid cook and hopeless hypochondriac, your writer knows well the perils of food-borne illness. While we trust our regulatory agencies to make sure that the food we purchase isn't already contaminated (eggs, ahem), we still need to keep mindful of myriad nasties brewing in our own kitchens. Chang Shin Gwak's Pure System Sanitizer attempts to tackle this problem in yet another far-flung Electrolux concept, ignoring the realities of the home kitchen in place of an idealized future. The Pure System is a wall-mounted appliance that apparently uses UV light to zap potential pathogens on cutting boards and dishcloths, where they typically love to get cozy and breed. But the kitchen abhors a unitasker, and other bacterial hiding places -- such as can openers, the interstices of kitchen shears and counter tops -- can't fit well in the Pure System's slim slot. We'd rather see a sterilization system that's more accommodating to all of our kitchen gizmos.


+ (Plus) Conjunctive Flashlight by Lie Zhong-Fa, Lee Sang-Bong and Ji Jung-Ah

+ (Plus) Conjunctive Flashlight by Lie Zhong-Fa, Lee Sang-Bong and Ji Jung-Ah
We've seen similar concepts to this in the past -- even the recent past -- but we'll pick on the + (Plus) Conjunctive Flashlight as an example to other designers. Beyond the fact that this simple bending flashlight with a bottle attachment took three people to design, we have to wonder: really, what exactly makes it so green? The idea behind this is to use the refractive power of water within a disposable plastic bottle as a makeshift lamp; the flashlight screws on to the top of the bottle and becomes a lantern. Well, congratulations, designers. You've managed to save exactly one plastic bottle per flashlight from the landfill -- or at least extended its use for the course of a camping trip. Are we sinister for thinking that's not doing enough? The flashlight - which, we will admit, is kind of cool for being bendable -- still runs on conventional batteries instead of drawing its power from a renewable resource like solar cells, and the bendy handle is made from an unspecified "flexible material." Why not recycled PET? Reuse the resources we have before making more crap to attach to your trash.

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