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The Week in Design: The Persistence of Weirdo Cell Phones and a First-Class Fuel Cell

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.

What is the world coming to? Bendable cell phones? Twitter-enabled picnic tables? Slow down, designers -- 2012 will get here well on its own. There's no need to rush into the cultural apocalypse by jamming more needless devices into the gizmo-glutted market. How are we going to power those artistically twisty cell phones when the robots have shut down our access to fossil fuels? (Or, um, after we use them all up?) See the other designs, both good and bad, that caught our collective eye this week, after the break.

Gabler by Paz Brouk

The design blogs blew up with Paz Brouk's Dalí-esque Gabler phone this week, which conveniently folds over the lip of your purse, lest you be too busy of a fast-walking career gal to be bothered to root around in your Birkin. Everyone's most obvious criticism is that thieves will be unwaveringly tempted to swipe your weirdo phone. We're less concerned, because most sticky fingers would probably rather score an iPhone than an avant-garde design with half-buttons along its bottom. (Seriously, what's up with those?) It's more likely that the phone would plumb fall off your bag if you're speed-walking at any kind of generous clip. And where's the Face Time? We demand Face Time, Paz.

Pumpkin by Mathieu Lehanneur and David Edwards

pumpkin canteen
It may not be all that techy, but we have to give props to any new work by the odd French designer Mathieu Lehanneur and his sometimes-partner in design, David Edwards. Maybe you know of the two from their famous collaboration on the Andrea living air filter, or from Lehanneur's anatomical rugs, or Edwards' inhalable chocolate? No matter if you don't. This pair of mad brains looked to the physiology of cells for their latest project, the Pumpkin canteen. A modular, expanding tube -- holding up to 1.5 liters of water -- wraps around the bottom of the disc-shaped bottle-cum-knapsack. The tube can be disconnected from the shoulder bag portion and connected with other tubes, holding anywhere from four to eight liters. Edwards and Lehanneur have apparently been selling the Pumpkin through a program in the developing world for the past few years, with proceeds going to charity.

Eco Power Strip by Jun Hyuck Choi, Jooyeon Kim & Sungi Kim

eco power strip
The Eco Power Strip is basically its own nerdy little fuel cell in a very attractive outfit. One of the two flask-legs on the back end contains bio-ethanol, which produces water and electricity when in the presence of oxygen. (While direct-ethanol fuel cells are still in the research phase, they have certain advantages over other kinds of hydrogen fuel cells, like the fact that ethanol is readily produced by natural fermentation.) The viability of the tech may be several years away from home use -- and we'd imagine that even this application would be restricted to lower-wattage devices, like cell-phone chargers -- but we love green energy solutions that make the user think about the process of electrical production.

Bio Phone by Miyazawa Tetsu & Ichimura Shigenori

bio phone
Like the Nokia Kinetic concept that we wrote about over the summer, the Bio Phone provides physical feedback to the user when it gets a call. But forget the uncouth tickle of vibration; Bio Phone only gives you a coy peek under its corner for you to see who's on the line. Utilizing artificial muscle-like actuators, the elastomer cover automatically peels back after you give it a gentle touch. As we said with the Nokia concept, the Bio Phone's gimmick only works outside your pocket or purse (which is where our own phones reside for most of the day, at least). And what if you had to make an emergency call? Would you want to wait for it to artfully peel back its hull?

Twitnictable by Jeroen Coelen, Laurens Prins & Parizad Saremi

The Twitnictable may be the likeliest contender for Worst Product Name Ever, but we're otherwise willing to give it a fair shake. At its most basic level, it's a picnic table that displays any tweet with the #IDtable hashtag with LEDs embedded in the wood. (Or at least that's what we've read; the protoype seems to work off of an overhead projector.) The grand question, however, is: does the world need a Twitter-connected table? ("Oh, I'm just going to go down to the park to read Twitter on a picnic table. That is a reasonable thing to do.") But we don't want to fault the designers too much, because they seem to have intended it as an alternative communication display for students looking to share answers and information. (See their concept video here.) Still, we're old fogeys ourselves, and we'd rather stick to email.

Tags: bio phone, BioPhone, canteen, concepts, David Edwards, DavidEdwards, design, DesignConcepts, eco power strip, EcoPowerStrip, ethanol, ethanol fuel, EthanolFuel, gabler, Mathieu Lehanneur, MathieuLehanneur, paz brouk, PazBrouk, pumpkin, top, twitnictable, twitter