More picks and pans from the INDEX: Design for Life Competition

 Daan Roosegaard
© Daan Roosegaard receiving the People's Choice Awards at the last INDEX

TreeHugger is covering the INDEX awards, celebrating the idea of "Design to Improve Life". This post covers one of the 46 finalists chosen from 1,123 entries.

The INDEX: Design to improve life awards are a fascinating mix. They are judged "according to the three criteria of Form, Impact and Context, representing not only the appearance of the design but also its ability to improve life for its user." While looking at the short list of finalists in each category, I have tried to look at projects through the lens of that last criterion, "its ability to improve life for its user." But I have also been perhaps a bit harsh; Last year's big winner, Daan Roosegaarde, presented a very speculative and arty project where it will be many years before it is improving life for its users. But the jury was convinced that the design "will spin out to many sustainable and cost-efficient innovations in the years to come." So here is a final look at some of the other submissions that caught my eye in a round-up as I have run out of time. Let's see if how right or wrong I am as a judge of these things.

The Silk Leaf: Man-made leaf to revolutionalize the air we breathe

This is one that is most like the Smart Highway: big concept, but can it work? On earth, let alone in space?

Developed by Julian Melchiorri, The Silk Leaf is the first man-made leaf that can survive in outer space. The leaf consists of chloroplasts extracted from real plant cells suspended in silk fibres with revolutionary molecule-stabilising properties. The outcome is a living and breathing layer that – when provided with water and light – can mimic photosynthesis to provide oxygen, and help recycle output gases to reach a closed-loop circulation within a spacecraft.

The designer then shows renderings of installations on the tops and facades of office buildings, where surely one could just plant vines and green roofs. I would give this one a pan, but it is a Big Speculative Concept and might do well. I might also just be put off by the word "revolutionalize". More at INDEX site

Better Shelter Housing Unit: Improving the lives of the Displaced

Now this design, usually known as the IKEA shelter, is already improving lives. It in fact is "the result of a partnership between the UNHCR, the IKEA Foundation and Better Shelter, designed to improve the living conditions of people displaced by natural disasters and conflicts."

The Better Shelter Housing Unit offers safer and much more comfortable living for refugees – and can be produced in high volumes at very low cost. The classic flat-pack design keeps transportation affordable, and once delivered, the housing unit can be quickly and easily assembled. What makes the unit different from others is the modular design. Developed in conjunction with real users, the design respects the personal, social and cultural expectations of their potential inhabitants to improve their overall living conditions. In addition, it’s built to last much longer than the designs currently on the market making it a viable solution in most shifting contexts.

It beats a tent and is built to last. It's the kind of thing that I wish we didn't need but given what is happening in the world today, it is probably making a huge difference in improving lives. Definite pick. More on INDEX.

Bitcoin: Digital currency could empower the world's unbanked

First thought: REALLY? BITCOIN? I wonder if Satoshi Nakamoto will be there to pick up the award. It's not much to look at from a design point of view, being totally virtual. However it is being put to a good use, with

CommonCollection is one of the great solutions inspired by the innovation of Bitcoin. The philanthropic initiative is a decentralised form of digital payment that puts the power back in the users’ hands rather than being dependent on a bank. On CommonCollection, anyone, anywhere can give or receive financial support for a good deed or a service.

Not convinced. Pan. More at INDEX

BRCK: Portable and rugged internet for rural areas

First thought: ho-hum we have seen a lot of these.

Designed and prototyped in Nairobi, the BRCK was developed to go where no other Internet can go – where electricity and internet connections are problematic both in urban and rural areas. Designed to survive any weather, the BRCK – no bigger than a regular sized brick – works in over 140 countries via satellite connection. You can simply insert your own 3G data enabled SIM or use the built-in global SIM, and when you’re just on the edge of signal range and are struggling to connect, the external GSM antenna port will help you reach the distance. The BRCK has enough backup power to survive a blackout and can be charged like a regular device, as well as from a solar panel or a car battery.

But when you look more closely: It's designed by the people who designed Ushahidi, the open sourced, crowd sourced platform that is now used around the world. (I've used it myself) They have demonstrated also that all the tech smarts don't live in Silicon Valley but that there are important hubs all over the world. Derek reviewed the BRCK and said This little black box could revolutionize offgrid internet access. Definite pick. More at INDEX.

Desolenator: Just add sun- new water purification technology to solve global crisis

Over the years TreeHugger has shown many solar stills that are made of glass or plastic, that simply heat the water so that it evaporates and then condenses in a place that it can be collected. Usually they are simple and cheap. This device uses a solar panel to generate electricity to evaporate the water. It is full of electronics and monitoring devices. Now it does produce 15 liters a day, which is a lot, but it seems a bit complex and expensive compared to the alternatives.

The mobile desalinator runs purely on energy from the sun and purifies any type of water – even seawater. It’s easy to use, low cost, and one unit can provide a family with 15 liters of clean water per day. Designed for use in almost any scenario, the device includes high performance solar panels, an LCD display unit, robust casing and alloys, as well as a remote monitoring system among a number of other features. Simply fill the device with contaminated water, roll it in the sun and allow it to go through the purifying process.

Pick or pan? Not sure. More at INDEX.

Sky Urban vertical farming system: Hydro-powered greenhouses bring farmland to the city

We have been covering vertical farms on TreeHugger since they became a thing, and ended up dubious about them, given the area of horizontal farms with free sunlight that we have. (see Do vertical farms make sense?) But in Singapore there's no room for horizontal farms so they import almost everything. During monsoon season they may not be available at all. But Sky Green delivers fresh greens all the time and they sell out immediately in the stores.

Housed in protected outdoor greenhouses, each tower – almost nine meters tall – contains 38 shelves with tropical vegetables. The shelves rotate though out the day allowing each shelf to receive sunlight while at the top and water while at the bottom. The rotating procedure is powered using a hydraulic system which requires only 0.5 litres of water per day to run the 1.7 ton structure. The water is also reused on the vegetables once the cycle has been completed. With the benefit of being housed in a controlled environment, vegetables can be grown all year round, and compared to traditional monolayer farms, the vertical farming system produces at least 10 times more per land area unit.

Singapore is also rich, and the customers pay quite a premium for these fresh greens. But I am no longer dubious; they have made it work. Pick. More at INDEX.

There is lots more I could go on about, but I have to catch a (carbon offset) plane to Copenhagen. Check out the rest yourself at INDEX: Design to Improve Life, and I will be covering the event live on twitter and instagram.

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