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issue: September 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Far Out Concepts

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Some finalists in Electrolux’s 2009 Design Lab competition push the boundaries of believability.

As a serious gadget geek I always look forward to seeing Electrolux’s Design Lab competition finalists. Every year, the Swedish appliance maker puts out a global invitation for undergraduate and graduate industrial design students to come up with concepts for home appliances of the future. Every year, the definition of “future” is tweaked in new ways, with different results.

In 2008 Electrolux called for design students to conceptualize home appliances for the Internet Generation—the brand-conscious, busy young professionals in the 25–35 age bracket. Design Lab 2008 finalists concepts included the Drawer Kitchen for young professionals or students living in small flats. It combined a kitchen table, fridge, cooktop, and dish drawer into an appliance the size of a filing cabinet. Another 2008 concept was called Sook, a wireless kitchen device that generates, displays, and shares recipes, bringing social networking into the kitchen—an appliance that makes perfect sense for hypertasking members of the iGeneration.

In 2009, as Electrolux celebrates its 90th birthday, it asked design students to conceptualize home appliance ideas for the next 90 years. The contest this year brought in 900 entries from 50 countries, and the eight finalists were announced in late August.

I’m a little disappointed with the results this time. There’s too much dependence on technology that doesn’t exist and probably will not exist within the next 90 years. Several of these concepts, unlike in 2008, just aren’t doable.


Sci Fi Appliances

One of the finalist concepts is called Cocoon, from Rickard Hederstierna, a design student at Sweden’s Lund Institute of Technology. It is described as actually growing genetically engineered and prepackaged meat and fish dishes. That’s a startling concept. Is such a thing predicted to be possible in the next century? If so, the environmental impact could be staggering. But I don’t see it.

Electrolux says the Teleport Fridge, designed by Dulyawat Wongnawa of Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, “…envisions a time when the technologies found in science fiction become reality, specifically teleportation.” But its seems unlikely that we’ll ever see fresh food beamed from the grocery right to our refrigerators.

Another fanciful concept is the Water Catcher from Penghao Shan of the Zhejiang Sci-tech University in China. This device sends small flying balls out on excursions to collect rain, after which they return to the base appliance to deliver the water for purifying. The lift for the collectors, unless the designer is envisioning some sort of antigravity technology, would have to come from some seriously large-diameter rotor blades. I picture a flock of droids careening noisily around my backyard airspace whenever it drizzles. And this all seems like way too much work to collect rain. Since the water’s going to be purified anyway, why not just put a rain barrel under the downspout?

Back to Earth

But some of the concepts coming from this year’s Design Lab do seem feasible and maybe even practical in the years to come. One of these is the Renew washing appliance designed by Louis Filosa of Purdue University in the United States. There’s a photo of the Renew in our report on Laundry appliances in this issue.

The Bifoliate is an appliance concept that addresses a real convenience need. Consumers hate unloading the dishwasher, and I’ve often heard the half-baked idea floating around that dishwashing functionality could be built directly into kitchen cabinets. Toma Brundzaite of the Vilnius Academy of Art in Lithuania designed a wall-mounted, two-compartment appliance that does just that. Dishes are stored and washed in either compartment. Take them out, use them, and put them back. After they’re washed, they simply stay there until they are used again. This is not a high-capacity appliance, but it would certainly appeal to the same students or young professionals that might have bought the 2008 Drawer Kitchen.

Inspiration Ahead

Obviously, Electrolux deliberately went in search of far-out ideas. It’s important to remember that these designs are purely conceptual and that this competition’s purpose is to encourage new ways of thinking about appliances.

Even if some of the 2009 finalists seem fantastical, they will also be inspirational to others in this industry. And inspiration is never a bad thing.




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