One of the biggest champions of taking product engineering to the next level is the man who reinvented the vacuum cleaner. James Dyson hands out annual awards to ingenious student inventors who are making stuff that is destined to impact the world. We spoke with Dyson about his competition, and why we need more design engineering.
The brief for the James Dyson Award is to “design something that solves a problem.” What are the biggest problems we face in the near future?
Sustainability, housing and an aging population come immediately to mind. Many students entering the award competition are already trying to tackle these issues. In Canada, we’ve seen two inventive projects among this year’s submissions that aim to solve such challenges. Stefan Djerkic, from Humber College in Toronto, designed a beach cleaner called Shorvac [shown]. It removes debris from beaches and coastlines, to protect wildlife and the environment. A team from the University of Calgary has developed a wheelchair that can be propelled using a single hand. It gives greater mobile independence for those who only have the use of one hand.
What are the biggest innovations you’ve seen from the competition?
Inventive ideas come out of the awards each year. Last year’s winner was a team of mechanical engineering students from the University of Pennsylvania; they designed a battery-powered upper-body robotic arm that increases human strength by almost 20 kilograms. The project, Titan Arm, was designed for under $2,000, and their use of modern, relatively inexpensive materials made the project even more compelling.
Are there some problems design can’t solve?
If it’s a practical problem, there will always be a practical solution. It might just take some time to frame the problem and come up with a viable solution, and of course the technology required may not have been invented yet. Great ideas meet great resistance, but that’s the thing about perseverance: you don’t stop. Getting something right takes time – weeks, months and even years – but we all must persevere.