While tech refreshes itself in an endless cycle, true innovation is hard to come by. Sure, Apple’s iPhone X has a bezel-less screen. Yes, OLED screens keep getting sharper. OK, maybe we’re coveting a Sonos smart speaker. But these things are gadgets – and as much fun as they can be, they don’t actually solve problems. Aside from, that is, our irrational desire for an iPhone X.
We’re kidding, of course. When it came to selecting our favourite tech products, we started thinking beyond gadgets. We started to think about products that could shape the way we live – and that effectively use design thinking to address pressing problems. So, without further ado, here five design-driven products that stood out in 2017.
It’s been a big year for the Lumos bike helmet. Designed by Hong Kong’s Lumen Labs, the safety product won a Red Dot design award and beat out the Tesla Model 3 – we’ll get to you in a moment, Elon – to win the London Design Museum’s transport prize. Its concept is simple: the Lumos is a sleek helmet outfitted with bright LEDs that communicate brake and turn signals. Bright white headlights illuminate the front of the helmet, and it’s all controlled with a handlebar-mounted remote. The system was hailed for its intuitive design, but the reason we love Lumos is because it, unlike other safety items, empowers cyclists by letting them use the universal language of the road.
What with the latest – and most affordable – electric vehicle hitting the market (albeit facing a few hiccups) and grandiose plans to colonize Mars in roughly five years, there is no denying that Elon Musk thinks big. But he also thinks small, evident with Tesla’s new and compact Powerbank, a pocket-sized charger for mobile devices. With an integrated USB and lighting, plus a detachable micro USB, the portable and rechargeable battery pack uses the same cells that power the company’s EVs, making owning a little piece of Tesla a bit more attainable.
Air pollution, we discovered this year, kills. In staggering numbers. But while Dan Roosegarde is tackling the problem with big-picture projects, Plume Labs’ Flow provides a daily pollution solution. Designed with Frog Studio and stress-tested by Imperial College London scientists, the Flow – a stainless steel cylinder armed with air intake sensors and a vegan leather strap – analyzes air constantly, inspecting it for dust, aerosol, nitrogen dioxide emissions and volatile organic compounds. It syncs with an app that helps users identify smoggy areas in order to avoid them – and along with building better breathing habits, it collects data to forecast air pollution. This, in our opinion, is data collection done responsibly.
We don’t need Will Smith’s Concussion to warn us about the dangers of head injuries. Indeed, brain damage – and the lawsuits that has dogged nearly every contact sports league – was a trending topic in 2017, which is why Bauer’s Neuroshield feels so timely. Based off the Q-Collar, a prototype that won an MIT award for product innovation, the Neuroshield is a horseshoe-shaped device that’s worn around the neck. The collar applies slight pressure, which in turn increases the blood volume in the veins surrounding your brain, adding extra cushioning in the event of a collision – creating, in a sense, a physiological airbag.
Forget Apple’s AirPods or Google’s Italian design-inspired Pixel Buds. If there’s one in-ear headphone design we loved in 2017, it was Doppler Labs’ Here One. Aside from the sound quality of the Bluetooth earbuds – The Verge said they made AirPods sound “pedestrian” – the real draw, here, is Here One’s augmented-reality take on audio. The headphones use smart noise cancelling, which allows you to adjust real-world sound settings – like turning the bass down in a loud restaurant or speech enhancement – and create the right balance between music and ambient noise. That’s not simply a neat feature, either. It could have major accessibility perks that go far, far beyond muting a crying baby on an airplane.