As anyone who has worked a job that requires long bouts of standing in one place knows, remaining upright for an extended amount of time takes a heavy toll on your legs and back, yet the best solution that we've come up with is the uninspired standing mat... until now. Some are calling it an invisible chair, while others are going with bionic pants—a matter of semantics, perhaps, but considering that the chair is a canonical example of industrial design, it's worth examining where exactly Noonee's "Chairless Chair" fits in the grand scheme of things.
"Based on robotic principles of Bio-Inspired Legged Locomotion and Actuation," the exoskeletal assistive device consists of a pair of mechatronic struts that run the length of the user's leg, with attachment points across the thighs and at the heels of the user's shoes. Hinged at the knee to allow for normal movement—viz. walking and running—its core innovation is the battery-powered variable damper system that can be engaged to direct body weight from the legs to the heels of one's feet.
Of course, the Chairless Chair is intended not for us deskbound office peons but for environments in which workers must stand in one place for long periods, if not entire 8-hour shifts. As the story goes, 29-year-old Keith Gunura was inspired by his experience working in a packaging factory in the U.K.; now, a decade later, he is the CEO and founder of Zurich-based Noonee. CNN, which duly notes the precedent of the one-legged Swiss milking stool, sums up these workplace health concerns (as does the Noonee website):
Physical strain, repetitive movements and poor posture can lead to conditions called Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which are now one of the leading causes of lost workday injury and illness. In 2011, MSDs accounted for 33 percent of all worker injuries and illnesses in the U.S. with over 378,000 cases, according to data from the United States Department of Labor. In Europe, over 40 million workers are affected by MSDs attributable to their job, according to a study entitled Fit For Work Europe and conducted across 23 European countries.
Wind energy is gaining support in the U.S., both on ground and in the ocean. And the design specs for wind turbines are getting pretty sophisticated as they require exact performance requirements, including super lightweight material and a potential to operate for decades without maintenance. Meanwhile, the turbines are becoming longer, measuring as much as 75 meters, close to the wingspan of an Airbus jet. Most of the turbines in North America and Europe are made of balsa wood: It's durable, dense and yet lightweight... but it's expensive. So there is a new solution coming from materials scientists at Harvard.
Balsa's cellular structure has high strength per volume of space, as its cell walls carry the weight, but it has a lot of empty space which makes it extraordinarily lightweight. This new material is engineered with the same design (see photo above), so it can mimic the best qualities of balsa. But it is made from epoxy-based thermosetting resins and it's fabricated with 3D printers, which provide unprecedented precision.
Check out how they did it in the video here:
Typically 3D printing uses thermoplastics and resins, but these are not usually used in any sort of engineering solutions. This new material—based in epoxies—opens up another channel for 3D printing that has structural applications.
"I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. Everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again... The future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul."
It's a striking quote by the prophetic British writer. The technological quest to make things easier and more convenient may be endless, but at what point do we become apathetic, numbed out, uninspired; in a word, bored? As the world gets smaller, so do our dreams—they're becoming easier to reach everyday. Two decades ago, we would have been happy to have a stereo that could access every song recorded in the last 100 years. Are we happier? What kind of inventions are we dreaming of now? What still excites us?
Supposedly, Big Data is the latest thing. This means that airlines know what kind of movies I like when I book a flight. I should be excited about it.. but I'm not. I feel that research has gone from a treasure hunt to a commodity. As a result, any form of personal preference has lost its exclusivity. Still, statistics show that our level of happiness has not changed at all in the last 100 year—it's stagnant, even as we busy ourselves with ever-evolving hype. We're bored without knowing it. It seems that we're in the suburbs of the soul already.
Now I dream of a future where there's privacy, discretion and contemplation, and where we have accomplished ultra high efficiency and productivity in order to enable ourselves to work at a personal, healthy pace. A natural state of being, that aims for timelessness and long-term perspectives. In a word, I dream of quality.
To me, the essential goal in designing quality for tomorrow's world is lightness, rather than its prevalent antithesis, which is not only heavy, dramatic, loud, insensitive; the un- or over-refined. A light solution always aims to leave room for interpretation. It should be graceful and natural and should solve a fundamental need, without imposing weight or an aggressive point of view. Even aggressive lightness still has an aura of positivity. Lightness cannot become boring because it remains an ongoing challenge: elusive, agile and unpredictable. Most importantly it stands for freedom of the soul, contra the complacent definition of disposable happiness (as in Ballard's suburbia).
Jasper Morrison, The Crate Series, 2007 // Photo: Gavin Proud
The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Tradeshow in Salt Lake City, Utah, is known for featuring the latest and greatest in outdoor sports gear and apparel. To put it shortly, it's very much an industry show. We sent photographer Mark LeBeau to check it out and take some shots of the gadgets we should keep an eye out for. He noted the proliferation of electronics, chargers and smart devices, as well as the throwback to the much-loved "mom and pop" general-store aesthetic. A practicing designer himself, LeBeau—also shot the event for us in 2013.
Don't let the bland name of Scottish start-up Design LED Products fool you. At last year's Lux Live 2013 lighting exhibition, DLP showed off the flexible resin-based LED tile you see above, considered to be a potential game-changer in lighting design. The tiles are flexible, modular, inexpensive, highly efficient (roughly 90%), can emit light on one or both sides, and "can be produced in any shape or size up to 1m, offering up to 20,000 lumen per square meter," according to the press release. They also do not require external "thermal management," i.e. bulky heat sinks.
Well, someone noticed, and that someone was IKEA. Today it was reported that Ikea's GreenTech venture capital division plunked down an undisclosed sum to invest in the company, giving them access to the light tiles for their presumed inclusion in future product designs. "The tiles are unique as they are extremely thin, flexible and low cost and can be seamlessly joined together in exciting new designs," IKEA said in a statement. "The partnership is a clear strategic fit for IKEA and our goal to make living sustainably affordable and attractive for millions of people."
While you can still buy halogens and CFLs at IKEA today, by the way, the company is reportedly planning to switch exclusively to LEDs by September of 2015.
Anyone want to take a guess at what they'll be designing with these? Kitchen wall cabinets with these tiles on the undersides seem like the obvious choice, but those would be flat; I'm most curious to see how they'd exploit the curvability of the technology.
I know, I know—another backpack. But not just another backpack. Unlike the brightly colored or patterned varieties that are all the rage these days, this one differentiates itself through its functionality, employing powerful magnets for its modular capabilities. This isn't one of those packs you'll find on the racks of big-box retailers around the nation, prepping for the boom of back-to-school sales. In fact, you can't even get your hands on the Anti-Gravity Pack just yet. Tessel Supply launched their Kickstarter campaign earlier this month, and while they've already surpassed their $20,000 goal, delivery dates are six months out.
As its name suggests, the Anti-Gravity pack was inspired by space travel, comprising several components that can be added and taken away for a personalized system set-up. Sound familiar? Sure, we've seen a few modular packsystems before, but it so happens that Tessel Supply's previous space-themed backpack, the Jet Pack was met with a similar enthusiasm that resulted in a haul of more than three times what they were asking for on Kickstarter.
Check out this video on the inspiration for Anti-Gravity—complete with slo-mo running scenes and mountain sunsets:
As you can see, it looks good. It's surprisingly sleek for a bag with so many compartment options. Here's another video highlighting the various components of the backpack:
Occupation: I'm a designer and the creative director of United Nude.
Location: I'm based in Guangzhou, China; that's where we have our studio. But I also spend a lot of time abroad. We have showrooms in Amsterdam and New York, and we have shops all around the world. And then I spend the weekends in Hong Kong.
Current projects: We're a seasonal business, so we're designing a new collection every few months. Right now we are also making what I would call an "art car"—it's basically a sculpture that you drive around, which is almost finished. In addition, we're doing a 3D-printing project with 3D Systems, where we designed a shoe for very small-volume 3D printers. That was launched at our store in New York earlier this month.
Mission: To make cool products, and along the way try new things and push boundaries. To be inspired and inspire others.
United Nude's 3D-printed Float shoe launched earlier this month. Top image: Koolhaas and the Biospiracy boot. Portrait by Rosanne Lowit
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? Well, I come from a family with a lot of designers. My uncle is an architect with the same name as me. My father was also an architect and my mother was a graphic artist. So I think I wanted to be an architect like my father basically from the very beginning.
Education: I have a master's degree in architecture from the Technical University of Delft in Holland.
First design job: While I was still a student, I worked at several architecture firms, including OMA; I worked on the Prada store in New York. And then, before I graduated, I had already started United Nude with Galahad Clark, who comes from the Clark's shoe company family. We were already in product development, and the brand was officially launched about a year after I graduated.
Who is your design hero? It's between John DeLorean, from DeLorean Motors, and the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
The Biospiracy bootie (left) and boot are the latest designs in an ongoing collaboration between United Nude and Iris Van Harpen.
Tonight at Hand-Eye Supply, Curiosity Club pays a visit to inhabitable fictions with Coleman Stevenson of the Art Institute of Portland and Norah Wendl of Portland State University. Their talk "Paper Houses" will touch on architecture, art, and the unreal.
"The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible," Mark Twain once commented. It is precisely in the tense space between reality and fabrication that architects and authors alike must work, constructing alternate, speculative worlds that are so believable clients will show their faith through financial and political support, so authentic that readers will live inside of scenes and forge relationships with characters. It is in this liminal space that Coleman Stevenson and Nora Wendl have constructed the Center for Fictive Architecture, a framework for their individual and collaborative projects. In this talk, they discuss those ideas that form the basis of their current collaborations, in particular the related natures of architecture and poetry.
Coleman Stevenson is the author of The Accidental Rarefication of Pattern #5609 (bedouin books, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in a variety of journals, including Paper Darts, Common Ground Review, E-ratio, Hawaii Pacific Review, Mid-American Review, Seattle Review, and the anthology Motionless from the Iron Bridge. She teaches poetry, cultural communication, and word/image collaboration to design students in Portland, Oregon.
Norah Wendl often aligns architecture and its histories with the adjacent fields of fiction, poetry, contemporary art and literature. She is co-editor, with Isabelle Loring Wallace, of Contemporary Art about Architecture: A Strange Utility (Ashgate, 2013). Her research has been featured or is forthcoming in internationally and nationally recognized journals including 306090, Journal of Architectural Education, Architecture and Culture, Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, and On Site Review, and she performed and exhibited at various venues including Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Public Library, and Wordstock. She is Assistant Professor of Architecture in the School of Architecture at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.
Core77: Outernet is technically involved, it's mechanically involved, and it's got a big dream behind it. How did C+T come to the project?
Geoff Baldwin: This whole industry, everywhere I've been, it's all about good people. Sayed [Karim], the founder of Outernet, I used to work with him at IDEO, where he was our tech guy, which is the best story ever: The IT guy at IDEO is trying to win a Nobel Peace prize! He was the best IT guy, he'd fix your computer super fast and was so responsive, because he just wanted to get done being an IT guy so he could go back to the shop and build shit.
I kept in touch with him, he went from IDEO to NPR to an investment firm that invested in news and information startups in developing countries. He was living all over the world and saw this problem: Yes, people need the Internet, but maybe they just need information. Back in March or February, I got an email asking if I knew anyone who could help him out with hardware. What he needed was a concept car and a vision. He was starting to get funding, but needed something tangible that people could hold onto and believe in. That's where it started.
Did C+T do the entire physical development of the Outernet?
Yes, and I think it should be understood that the project is still at a very gestational stage. [Sayed] is trying to do something incredibly ambitious that requires tons of capital and people being interested, so what we were doing here was creating that concept car and vision—if people can't get it in two minutes, they're not going to get it. But in order to create that concept car, we had to do some intense nuts and bolts engineering. We did this incredibly rapidly, as a six week project. Instead of staging it as the product, then the story and then... it was all at the same time. We brought Sayed in for a week, he was basically living with us. Sometimes we'd kick him out and he'd sit in the hallway and do... whatever he did.
He had collected so much knowledge about satellites and how they work, a ton of work on that back end, so we got him in and got his input on the technical basics and problems to solve and constraints. But in addition to getting a lot of hard information we also got the basis for the story. In a way the story, the fluffy-message fun part started to drive the really hard, critical engineering.
Last year we wrote about the Knee Defender, a pair of plastic gizmos that an airplane passenger can use to prevent the person in front of them from reclining. We wrote it up in utter dismayed fascination at a product directly designed to increase one's comfort while inconveniencing another; we called it the "Me-first" approach to product design.
Now it's in the news, after a flight was diverted and a man and woman tossed off the plane for arguing over the thing. On Sunday United flight 1462 was en route from Newark to Denver when a fortysomething woman tried to recline her seat. She could not; the fortysomething man behind her, using his laptop on the seatback tray, had deployed the Knee Defenders. United officially bars their use, and this is what happened next according to the AP:
A flight attendant asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman [whose seat was barred from reclining] then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, [a law enforcement official] says. That's when United decided to land in Chicago. The two passengers were not allowed to continue to Denver.
"Sometimes people do things they shouldn't do on airplanes, but as far as I know this is the first time anything like this has happened," involving the Knee Defender, said Ira Goldman, the man who invented the device in 2003 and continues to sell it online.
"United could make seats that do not recline, but they have not chosen to do so," said Goldman. "In the meantime, the Knee Defender says right on it: 'Be courteous. Do not hog space. Listen to the flight crew.' Apparently that is not what happened here."
What do you guys think, is this an irresponsible product design, or do you have the if-you-design-a-car, someone-will-use-it-to-rob-a-bank, it's-not-my-fault attitude about it? And do you think we'll see more me-first product designs in the future? One popular NYC pet peeve is guys who sit on the subway with their knees spread wide open—what's the ID fix for that?