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Kiwi ingenuity finds its footing as James Dyson Award product design finalists are announced

Nothing quite beats the smell of freshly cut grass but if Dunedin designer Stuart Smith has anything to do with it, it won’t be coming to you courtesy of a petrol-powered lawnmower. The 23-year-old’s design has been named one of the three finalists in the annual James Dyson Award, which recognises the next generation of emerging Kiwi product designers who have developed inventions that are innovative and inspire solutions to everyday problems. 

The Massey University industrial design student has dubbed his sun-loving and compact invention ‘Dash’ and although its currently only at the 3D model developmental stage, Smith seems to have every last feature worked out down to the wire. 

Powered by solar panels and a rechargeable battery, the domestic lawnmower is designed to be charged in four hours with a running time of 45 minutes. Sounds good so far. But Smith has taken the design one step further by also including an internal mulching system to turn clippings into lawn fertiliser. Other features include ergonomic benefits such as a telescopic handle for height adjustment and a compact size that allows for easy use and storage. 

Head judge and DINZ member David Lovegrove was particularly impressed to see a project incorporating sustainability into its design, adding that is was a well presented and researched concept, with Smith showing talent at model making and translating ideas into a well resolved product. 

The next finalist product could possibly be used in conjunction wit the solar mower — if you’re the type of person that likes to mow and run. ‘Transition’, the design of Massey University graduate Nicholas Couch, is a shoe designed for barefoot running. Come again? The whole theory goes that people who want to take up barefoot running need to use a changeover shoe so as to build up muscle strength in the legs and feet and avoid any injuries. There are actually changeover shoes already available on the market but the real kicker for the Transition is that it is the only sustainable barefoot-style design that features replaceable and recyclable parts. Nice one.

According to Couch, a whopping 350,000 million sports shoes are purchased and discarded each year around the world. The problem here is that it’s often only one part of the shoe that needs replacing, yet the whole shoe inevitably gets thrown out. 

Couch has addressed this problem by creating a shoe made up of five parts, each designed to be discarded only when required, naturally extending the life of the shoe. And, because the discarded parts are made without the use of glue adhesives, they can be broken down into their original matter or recycled. 

Lovegrove was once again impressed by the sustainability factor of the design, saying Transition focuses on a niche sporting application and its design could reduce the carbon footprint of the entire footwear industry. Not a bad feat.

Completing the finalist announcement is Nextstep, a prosthetic leg that uses powerful magnets to provide amputees with greater flexibility and a more comfortable walking experience. Neodymium magnets are placed behind the knee to create force and movement, allowing the leg to extend, followed by magnets in front of the knee connecting, locking the knee and completing the walking motion. A similar reaction is repeated in the ankle area. 

Nextstep is the clever creation of Auckland-based engineer and Victoria University industrial design graduate Cameron Lightfoot. Lightfoot’s inspiration came after reading about the frustrations amputees encountered when fitted with prosthetic legs that offer limited movement – usually restricted to the knee.  And at $35,000 a pop, prosthetic legs don’t come cheap so Lightfoot set-out to come up with a design that would resolve issues of both price and movement — a combination which found him favour with the judges.  

Fellow judge, Ingrid Leary from British Council New Zealand, said of a record 30 entries judged, the short listed three are examples of Kiwi ingenuity at its best.

“The finalists have shown great skill at demonstrating their ideas with robust research and realistic models.  We hope this will be recognised by industry and investors who may be willing to support these designers in bringing these original products to market.” 

The winner of the New Zealand competition will be announced at a ceremony in Auckland on 25 August. For their winning efforts, they’ll fly to the UK to visit Dyson and will also meet with London’s top product and design companies. They’ll also snag a handy $3000 cash prize for travel, plus a fee package from the Intellectual Property Office of NZ (IPONZ), $3000 of legal fees from Farry.Co and a Dyson vacuum cleaner. 

Ten New Zealand entries, including the three national finalists, will progress to online judging in the international James Dyson Award competition.The global James Dyson Award winner will be announced in November 2011 and together with their university, they will win a total prize fund of £20,000 or local currency equivalent. 

The award is run by the James Dyson Foundation, James Dyson’s charitable trust, as part of its mission to encourage the next generation of design engineers to be creative, challenge and invent.