News

2. July 2020
Visuals of the Helsinki Design Week © HDW

Service design. Helsinki Design Week issues invitation to Data-Driven Design Day

The 16th Helsinki Design Week will take place from 3 to 13 September 2020, with varied events dotted across the entire city and some also available online. The design festival has organised the sixth Data-Driven Design Day as a digital conference on8 September, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The theme of the event is “Committed to Excellent Services for Everyone”. Perspectives for data-driven design will be presented under this banner and the contradiction in service design will be explored. On the one hand, service design is about quality, interpretation and intuition, and, on the other, draws on rational processes and quantitative data. “What is the correct ratio?” asks Lassi Liikkanen, who is responsible for the conference programme. The contributors include some of the most famous Finnish organisations, such as Kesko, Fortum, Posti (the national postal service), YLE (the national broadcasting company), Sanoma Media Finland and Helsinki’s regional transport authority HSL. Early-bird tickets for the conference are available for €39 until 15 July (normal price €49).


2. July 2020
The elephant as a measuring tape in the room, © Space 10/IKEA

Discover the possibilities. SPACE10 and IKEA unveil experiments for everyday life with technology

What if an elephant could measure the size of a room? What if you could redesign your home using augmented reality? What if you could control a light with a hand gesture? The research and design lab SPACE10 is conducting an ongoing series of digital experiments with IKEA called Everyday Experiments, which explore and showcase the role of technology in the home. The experiments are designed to allow the user to playfully explore how “simple, beautiful, friendly digital creations can improve aspects of everyday home life” – overcoming our preconceptions that technology can be intrusive, untrustworthy or confusing, and proving that it can actually be peaceful, helpful, secure and sustainable. Working with design and technology studios in various parts of the world, the experiments apply the latest technology to aspects of day-to-day life, such as opening the blinds, rearranging furniture or looking for a new couch. There have so far been 18 experiments conducted, with some focusing on functional issues and others being primarily about fun. Take for example an “elephant in the room”, which expands to give the user the dimensions of a space. As is typical of IKEA’s design and marketing, all of the experiments are primarily aimed at showing how we can enjoy our homes and how we can feel happy, calm and safe there.


2. July 2020
© Volkswagen AG

Volkswagen is developing its own operating system for all its vehicles

Many manufacturers believe that, in the future, cars will be nothing other than driving smartphones. To reach this point, companies need to shift the current focal points when designing new models and must develop new competencies. Volkswagen is developing its own CAR operating system for all its vehicles in order to strengthen its position when it comes to digitisation. The Car.Software organisation in the Volkswagen Group is therefore switching from the start-up phase to fully working mode. From July onwards, it will make use of its own budget and staff to develop a digital platform for all Group brands and markets. As part of a presentation in Ingolstadt, Christian Senger, CEO of the Car.Software organisation described the ambitious goals to the dialled-in audience: “By 2025, we want to increase our own share of our cars’ software to 60 per cent.” Today the proportion is less than 10 per cent. Senger admits that there are certainly other ways of doing things in the automotive industry: some car manufacturers enter into close development partnerships with large IT groups, while others concentrate on pure vehicle construction and buy additional software. “It’s out of the question for us. We can and we want to develop our software platform ourselves,” emphasises Senger. Volkswagen has three reasons for this strategic decision: the internal organisation has specific experience and is familiar with the complexity of the vehicle. The Group wants to retain control of the entire vehicle architecture, including the electronics – keeping digital value creation within the company. And lastly, the potential of software develops with the growing number of vehicles, bringing advantages for costs as well as for learning from data. VW.OS will therefore provide a standardised operating system for the Group’s car brands in future – with the Volkswagen Automotive Cloud as the technical backbone.


2. July 2020
Ambulance BINZ, © BINZ Ambulance and Environmental Technology GmbH Ilmenau

Innovative health technology: disinfecting ambulances with UVC light

Ambulances are highly complex systems that have been optimised to save human life. Even when a call-out has been successfully completed, the work is far from over. The vehicles are then cleaned by hand and disinfected with chemicals following a comprehensive plan that can take up to an hour to complete. This is where the innovation comes in from the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB, Applied System Technology Branch and the ambulance and environmental technology company BINZ Ambulance- und Umwelttechnik GmbH. Disinfection solutions based on UVC light are not new. They have been the state of the art for decades, for instance in the field of water purification. However, the comparatively new UVC LED technology has massively expanded the range of applications. A solution based on modern UVC LEDs was therefore chosen to ensure that the stringent requirements for reliable, fast and robust disinfection in ambulance cabins are met at the touch of a button. Compared to conventional and inexpensive mercury-vapour lamps, the UVC LEDs are vibration-proof, offer more-efficient wave lengths for killing viruses and germs, don’t need any time to warm up and can be integrated into the existing lighting system of an ambulance. They also have a longer service life and enable electronic monitoring of the radiation doses. Another noteworthy benefit is that the process disinfects not only the surfaces but also the air inside the ambulance. As Cathrin Wilhelm, CEO of BINZ Ambulance- und Umwelttechnik GmbH in Ilmenau explains, this will now enable “highly efficient disinfection of the entire ambulance cabin in just ten minutes”. The first ambulances with the new light disinfection solution will be available from autumn 2020 – the culmination of three years of development.


2. July 2020
TracePen, © Wandelbots

Programming industrial robots by showing them what they need to do

Flexibility and speed are becoming increasingly important in production. This goes for the people who work there, as well as for the machines. In future, robots will need to be able to switch from one application to the next easily and cost-effectively. The ease with which existing robot systems can be programmed will consequently be key for modern production. The TracePen offers a smart solution for this, enabling the user to quickly teach a robot by simply showing it the path to be learnt by moving the pen. This movement is visualised almost simultaneously in the app by the Wandelbots software and can be further refined by defining individual points (keyframes). In combination with the specially developed app, the user moves from set-up to executable code in just five simple steps. It is even possible to define a safety zone in which the robot is permitted to work. According to Wandelbots, the TracePen means that even a layperson can teach a robot a task within minutes – without any programming knowledge.


24. June 2020
Screenshot © Triennale/YouTube

The Earth Seen from the Moon. Workshop for planning the XXIII Triennale Milano

After the event is before the event. The thematic exhibition by Paola Antonelli for the last Triennale Milano, “Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival”, aroused a great deal of attention. Now the attention is shifting towards planning for the upcoming XXIII Triennale in 2022. A  workshop entitled “The Earth Seen from the Moon” was held for this purpose in mid June. It was the first of three workshops intended to deal with a few key issues of the present era and accompany the selection of the theme and curator. The discussion, which was held in English and can be followed on YouTube, took place at a delicate moment when many countries were coming close to reopening after the public-health emergency. Not only was there debate surrounding a new awareness of personal fragility in the context of the pandemic and beyond, the workshop also took time to analyse key questions such as social regeneration and learning cities, even reaching the question of a new culture for a new world. Alongside Stefano Boeri, president of the Milan Triennale, and Paola Antonelli, from MoMA, there were many experts who participated in the largely online workshop, including anthropologist Maryan Ismail; astrophysicist Ersilia Vaudo Scarpetta from the European Space Agency; Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London; Bernd Scherer, director of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin; and Matthew Claudel, from MIT in Boston.


24. June 2020

BIOnTop EU project. Sustainable packaging concepts made with organic materials

Packaging waste in general, but particularly the plastic waste from food packaging, is seen by consumers with an increasingly critical attitude, especially as only 15.6% of the plastic waste created in Germany is currently recycled. Environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic packaging made from oil often struggle with insufficient barrier properties, which are needed to protect the packaged product. The barrier against oxygen and water vapour specifically is very important for the shelf life of foods, as well as for cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Furthermore, environmentally friendly packaging made with organic materials must either be biodegradable with domestic organic waste or in compost bins, or feature recyclable materials. BIOnTop, a cooperative EU project, is intended to be a vehicle for the development of solutions to these problems. The research project is being worked on by 21 expert teams for a planned duration of four years. The teams include representatives from trade associations, research institutions, the machine-building sector and food and packaging businesses in eight EU countries. The scheme’s focus is on the development of sustainable packaging concepts that provide sufficient protection for sensitive products while enabling new options for recycling and end-of-life products. These new packaging concepts will be developed in both pilot and industrial scopes and assessed for feasibility. The initial research has shown that packaging based on polylactic acid (PLA) is very promising. It can be manufactured synthetically on a large technical scale and already accounts for a substantial share of bioplastics.


24. June 2020
The transparent HelloMask also allows non-verbal communication, Visualization: EPFL

Show face. A transparent mask for easier bedside manner

Many countries currently require that masks be worn to protect against COVID-19 infections. The residents of these countries are now finding out how strange it is to speak with people who only have half their face visible. Voices are muffled and facial expressions are difficult to decode, if they can be at all. Face masks make communication even more difficult when dealing with children, the elderly or the hearing-impaired. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) and École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have now jointly developed fully transparent surgical masks to improve the relationship between nursing staff and patients. The HelloMask is intended to replace the three-ply mask typically worn by medical personnel that has become omnipresent in public life since the pandemic. Two years of joint research were required to find a balance between transparency, durability and porosity. The result is a fine membrane manufactured by electrospinning a polymer developed especially for this type of use. The positioning of the fibres leaves tiny gaps in between that let in air while blocking viruses and bacteria. To ensure optimal protection, the new masks made 99% from biomass derivatives are intended for one-time use. The material for the mask made of organic polymers has now become available. In addition, the HMCARE start-up was recently established and has already received one million Swiss francs in grants, letting it transition to the production stage. The masks, which are intended primarily for use in medical settings, will be marketed from early 2021. HMCARE has not ruled out offering them to the wider public during a second stage.


24. June 2020

Project interACT. How autonomous vehicles communicate with their surroundings

Things functioned with relative simplicity until recently. The driver of a car had to interact mostly with other road users. Now that autonomous vehicles (AVs) are increasingly being used, the situation is becoming more complicated. The user interacts with other road users and the vehicle, which in turn interacts with the user, the infrastructure and other road users. The overall situation is further complicated by cultural differences. For AVs to learn how to communicate and interact with other road users safely and efficiently, the interACT project is working with the aim of integrating AVs into various traffic environments. Person-to-person interaction strategies are analysed in order to develop solutions for safe, cooperative and intuitive interactions between AVs and their drivers, as well as other road users. In three European countries (Germany, Greece and the UK), data is collected about how human road users interact in real traffic conditions, and specific situations are identified with a view to future traffic scenarios involving AVs. Interaction models like these are then used to improve software algorithms and sensor functions with the aim of identifying the intentions of surrounding road users and predicting their behaviour. Following more than three years of work by a consortium involving the German Aerospace Center (DLR), BMW, Bosch, Hella, the Technical University of Munich, and institutions in Greece, the UK and Spain, the results of the studies conducted so far have now beenpresented.


24. June 2020
Visual of the exhibition Carbon Counts, © FCBStudios

Carbon Counts. An interactive, online exhibition about decarbonising architecture

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Studio Mothership have launched an interactive, online exhibition called Carbon Counts. The digital exhibition presents scientific findings, case studies, films and animations to start a conversation about architectural materials. The exhibition forms part of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ response to the Architects Declare manifesto on the climate and biodiversity crises, making the case for an accelerated transition to post-fossil-fuel materials and low-carbon construction and economies. Carbon Counts summarises key indicators such as the CO2 footprint of materials currently used in architecture, such as aluminium, bamboo, concrete and copper. The exhibition seeks to stimulate a broader debate in architecture in order “to continue to research, test, analyse and develop”. “We must arm ourselves with this knowledge”, it argues, “because we have to act.”


18. June 2020
Applications of the Beat-19 system,
© Blimp

Design and technology. Pininfarina and Blimp develop system for preventative healthcare

Italian design firm Pininfarina has entered a strategic partnership with start-up Blimp to develop integrated solutions for the post-COVID-19 era. The company, a specialist in artificial intelligence, is part of e-Novia, the “Enterprises Factory” based in Milan. Pininfarina and Blimp are seeking to offer a joint system to analyse flows of people that connects physical and digital design with each other. Doing this will make it possible to verify and monitor anti-COVID-19 measures in all indoor and outdoor spaces, be they in public transport, at railway stations and airports, or in offices, factories and shops. Silvio Angori, CEO of Pininfarina, says that the two firms together could offer a solution that is the perfect fit for the requirements of a “new normality” through the design of new spaces and equipping them with digital measurement systems. The Beat-19 technology from Blimp is intended to ensure compliance with measures for stopping the virus’ spread while protecting privacy. According to the company, the technology makes it possible to identify large groups of people in public spaces in real time and disperse them with acoustic signals. It also makes it possible to monitor queues in front of a building or bus stop, check face mask usage, measure body temperature and record compliance with physical-distancing rules. The system consists of a sensor for data capture and a cloud platform. “Our partnership with Pininfarina is an extraordinary union between Italian design and technology,” comments Blimp founder, Alex Buzzetti. “It is an important step towards the creation of sustainable and intelligent urban environments, permeated by micro-services enabled by AI technologies and dedicated to improving well-being and quality of life.” There are no findings regarding the acceptance among inhabitants or data protection advocates as yet.


18. June 2020
© VDM

Made in Germany. German furniture representatives present a new label for furniture made in Germany

A “Made in Germany” inscription is a sign of quality recognised around the world. The Association of the German Furniture Industry (VDM) has released a new “Furniture Made in Germany” origin mark, effective as of 1 June. “With this new label, consumers can be assured that they are buying furniture that was manufactured in Germany,” says Jan Kurth, managing director of the VDM. The VDM developed and implemented the mark jointly with the German Institute for Quality Assurance and Certification (RAL), which also defined the requirements that ensure a high quality standard. In order for a product to display the mark, it must have been designed, assembled and quality-assured in Germany. In addition, the manufacturing process that is relevant for the quality must have predominantly taken place in Germany. The label is the first origin mark to have been recognised by RAL for furniture and is also the first for any everyday object in general. The German Quality Assurance Association for Furniture (DGM) will monitor compliance with the criteria on behalf of the VDM. Kurth believes that the new label offers an opportunity for the domestic furniture industry to increase its share of sales in its home market. Two-thirds of all furniture sold in Germany currently comes from abroad. “But we anticipate improved sales opportunities in the export market, too,” says the VDM managing director. Hans Strothoff, president of the German Furniture and Kitchens Trade Association (BVDM), finds that German-made products are important for many consumers: “The mark gives our industry great momentum because it underscores the excellent quality of our domestic manufacturers, local origins and, by extension, the idea of sustainability.” There were already 45 companies that had applied for the mark for their products at the time of launching.


18. June 2020
The mobile robot platform Husky A200, © LIVE-STYLE Eppan.

Digital transformation on building sites. Robots to autonomously carry loads in the future

An increased rate of residential construction as well as large and complex new-build projects demand solutions that are time- and cost-efficient. To realise such solutions and speed up construction processes, Fraunhofer Italia Innovation Engineering Center (IEC), an independent foreign subsidiary of Fraunhofer, develops software systems and interfaces featuring building information modelling (BIM). BIM allows all stakeholders in a construction project – from the planner through to the site owner and tradespeople – to access a digital model of the building data during all stages of the construction process. A mobile robot dubbed the Husky A200 is being used to research how mobile platforms can autonomously travel across construction sites and carry loads in the future, creating a bridge between robotics and the construction industry. In order for the Husky to find the right way on its own, the ROSBIM software interface was developed to connect the BIM with the Robot Operating System (ROS). In doing this, even vastly different robots will be able to gain information about all changes on a building site. The main benefit from mobile robot platforms such as Husky A200 is enabling heavy loads such as construction materials and tools to be transported autonomously through a constantly changing environment, making the physical work on the site easier. The robot is designed for harsh environments and is equipped with control electronics and acceleration, laser and slope sensors that help it navigate rough terrain. It is also plausible that robots such as this one will be used in other domains, like agriculture for instance.


18. June 2020
Emanuele Quinz

Does design need a definition? An interesting essay by art historian and curator Emanuele Quinz

What exactly are we talking about when we speak of design? It was never easy to define design. In an essay for Domus architecture magazine entitled “All the definitions of design”, art historian and curator Emanuele Quinzexplores different definitions and examines why it remains important to reflect on them. Quinz begins his essay recounting one of Ettore Sottsass’ final interviews, in which he declared, “Everything is design, it is destiny.” But if everything is design, asks the author, what exactly is design? Can a binding definition be found? Or are we in fact faced with a proliferation of definitions, which all indicate the exponential expansion of the fields of application of design? In a historical summary, Quinz retraces the process of increasing differentiation within the discipline from the 1970s to the present day. He argues that the borders between industrial design and art, architecture, crafts and engineering were obvious during that initial period. The aim of the modern era, to develop a new society characterised by cars, technology, mass consumption and communication, was clearly discernible. Even the movements of the 1960s, which to some extent involved radical approaches, were not able to change this. In parallel, Quinz also writes that participatory and responsible practices spread based on the close connection that Victor Papanek and other pioneers had established between design, ecology and social development, leading “to a veritable ethical turn in design”. Further definitions then emerged with the move towards new information technologies. He writes: “With the advent of digitisation, the world has become information, and the object an interface.” He contends that design, which defines infrastructures and interactions, ever increasingly represents a form of “global” project “that conditions our behaviour, configures our consciousness, defines the spaces and times of our existence and our relationships”. In his conclusion, Quinz rejects a relativisation of various coexisting definitions, arguing that “due to its very power, its capacity to act, design represents an area of forces that are fundamental for the transformation of society”. He writes that the definition of design is fundamental at the very moment that transition becomes crisis and that survival hangs in the balance. “The precise moment in which it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to define design, is the very moment in which it is necessary to do so.”


18. June 2020
© EPFL

Smart textiles. Electronic fibres that can sense fabric deformation

Researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed electronic fibres that can collect a wealth of information about our bodies by measuring fabric deformation when embedded in textiles. The technology is based on transmission line theory and gives hope for a wide number of applications, for example in healthcare and robotics. “Imagine clothing or hospital bed sheets capable of monitoring your breathing and other vital movements, or AI-powered textiles that allow robots to interact more safely and intuitively with humans,” says Andreas Leber, who developed the soft transmission lines in collaboration with Professor Fabien Sorin. By incorporating concepts from reflectometry, Sorin and Leber were able to create soft fibre-shaped sensors which can simultaneously detect different kinds of fabric deformation such as stretch, pressure and torque. “Our technology works much like a radar, but it sends out electrical pulses instead of electromagnetic waves,” explains Leber. “The system measures the time between when a signal is sent out and when it is received, and uses that to determine the exact location, type and intensity of deformation.” The next step plans to make the technology more portable by reducing the space required by the peripheral electronics.


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