L-R:Navid and Thomas working on SignAloud. [Credit: University of Washington]

Design and engineering graduates present latest conceptual works

It's that time of year when we get to see the latest state-of-the-art concepts emerging from the brilliant minds of design and engineering graduates. We've highlighted a few of the most mind-boggling and eye-catching.

Whether it’s VR, AR or wearable tech concepts, this year’s bright young design and engineering students are brimming with high-tech ideas and innovative prototypes.

From techno gloves that translate sign language into text or speech, to wearable keyboards and smart bras - yes, I said smart bras - the projects emerging from design, engineering and computer science degree courses around the world are advanced, innovative and even revolutionary.

Take University of Washington students Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor’s project. Their shared passion for invention and problem solving led them on a project to invent SignAloud, a pair of gloves that recognises the hand gestures that correspond to words and phrases in American Sign Language; an achievement that won them the $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

Each glove contains sensors that record hand position and movement, sending the data wirelessly via Bluetooth to a central computer. The computer looks at the gesture data through various sequential statistical regressions, similar to a neural network, and if the data match a gesture then the associated word or phrase is spoken through a speaker.

The first target audience for Azodi and Pryor, who are studying business administration and aeronautics and astronautics engineering respectively, is the deaf and hard-of-hearing community and those interested in learning and working with American Sign Language. However, the gloves could also be commercialised for use in other fields, including medical technology to monitor stroke patients during rehabilitation, gesture control and enhanced dexterity in virtual reality.

“Our gloves are lightweight, compact and worn on the hands, but ergonomic enough to use as an everyday accessory, similar to hearing aids or contact lenses,” said Pryor.

Next up we have keyBod. The clue’s in the name: it’s a keyboard on your body and it aims to provide a solution to today’s predominantly sedentary office habits and get everyone moving.

A design concept created by Nitcha Fame Tothong, an MFA student at the Parsons School of Design in New York, the keyBod “explores the mechanical relationship between the body, mind and digital environment”.

Instead of locating the keyboard (handily?) in one place, keyBod places keys all over your body in the form of a semi-transparent sheath-like garment with programmable keys embroidered on the arms, chest, and back of the shoulder. With the idea being that just as everyone has first to learn the muscle memory to type quickly on a regular keyboard, someone could become a proficient body typist. The only difference is that you’ll be moving and changing the direction of your whole body as you ‘type’.

The design concept “adds a functional layer to a human being” and Tothong says that with practice, someone could get used to this system and get a workout at the same time. However, faced with a vision of your daily work routine dramatically punctuated with panic as everywhere around you co-workers gyrate, their bodies convulsing with spontaneous seizures… fear not, what it really means is that everyone will be much more aware of their bad posture habits!

It’s the future; but, joking aside, just as other posture trackers alert you if you're leaning too far forward or slouching, keyBod helps to combat the bad posture borne out of spending long periods sat down at a desk and gets people moving. Tothong wanted to imagine alternative future interactions that make an unconscious posture much more conscious and in this keyBod succeeds.

A heart-rate tracking sports bra that keeps you motivated as you exercise. What more could you want? Keep Beat is a smart sports bra prototype, which tracks your heart rate when running and alters the BPM of your music tracks if you're not hitting your target pace, cunningly matching your music to your pace.

Designed by Northumbria University student Victoria Sowerby during her MA in performance product design in collaboration with electronics technician James Thomas, Keep Beat is made from Eurojersey, a high-performance fabric with a special polymer that ‘accelerates the evaporative process’ making it thermo-regulating.

The sports bra measures your heart rate using electrodes located in the elastic of the bra, in direct contact with your skin, and is reportedly as effective as any chest strap monitor.

What’s more, the transmitter that contains the Bluetooth chip conveniently unclips for washing. The heart rate data is transferable to a smartphone which can be neatly stored between your shoulder blades in a pocket at the back of the bra. Go one step further and team it with the keyBod, above, and you’ll be a one-stop, non-stop moving, one-man/woman-band smart exercising typing machine! It’s just a thought.

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