Top 5 Hong Kong finalists for the 2015 James Dyson innovation award

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 September, 2015, 7:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 12:44pm

Since its inception in 2004, the James Dyson Award has maintained a straightforward guideline to participants: design something that solves a problem.

The charitable foundation of James Dyson, the acclaimed British inventor and entrepreneur, created the international competition as a way of challenging university students, or recent graduates, in the fields product design, industrial design and engineering to develop problem-solving ideas into commercial ventures.

“No problem is too big. The simplest solutions are the best,” Dyson said in February as the competition was opened to entries from Hong Kong and Taiwan for the first time.

Last month, a three-man judging panel led by Hong Kong Industrial Designers Society president Steve Yeung selected the top-five entries from the city. These submissions were all from participants who study at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which is the city's largest government-funded tertiary academic institution by number of students.

Emily Tang, from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, won the initial local leg of the James Dyson Award for her prototype toilet design called “The Libue”, which would make it easier for Parkinson’s disease patients to use the lavatory.

The Libue design, which Tang completed in 20 weeks, was inspired by the plight of her grandfather who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011.

“I was not able to work alongside professionals, so I designed the Libue with the knowledge from taking care of my grandfather and my visits to the elderly centre,” Tang told the South China Morning Post.

“I want to help patients with Parkinson disease use the bathroom more independently and with dignity. At the same time, I wanted to lighten the burden on the family members.”

Tang said the next step for her was “to work with social workers, occupational therapists, doctors and other people with a good understanding of caring for the elderly to improve the Libue’s safety features and ergonomics”.

She will receive £2,000 (about US$3,000) to further develop her prototype, and move forward to the international stage of the James Dyson Award to compete for the £30,000 top prize to be handed on November 10.


The Libue by Emily Tang

Problem: Conventional toilets require the user to sit and position themselves facing away from the toilet bowl with little structure, like arm rests, to support the elderly or physically disabled. Railings can be installed in the washroom, but these can be difficult to access if the wall is out of reach. The conventional toilet design is acutely difficult for Parkinson’s disease patients, who have tremors and commonly suffer from urinary incontinence, because they have to undress before turning around, which could lead to embarrassing accidents.

Solution: Tang’s design allows the user to sit on the toilet directly in a position similar to that of riding a horse. Silicone is added on the toilet seat for comfort and as a non-slip design. Supporting bars are added to help the Parkinson’s patient use the toilet independently and in comfort. The toilet can revert to a conventional system in less than 30 seconds, so other family members can use the washroom. This removes the need to invest in a custom toilet for the disabled.

A three-mode bidet is integrated into Libue to make cleaning much easier. Big LED touch buttons allow patients to choose the mode easily.


"MARCook" by Savoy Cheung, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Problem: In Hong Kong, the existing waste landfills has been forecast to be exhausted by 2020. The bulk of the garbage disposed in these landfills are food waste, including those produced during food production, processing, wholesale, retail and preparation, as well as leftovers and expired food. Food waste easily cause odour and hygiene problems because it is highly degradable. So-called biogas stoves, which use gaseous fuel like methane and carbon dioxide from decaying organic substances for cooking, are supposed to efficiently help dispose of food waste. The Western-designed stoves in the market, however, are too big to fit inside average-sized flats in Hong Kong. Current models provide no clear indication for the conversion rate of food to gas. These stoves also fail to switch to other fuel sources when the biogas is used up.

Solution: Compared to existing biogas stoves in the market, Cheung's prototype is 50 per cent smaller as the size of the food waste storage is reduced. The MARCook has added a system to convert the stove into one using typical liquified petroleum gas as fuel when the biogas is used up. Cheung added a clear indicator of the gas-conversion status. For example, it shows how 1 kilogram of food waste can be converted into cooking fuel good for 20 to 30 minutes.


"Singa" by Josh Teo, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Problem: Access to disaster areas, such as those struck by destructive typhoons, and the pursuit of rescue operations are greatly hindered by debris that make it difficult to use major roads, shipping terminals and airports. At present, heavy equipment designed for construction works are the only ones being used on rescue missions and relief work. These equipment cannot move smoothly on uneven ground. The typical location of the controller's cabin is not convenient, so a spotter must be used to guide the heavy equipment operator. The backhoe loaders, excavators, front shovels and haulers used in construction heavy equipment are not delicate enough to handle human bodies.

Solution: Teo designed the Singa independent crawler system to travel across various terrains and help in disaster relief operations. Its four wheels can be operated individually over rough, uneven and sandy surfaces. The cabin location is adjustable so the controller can have an unimpeded view of the surrounding, without any help from a spotter. Its implementing tools offer precision down to the millimetre level and can carry payloads of up to 1 tonne. The design was inspired by the industrial robots made by German factory automation specialist Kuka.


Bike raincoat by Savoy Cheung, Polytechnic University

Problem: Existing bicycle covers only protect the seat and handlebars, which means the rest of the frame is exposed to the elements. These covers are also inconvenient to store.

Solution: Cheung recycled the polypropylene packaging bags usually disposed by factories into a bike raincoat. It is easy to store, and can be folded into a rectangular shape to serve as a cushion for the back seat of a bicycle.


"Zoo the School" by Janie Lau, Polytechnic University

Problem: Few toys exist in the market for children with visual impairment, and there is little opportunity for sighted children to play with them.

Solution: Zoo the School is a play set that comes with animal soft toy and a storytelling tablet-app, it aims at enhancing visually impaired 6 to 8 years old children’s self-confidence and social engagement. It promotes blind and sighted children’s social integration, boosts the former’s self-confidence, and nurtures the latter’s empathetic skills, thus fostering blind children’s inclusion into the broader community