Tupperware-style products use Internet of Things to reduce food waste

Chicago-based tech startup Ovie has launched Smarterware, a line of food-storage products that alert users when the contents of their fridge are about to spoil.

The products are distinguished by their Smart Tags – glowing discs that signal if an expiry date is approaching through easily recognisable colour coding.

Green indicates a recently tagged food, yellow a food that should be eaten as a priority, and red a food that is likely no longer safe to eat.

Smarterware is a range of Tupperware-style containers, clips and “universal connectors”, designed to help people reduce their food waste

Ovie‘s product line includes Tupperware-style containers, clips and “universal connectors” that can stick to any existing packaging. Each product has a slot for a Smart Tag.

While food-storage containers may appear to be too insignificant to warrant Internet of Things functionality, Ovie believes they represents an opportunity for consumers to reduce their food waste, thereby saving money and helping the environment.

The company points to statistics from the National Resources Defense Council, which show Americans waste about 40 per cent of their food, costing the average family approximately $2000 (£1450) a year.

Glowing discs signal if an expiry date is approaching, through easily recognisable colour coding

“People don’t want to waste all of this food — it just happens,” said Ovie CEO and co-founder Ty Thompson. “We’re busy, we invest time and resources to make a great meal, and then we end up throwing away a large amount of food simply because we forget about it.”

“We wanted to help solve this problem by creating a product that would be simple to use and bring a more mindful approach to food storage.”

Smarterware works with Amazon Alexa’s voice recognition. Users simply speak the name of the food, and the system will match it with info in its database

With ease of use in mind, the team designed Smarterware to work with the voice recognition of Amazon Alexa. This means a user only needs to speak the name of the food contained within Smarterware for Ovie to match it to relevant expiry information in its database.

Optional additional features come via a companion app, which sends notifications to a user’s phone when food is near spoiling, provides an overview of tagged items in their fridge and includes a recipe search with results filtered based on the ingredients they already have.

Optional features come via a companion app, which offers notifications and analysis

Ovie is the latest start-up to transform an analogue household product into an internet-connected device. Some existing examples include a smart fragrance diffuser, connected kettle and a toothbrush that tracks your oral hygiene habits.

Smarterware’s functionality is similar that of some existing smart fridges on the market, but with a more accessible price point of $60 (£44.90) for a starter set.

The app’s various features include a recipe search, with results filtered based on the ingredients users already have

Smarterware launched last week on Kickstarter and is already halfway to its funding goal of $40,000 (£29,800). It is the first product from Ovie, which was founded in 2014.

The company exhibited a prototype earlier this year at the CES electronics fair, and is now about to begin pre-production. It hopes to begin shipping Smarterware in early 2019, and plans to integrate the product with other smart speakers in addition to Alexa in the future.

Dotplot device monitors changes in breast health

Postgraduate students at the Royal College of Art have created a portable tool to help women check their breasts for abnormalities.

The handheld device, called Dotplot, is a breast health monitoring tool that uses sensing technology – a technology that uses sensors to acquire information by detecting the physical property quantities and convert them into readable signals – to build a map of the user’s chest and take readings of their breast tissue.

A woman using a pink device on her chest
Dotplot is a breast monitoring device

Dotplot is programmed to identify different areas around the breast in order to map the reading to a specific point, meaning that any changes in tissue density can easily be detected.

When used over a period of several months, it’s able to provide month-by-month comparisons of breast tissue, helping to flag abnormalities as soon as possible. The long-term goal is to help more women detect potential breast cancer earlier.

A smartphone and Dotplot tool
It uses sensing technology to create a map of the user’s breasts

“Our goal at Dotplot is to eliminate the confusion and misconceptions surrounding self-checks,” students Debra Babalola, Shefali Bohra, Himari Tamamura and Yukun Ge, students at the Royal College of Arts (RCA) and Imperial College London told Dezeen.

“We want women to take care of their breast health with confidence, clarity and ease,” they continued.

Two Dotplor devices and the Dotplot app
The device can be connected to an app that guides users as they check their breasts

Women can connect the Dotplot device to an app via Bluetooth and while pressing the device to their chest, they can read a step-by-step guide on how to check each area of their breasts.

Instructions include prompting women to follow the on-screen marker to move the device across the chest to cover the entire chest.

The app provides real-time feedback and at the end of each check, it creates a report which can be compared to statistics gathered from previous months. It also reminds users to conduct a check each month.

“Dotplot’s technology identifies the location of the device on the women’s torso, then takes a reading of that specific location which can be seen on your phone screen –  it then keeps blinking on the specific position until it receives a reading for that location,” they explained.

A purple breast monitoring tool on a shelf
The tool builds a map of the user’s chest and takes readings of their breast tissue

The first phase of developing the device prototype involved asking a group of women of different ages how regularly and in what ways they check their breasts.

The students found that many women are confused or even scared of conducting breast self-checks, despite it being a key method in helping to detect breast cancer in its early stages. This feedback informed the final design.

“We were surprised to hear that women who had been shown how to conduct self-checks by their general practitioners were still not 100 per cent sure that they were doing them correctly,” said the designers.

“Others worry that the moment a lump is found, death is certain and this has deterred women from checking their breasts as regularly as they should, in fear of feeling a lump or abnormality.”

“It highlighted that the demonstrations, pamphlets and tutorials provided for breast health care – though useful – were insufficient,” they continued.

The back of a Dotplot monitoring tool
It comes in a choice of colours

The students hope that Dotplot will help prevent more cancer diagnoses while encouraging women to make a habit of checking their breasts.

“We aim to make breast health care routine and demonstrate that discovering changes in your breast tissue is not something to be feared – especially when detected in good time,” they said.

“We then asked ourselves, how can we ensure that women perform these checks correctly in order to reduce the number of deaths per incidence of breast cancer?” they added.

“The good news is that early detection increases survival rates to 93 per cent, so when caught on time the prognosis is significantly improved.”

A black phone and black Dotplot by RCA students
The students hope that it helps more women detect cancers earlier

Babalola, Bohra, Tamamura and Ge developed Dotplot as part of studies on Innovation Design Engineering, a course run by RCA and Imperial College London.

Past designs by students at the RCA include Nat Martin’s Scroll ring which enables wearers to interact with augmented reality and Brian Black’s virtual-reality proposal that would give people the opportunity to drive NASA’s rovers in space.

Ye releases MP3 Player designed to “challenge what an album can be”

American musician Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and design technology company Kano have launched Stem Player, a pebble-shaped device that allows users to customise songs in the palm of their hand.

Stem Player lets users control the vocals, drums, bass and samples – the “stems” of a track – by swiping their fingers across the grooves of the device as they listen to music.

Stem Player lit up in red
Stem Player is an MP3 player that allows users to customise songs

“We wanted to create a living album that allows you to remix the songs, add effects and listen to the music differently each time you repeat use,” Bruno Schillinger, lead product designer at Kano, told Dezeen.

“It is a way to be a participant in the listening experience and it really challenges the idea of what an album can be.”

Stem Player connected to headphones
The Stem Player can be connected to headphones or speakers

The device gets its name from the music production term “stems” – individual sections that make up a song. Stem Player allows users to speed up or slow down different sections of a track, as well as reverse and loop parts of the song.

It also incorporates haptic feedback, as users slide their fingertips over the silicone-covered object and the lights flash in real-time to changes in the song.

A beige device connected to a Mac laptop
Users can download music onto the device and then remix the stems

The designers see this “return to primal interactions” as an antidote to popular MP3 players on the market, which are usually controlled by users tapping or scrolling on black screens.

“One thing that we set out to do from the beginning was to use very primary dots of light and colour to signify function,” explained Schillinger.

“The grooves in it – the channels that you slide your finger across – are supposed to be a little bit like meditation stones that you can stroke to make you feel calm,” he added.

A man putting a Stem Player into his pocket
The portable device can fit in pockets

With this brief in mind, the team set about creating something that could be intuitively used by children. The interface is designed so that it reveals itself as you watch it, with the stems pulsing to the data.

For example, you can watch the vocal stem move up and down as the artist speaks, and the speed of your loops is mirrored by the pace at which the lights move.

Users can listen to music directly from the MP3 player, which can also be connected to headphones and speakers using bluetooth or cable.

In their quest for simplicity Ye and Kano looked to nature for inspiration, which is why the Stem Player resembles a smooth pebble.

“Kanye has this mantra where nothing should have sharp edges and everything should be rounded as it is in nature,” explained Schillinger.

“As a result, we also looked beyond stones and pebbles and were really inspired by ancient artefacts.”

A hand holding a Stem Player against the sky
Users slide their fingers across the grooves and lights to alter tracks

Ye and Kano have been working together on the device since meeting at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2019 and believe that the Stem Player has the potential to revolutionise music in a similar way to the iPod.

“[It] lets you go from listening to music to creating and then you’re building new creations – but then at a press of a button, you go back to listening,” James Hicks, lead designer at Kano, told Dezeen.

“I think that way to move from consuming something to creating something in single seamless transition is something that doesn’t really exist anywhere else in music.”

A Stem Player on sand
The beige device looks similar to a round pebble

Playing it on the device will also be the only way people will be able to listen to Ye’s upcoming album Donda 2, in a move that Ye and Kano believe will give control back to the artist – especially when compared to releasing the album on a streaming site like Spotify.

This is Ye’s first music-playing device, but the musician is no stranger to product design. His previous projects include footwear line Yeezy and an ongoing partnership with high street retailer Gap.

Taste-Adjusting Chopsticks makes food taste saltier without adding salt

Japanese food and beverage company Kirin Holdings and researchers at Meiji University have developed a wearable device connected to a chopstick that uses an electric current to simulate food tasting salty.

Called Taste-Adjusting Chopsticks, the device is designed to enhance the taste of low-sodium foods without diners having to add extra salt or compromise on taste. According to the brand’s research, it can make food taste 1.5 times saltier.

“We have developed an electrical stimulation waveform that controls perceived saltiness with a weak electric current and enhances the taste of low-sodium foods,” Kirin Holdings told Dezeen.

A man eating Miso with Taste-Adjusting Chopsticks
Taste-Adjusting Chopsticks is a wearable wristband that can be attached to chopsticks

The chopsticks, which Kirin Holdings describes as a “world’s first”, work by using electrical stimulation from a small computer worn on the user’s wrist.

The current prototype model comes in the form of a black wristband made from a soft plastic similar to that on a smartwatch with a mini-computer embedded on top.

Connected to the unit by an orange wire, the chopstick conducts an electric current to the food, which activates ions in sodium chloride and sodium glutamat. This effectively changes the perception of taste by making flavours such as salt seem stronger.

Taste-Adjusting Chopsticks on a napkin
The gadget alters the perception of salt

To test the device, Kirin Holdings and Meji University researchers conducted a study with 36 people who were on a low sodium diet. The participants tasted two versions of miso soup – one with 30 per cent less salt and one with normal salt levels.

After each sample was tested, the participants gave a perceived level of saltiness. They then tried the soups using the Taste-Adjusting Chopsticks.

“When tasting low-sodium food samples, the perceived saltiness was enhanced by a factor of 1.5 when the developed electrical stimulation waveform was applied to the chopstick compared to without stimulation,” explained the brand.

Kirin Holdings hopes that the technology may prove helpful for people on a low-salt diet or as an alternative to salt, which has been associated with numerous health problems.

The company pointed to statistics that show the daily salt intake of Japanese adults is 10.9 grams for men and 9.3 grams for women, which is much higher that the five grams per day reconmended by the World Health Organization.

Excessive salt intake can lead to the onset of ailments including hypertension and chronic kidney disease – yet products and experiences are rarely designed with these factors in mind.

A device that looks like a watch attached to chopsticks
Kirin Holdings hope that it can help users lower their salt intake

Although the prototype is currently being developed for use with chopsticks, the brand hopes that it could be altered and made for use with other kitchen utensils such as spoons or forks.

Others developing products that alter perceptions of senses include Japanese researcher Homei Miyashita, who developed a device with dissolved electrolytes that replicate different food tastes on the user’s tongue.

Students at the RCA created a device that licks you during a phone conversation, allowing people to physically experience conversations while apart during the coronavirus lockdown.

The photography is courtesy of Kirin Holdings.

Terra Nova soil monitor aims to avert future food crisis

To fight the threat of soil degradation to food supply, design graduate Ryan Waterhouse has invented a portable device that monitors the health of topsoil.

Terra Nova allows users to measure the levels of three critical nutrients within topsoil — nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous — as well as its moisture content.

Waterhouse developed the smart farming device as his final-year project in Bournemouth University’s product design course, after learning that soil degradation presents an imminent threat to arable land.

Photo of a hand holding the Terra Nova prototype
Terra Nova is a soil monitor that measures levels of moisture, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium

“The world grows 90 per cent of its food in topsoil – the uppermost layer of soil – making it one of the most critical components in our food system,” said Waterhouse.

“Current rates of nutritional soil degradation suggest that topsoil will run out in just 60 years, posing a significant threat to food production,” he continued. “Every minute, 30 football fields’ worth of topsoil is lost due to degradation.”

According to Waterhouse, Terra Nova could help to reverse this trend. The device enables farmers and gardeners to track degradation and assists them to improve the quality of the soil, in turn improving their crops.

Small circualr LCD screen on the top of the soil monitor shows four sets of numbers prefixed by the initials N, P, K and M
A small screen on the device shows real-time readings

It has three retractable probes on the bottom that stick into the soil, with sensors that measure the levels of moisture and key nutrients in the soil.

The collected data is then displayed in two ways: on a small LCD screen on top of the device, which shows the soil readings at the present time, and on a web app, which presents weeks, months or even years of data in graphs and visualisation.

The app also has additional functionality, as users can tell which crops they are planting and get recommendations for their care, such as when to add a particular fertiliser.

Laptop open to the Terra Nova web app showing line graphs of various data sets
Full data can be viewed on an accompanying web app

The soil monitor connects to the app using Long Range Networking (LoRa), a low-power wireless technology, so it can relay data even in remote locations with no Wi-Fi.

According to Waterhouse, growers can use Terra Nova in one of two main ways: the first option is to leave it in the ground long-term, in which case one device per fruit or vegetable variant being grown is usually recommended.

Alternatively, the user can pick up the device and replant it to test a variety of areas at one time. Waterhouse suggests this option would suit allotment holders growing multiple fruits and vegetables.

Waterhouse sees Terra Nova as being of extra use now amid skyrocketing fertiliser prices, which are particularly putting pressure on farmers in Africa.

Terra Nova device planted in a garden bed surrounded by plants
The device is recommended for farmers, gardeners and allotment holders

“It is increasingly becoming more and more important to make educated and informed decisions on fertiliser usage because of recent cost increases,” Waterhouse told Dezeen. “I believe Terra Nova could significantly impact developing countries with education in increasing crop yields through correct farming practices.”

Waterhouse won the 2022 New Designer of the Year award, the top award at the UK’s New Designers showcase, with Terra Nova.

Other recent innovations designed for sustainable farming, include Pasturebird’s robotic chicken coop, which is meant to integrate animals with crops, and Studio Roosegaarde’s Grow light installation, designed to stimulate plant growth.

Wonho Lee creates Brise fan and side table that blends into the home

An electric fan is disguised as an understated side table in Brise, a student project from Hongik University graduate Wonho Lee.

The Brise fan mechanism is concealed within a round table topped with Douglas fir wood. Air enters through the bottom of the unit and is pushed up and out by the electric fan inside.

White round side table with wooden top and legs
The Brise side table contains a hidden fan to cool a space and promote air flow

The fan generates enough air circulation to feel like a “natural breeze”, according to Lee, and has the benefit of aiding ventilation as well as lightly cooling the room.

Lee was inspired to create Brise after noticing that his friends were opting for air-conditioning over electric fans due to a lack of space, particularly in single-person homes.

White round side table with wooden top forming an inverted cone shape where it meets the table
The curved shape of the wooden tabletop element disperses air from the fan in all directions

They did not want an appliance that was going to sit unused for most of the year, taking up space and gathering dust – dust that would only make them more unlikely to want to use the fan again the following summer.

“The design of Brise concentrates on sustainability and I define sustainability in this project as seamless use of the product,” said Lee.

“In my small room, my fan has been used during summer and it just stands there with dust after the season,” he added. “I found that it becomes useless periodically and it is a waste of space.”

Instead, Lee created Brise, which is named after the French word for “breeze”. The working prototype is made from CNC-ed Douglas fir wood, laser-cut aluminium, stainless steel and spray-painted acrylic.

Its circular white body encases an electric fan. Air is drawn in from underneath the unit and emerges from a thin opening at its top, where a curved wooden component disperses it in all directions. This wooden top also functions as a practical tabletop.

Rendering of the Brise table beside a bedside in an all-white room
The fan is meant to retain its value and functionality year-round, not just in the summer

Lee said its curved design is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, but also to make the fanned air feel more like a gentle breeze than an artificial wind. A dial allows the fan to be switched between three power levels.

Lee studied electronic engineering before his design degree at Hongik University, and exhibited Brise there in January 2020.

Brise was shortlisted in the furniture category of the 2021 Dezeen Awards, which was ultimately won by Cecile Manz’ flatpack Plint design, a wooden coffee table that is assembled with leather loops.

Rebecca Weiss designs ultrasound-powered male contraceptive device

German design graduate Rebecca Weiss has won a James Dyson Award for a male contraceptive device called Coso, which uses ultrasound waves to temporarily halt sperm regeneration.

Weiss’s Coso device is designed to be a reversible contraceptive solution. To use it, a person would fill the device with water up to the indicated mark, turn it on so it heats to operating temperature, and sit for a few minutes with their testicles dipped into it.

Hand holding the Coso male contraceptive device
Coso is a male contraceptive device that applies ultrasound waves to the testicles

The ultrasound waves temporarily halt sperm regeneration, with contraceptive effectiveness beginning two weeks after the first application.

The effect is reversible, with fertility expected to return no later than six months after the last application.

Weiss began designing the male contraceptive device after being diagnosed with a cervical cancer precursor that meant she could no longer take the pill.

When she and her partner looked for alternative methods and found there were no male-centred options beyond the condom or a permanent vasectomy, she started exploring the topic as part of her master’s thesis in industrial design at the Technical University in Munich.

Coso contraceptive device rendered in shades of dark blue-grey, bright coral and white
The designer imagines making it in different colours

“The problem is not unique to me personally,” she said. “It affects many others as well. This is also evident in the current growing public discussion about the lack of contraceptive alternatives.”

Her design for Coso is based on research that found ultrasound contraception has been successful on animals, but has so far been untested on humans. She hopes her design promotes further testing.

Coso is a small bowl-like device, with a smooth coloured exterior that looks similar to premium domestic gadgets.

Appearance and ease-of-use were key to the design brief Weiss set herself, to encourage uptake where no invention has previously succeeded.

Diagram of the technical structure of Coso, showing a microcontroller, battery, ultrasound module and LED strip in the base
The top section is like a small bowl, while the base contains the ultrasound module

Attempts to make a male contraceptive pill were abandoned after they caused side effects, even though they were arguably no worse than those caused by the female contraceptive pill. Others failed due to a lack of user-friendliness, according to Weiss.

“Coso, in contrast, offers a user-friendly contraceptive approach that is easy to use without any kind of physical intervention, pain or previously known side effects,” said Weiss.

“New technologies only work if they are accepted by users and society.”

To address this problem, Weiss involved her target demographic closely in the design of the product, surveying 422 participants and conducting co-design workshops with 25 of them.

Workshop participants contributed their thoughts on the requirements for the device and were also asked to draw their own ideas for an ultrasound device.

Weiss evaluated the ideas together with experts from urology, andrology, sexual therapy and psychotherapy and then began making and testing cardboard prototypes.

Infographic showing the Coso design process, going from user sketches to three concepts, key-sketch, paper prototypes, ergonomic testing, expert evaluation and handling testing
Weiss’s design process focused on making Coso extremely user-friendly

The final design is a detailed CAD model, with defined colours and materials that have been evaluated with users.

Its features include auto-shutoff after treatment and an accompanying app to monitor progress.

The device has a battery, microcontroller, ultrasound module and LED strip in its base, with a status display and water level mark in the well providing a user interface.

The water level mark would need to be set by a doctor to suit the user’s specific testicle size.

The idea for ultrasound contraception comes from a 2012 study by the Parsemus Foundation, which tested on animals, so its application to humans is hypothetical at this point.

There would need to be financial support for clinical trials before the product can launch.

“Without valid data, the project cannot be realised,” said Weiss. “I am therefore looking for contacts with research institutions and industry partners who are willing to fund clinical trials.”

The James Dyson Awards recognise excellence in student design and engineering from around the world.

Having won the German heat, Coso will now be considered in the international stage of the award. The shortlist will be announced on 13 October.

Another of this year’s national award-winning designs was a knife-wound-healing device named REACT, designed by the UK’s Joseph Bentley.

Student creates compact Avogo tool to “eliminate avocado hand” on the go

Brighton College student Pietro Pignatti has designed a compact avocado cutter that can be used to safely open avocados while on the go.

Named Avogo, the cutter was designed by Pignatti as part of a school project to create a functional product that solves an everyday problem.

Avogo travel-sized avocado cutter
The Avogo is a travel-sized avocado cutter

“The concept was born when I encountered the problem of not being able to have breakfast in the mornings when travelling to school,” Pignatti told Dezeen.

“I would often take avocados on the train and felt uncomfortable bringing a knife on the train to cut open the avocado,” he continued.

“This led me to develop a product that could cut and de-stone an avocado on the go while retaining the elements of practicality and style.”

Pietro Pignatti's Avogo tool with its sleeve
It comes with a fabric sleeve for ease of transport

Designed as an alternative to a knife, the tempered steel tool has a small, curved blade that is hooked inwards to reduce the risk of injury.

“The most important part of the design was that it had to incorporate a hooked blade, curving towards the hand that you use to hold the Avogo. So if your hand slipped while cutting an avocado, it would be impossible to injure yourself,” explained Pignatti.

“The hook eliminates avocado hand, an increasingly common injury where people cut themselves while trying to open an avocado.”

Avogo travel-sized avocado cutter in use
Avogo’s hooked blade can be used to safely remove an avocado’s stone

Although other Avocado cutting tools exist, including the GoAvocado 3-in-1 tool released by kitchenware brand Joseph Joseph in 2018, Pignatti believes that the Avogo is unique due to the fact that it incorporates a metal blade and is extremely compact.

The tool is 7.5 centimetres long and 3.5 centimetres wide.

“Instead of being large and made with plastic like the well-know OXO avocado cutter, it is sleek and made by hand in Italy, with a focus on its design without giving up on its functionality,” explained Pignatti.

“It is smaller than what is on the market. We have designed it to be portable, so the blade is hooked and falls under the maximum restriction on knives, allowing it to be transported on the go.”

Pietro Pignatti's Avogo tool in a kitchen
The tool was designed as an alternative to a knife

Pignatti entered the Avogo in the Design Museum’s Design Ventura contest in 2017, where it won first prize in the Independent Schools category. Following this, he created 250 units and sold them on Kickstarter.

Now the Avogo is being manufactured by Italian knife maker Coltelleria Saladini – a family-run business that has been manufacturing knives since the 1800s in the small town of Scarperia in Mugello.

Coltelleria Saladini has manufactured 150 units of the Avogo and all revenues from their sale will be donated to Chilean charity Modatima. Based in the country’s largest avocado-producing province, the charity campaigns for the ethical and sustainable cultivation of avocados.

Also aimed at improving knife safety, British cutlery brand Viners released a set with rounded tips in a bid to reduce knife crime. Other knives on Dezeen include the CK01 knife, which is made from a single piece of steel and was shortlisted in the homeware category of the Dezeen Awards 2019.

Fallback system can bypass internet shutdowns to give access to news

Students from London’s Royal College of Art and Imperial College have devised a system that provides access to news coverage via a portable satellite modem during a government-enforced internet shutdown.

The subscription-based service, called Fallback, was developed by Khulood Alawadi, Yi-fan Hsieh, Bahareh Saboktakin and Qifan Zhao.

It allows members to pre-select the publications they read, so that during a shutdown their output can be encrypted and transmitted to them via satellite.

Fallback system can bypass internet shutdowns to give access to news
Fallback allows users to access news during an internet shutdown

Using the Portal receiver, this information can then be decrypted and read on any Wifi-enabled device via a simplified user interface (UI).

Restricting or entirely disabling internet access has become an increasingly common tactic used by governments in a bid to control citizens and stunt their ability to organise and stay informed in times of social unrest.

Last year saw the highest number of internet showdowns in recorded history, with 122 major national or regional blackouts.

Fallback system to give news during internet shutdowns
The service provides access to predetermined sites

“I lived through the 2009 shutdown in Tehran myself,” Saboktakin told Dezeen.

“And we also interviewed people that had experienced them, who talked about feeling scared and isolated,” she continued. “You don’t know what’s happening a few blocks from you, let alone in a nearby town. Complete lack of access to real-time news is a traumatic experience and makes you feel completely out of control, unable to do anything about it.”

Fallback system to give news during internet shutdowns
Portal is a palm-sized device

To mitigate this, the Fallback system relies on a forecasting algorithm, which the team claims is able to predict which countries or regions are most at risk of a shutdown.

This algorithm factors in the existing level of censorship in a region, as well as the complexity of the local internet infrastructure, since the amount of different providers directly speaks to how feasible it is to disable the whole network.

“It’s also sensitive to certain keywords,” said Saboktakin. “These were selected based on our analysis of past shutdowns and trends around the use of certain phrases in the time leading up to it.”

If the algorithm sounds a high-risk warning, articles published by selected publications are automatically backed up, and scraped for their essential information – meaning only words and no images.

Fallback system to give news during internet shutdowns
The Fallback system uses a satellite modem

Once encrypted, this data is sent to a satellite, and from there it can be accessed, stored and decrypted via the Portal satellite modem. This grey, palm-sized device resembles a pocket flask with a neon yellow button instead of a mouthpiece.

“We designed the Portal to require minimum interaction, it just has a switch and a status screen,” she explained. “It’s robust so it can survive different environmental conditions and it purposefully looks very different from valuables like smartphones, laptops and cameras, which are often confiscated during protests.”

Fallback system to give news during internet shutdowns
The device provides information on a minimal display

The device is portable, battery-powered and has its own hotspot. Connecting to this via any Wifi-enabled device automatically brings up an especially-designed UI, that allows the decrypted information to be consumed like regular articles.

“Portal does not provide the internet as we know it, it only provides the information a Fallback member has pre-subscribed to based on their location and interest,” said Saboktakin.

“But the UI is interactive and lets you scroll and swipe between different articles to maintain some normalcy in the experience of browsing online news.”

Fallback system to give news during internet shutdowns
The service uses satellites to provide news

Beyond individual users, the hope is to ultimately target the service to NGOs and non-profits, who have a large network of staff in high-risk locations around the world, which means the information can reach a whole community through individual contact points.

Shutdowns are just one of the many ways that the internet can be used to control its users, and elsewhere designers have voiced concerns around digital surveillance and the rise of facial recognition and online tracking software.

Polish designer Ewa Nowak, for example, has developed an anti-AI mask that confuses face-detecting cameras, while US start-up Winston Privacy has released a filter that can be plugged into modems to scramble and anonymise browsing data.

Game Boy gets extra life in minimal Analogue Pocket

Retro handheld gaming meets contemporary design in the Analogue Pocket, a new device for playing old Game Boy cartridges.

American tech company Analogue made Pocket as “a tribute to portable gaming”. It plans to release the device next year.

It is designed to play the more than 2,780 titles Nintendo released for the Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance — a family of handheld consoles produced from 1989 onwards.

Analogue Pocket for Game Boy Colour and Advance

With an adapter, it can also play games from other portable devices synonymous with the 1990s: Sega’s Game Gear, SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color and the Atari Lynx.

The hardware of the time has been given a due upgrade. Analogue promises 10 times the screen resolution of an original Game Boy, at 1600 by 1440 pixels on a 3.5-inch LCD screen and “pro-level colour accuracy”.

And the device doubles as a tool for music creation. It comes with Nanoloop software pre-installed, allowing musicians to use Pocket as a sequencer and synthesiser.

Analogue Pocket for Game Boy Colour and Advance

Pocket is the first handheld device from Analogue, which makes consoles that revive retro games from Nintendo and Sega, with the goal of “celebrating and exploring” the history of the medium.

Analogue founder and CEO Christopher Taber told Dezeen that the company’s approach to design separates it from other players in the video game sector.

Analogue Pocket for Game Boy Colour and Advance

“Compared to other industries, the video game industry is quite immature in terms of diversity in concept exploration when it comes to design,” he said.

“We’re interested in pushing that boundary in every way we can — or it’s just not interesting to us.”

His team looked to fashion, film, music, architecture and “classic” industrial design to inform their work.

“Our inspiration when it comes to design, and really as a company as a whole, comes from other mediums and industries, which makes Analogue stand out distinctly from any other company in the video game industry,” he said.

Analogue Pocket for Game Boy Colour and Advance

Pocket blends Analogue’s design sensibilities with the form of Nintendo’s original Game Boy.

The device has the same portrait orientation, which Taber describes as an “iconic” style that hasn’t really been seen in the medium in the last 20 years.

Analogue Pocket for Game Boy Colour and Advance

Minimalism is a key influence. The Pocket’s dock, which enables streaming to a TV, is a simple cylinder resting on a slimline box.

And all the buttons on the console are “blind”, meaning they are not labelled with letters, arrows or other markings.

Analogue Pocket for Game Boy Colour and Advance

Instead, their concave or convex shape helps users distinguish them. Taber said that this approach gives Pocket the flexibility to suit multiple systems.

“And of course it is beautiful,” he added. “I think with all Analogue products we’re approaching the design with a ‘perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away’ philosophy.”

Analogue Pocket for Game Boy Colour and Advance

1980s and ’90s video games have been a constant source of inspiration for designers.

Louis Vuitton recently released a retro-style game called Endless Runner to tie in with Virgil Abloh’s Autumn Winter 2019 show for the brand, while Love Hultén previously turned his own Analogue console into a shrine to the Nintendo Entertainment System, topped with a glass dome.