Bright sparks noted by RCA

July 20, 2001

Karaoke in the shower and texting for the elderly are among the technological advances being proposed by Royal College of Art graduates.

Student Cristian Norlin said: "I think as a designer dealing with powerful technologies, you have a responsibility to do something worthy."

Mr Norlin's Real Virtual Pets concept, which was among the projects on display at The Show 2001 at the RCA in London, would allow people to sponsor and monitor the progress of animals that have been electronically tagged as part of conservation projects.

As well as being relayed via satellites to researchers, the data from tagged animals such as the sea turtles tracked by conservation organisation oneocean.org, which assisted Mr Norlin with his project, would be sent to the mobile phones of adoptive parents.

Philip Phelan won first prize in the older generation category of the Design for Our Future Selves Awards, run concurrently with The Show by the RCA's Helen Hamlyn Research Centre, which specialises in socially inclusive design. He was inspired by seeing his 81-year-old neighbour struggle to send text messages from a mobile phone, but operate her TV and video with ease.

Mr Phelan's prototype Textbox houses a mobile phone and routes the text messages from it onto a users' TV screen.

"It's good to feed extra functionality into devices that older people are already familiar with," Mr Phelan said.

Both the elderly and the hearing impaired could benefit from Chatter, a table created by Anna Hiltunen that lights up in response to noise. A microphone under the resin table is connected to a frequency analyser, which separates different sounds from a noisy background, then sends signals to switch on groups of LEDs embedded in the table. Although the prototype reacts to ambient noise, it can be programmed to recognise sounds such as the doorbell, Ms Hiltunen said.

Priya Prakash's Showeraoke system, which won second prize in the work-life balance section, allows crooners to select from a range of bar-coded song labels - printed out from the showeraoke website and hung in clear pockets in the shower curtain - using a bar-code scanner built into the shower head. The internet connection is hidden inside the shower rail. As the music plays, the words appear on a waterproof screen.

And for those who would like their rubber duck to quack along too, bath toys with bar-codes would also be available.

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