The best kinds of concepts are things that are so futuristic that they don’t exist yet, but not so futuristic that you couldn’t convince yourself that just maybe, in five or 10 years, the concept might deliver on its promises. Every year, the Electrolux Design Competition tries to hit this sweet spot, and the theme for 2014 is “Creating Healthy Homes.” Perhaps not the most exciting theme at first glance, but the winner this year is a concept for a system that lets you hunt down holographic fish as they swim through your living room.
Electrolux, being a home appliance manufacturer, encouraged entries to the design competition to focus on culinary enjoyment, fabric care, and air purification. While there was no requirement for the concepts to have any sort of basis in reality, most of the finalists did have enough of a basis in existing tech to take their concepts from utterly impossible to merely extremely unlikely.
The winner this year was Future Hunter-Gatherer, by Chinese graduate student Pan Wang. It’s a “virtual grocery shopping experience” where you hunt down animals that are holographically projected in your house, and whatever you manage to catch gets delivered to your door from your local grocery store:
So, how real is this? The second part, where an app communicates a food order to a local grocery store, is certainly realistic, although the logistics isn’t simple. The interactive mid-air holograms are the most concept-y part of this concept, but they’re not completely impossible. Short-range holographic projectors exist in prototype form, and to make fish that need to fly around your living room, other existing options include infrared lasers that can ionize molecules in the air, creating glowing pixels in 3D space.
Obviously, we’re not saying that you should expect Electrolux to be releasing a Future Hunter-Gatherer appliance next year, or even within the next five. But the point of a concept is not necessarily to preview an actual product, but rather to inspire a direction in which future products might head.
Here are a few more of our favorites from the finalists, and you can see the complete list (with more concept videos) on the competition website here.
PETE, by Kovács Apor
The PETE concept merges plastic bottles and creates garments from them according to your taste. The consumer only has to choose the required clothing type, colour and cutting, while the machine gives the amount of PET bottles needed for the fabrication and turns the bottles into polyester and prints the garments. This method creates a natural recycling method for plastic bottles and turns the consumer into an eco-designer.
URBANCone, by Michał Pośpiech
UrbanCONE creates healthy microclimates outdoors as it can purify the air around the entire city – as well as in our homes. The device lifts up and flies in the air thanks to ultra light construction and photovoltaic solar panel wings moving according to the resemblance of a jellyfish. The purification is made by exchangeable filters that lie underneath the wings of the cones. UrbanCONE is an automatic, radio-controlled smart device, which clusters in population centers with greater need for filtration.
Set to Mimic, by Sorina Răsteanu
Set to Mimic is a set of smart kitchenware that recreates tastes and smells of your food to your preference. By placing a noninvasive transparent gel patch with a microchip on your head, the plate and glass communicates wirelessly with your brain, to make you experience a taste or smell from the past by tapping in to your memory. That way you can eat a carrot but have the impression that you're eating an ice cream or a steak, which makes it easier to lead a healthy life.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.