Tag Archives: Technology

Products: success and failure

We’re surrounded by products, day in and day out. The world is full of things to buy – not all of which are books. Personally, I’m a sucker for high-end tech. Some people buy designer jeans or expensive cars; I wear army surplus combats, drive a car that’s so small and fuel-efficient that I don’t have to pay road tax, and spend my hard-earned cash on personal tech with specs higher than I will ever need.

I’m not an IT professional – or even a particularly skilled amateur – but I love finding a new bit of tech that makes my life easier or more fun. Some women buy new clothes; I buy new apps.

Product Failures

So I find it interesting to look at what products succeed, and which ones fail. This article describes four products that failed:

  • The Ford Edsel – the only other time I’ve heard of this is in one of the Herbie films where an Edsel gets cut up and made into sculpture. A classic example of trying to be all things to all men and ending up not pleasing anybody. Plus, if you add all those knobs and whistles, they’d better work. Plus, not look weird.
  • The Microsoft Zune – Microsoft’s answer to the iPod, which I vaguely remember. Failed because it didn’t do anything new, or better than the iPod, and additionally had the square, clunky Microsoft design aesthetic. Might appeal to today’s hipsters, but back in the day, it was just uncool.
  • McDonald’s Arch Deluxe – ‘grown-up’ burger. The thing is, you don’t go to Macky-D’s for grown-up culture. You go for food that is fast and cheap.
  • The Google Glass. Apparently, released onto the market (and to journalists) before it was an entirely finished product. Prototypes are often less-than-stunning – and that was the Google Glass.

The last is the most interesting for me. It reminded me a lot of this article about care robots in Japan – and how Japan’s interest in robotics in the care industry has met with an unenthusiastic response from prospective users. At least in 2011, Japanese people wanted to be cared for by human beings, not robots – no matter how good the robot was.

Part of the failure of the Google Glass seemed to be an emotional adverse reaction from potential customers – just as elderly people in Japan didn’t want a humanoid robot caring for them (although non-humanoid robotic tools appear to be less of a problem), people found the Google Glass creepy, scary, and threatening – even to the level of assaulting the wearer, or ejecting him from shops simply for wearing a set. I wonder how much of this has a parallel with the Western fear of Muslim women wearing the face-covering niqab – culturally, we place great importance on being able to see people’s faces. We’re used to spectacles – since they’ve been around for about 750 years – but any other face-covering is weird and scary.

Another part of the failure of the Google Glass, I think, is that it was a cool bit of tech that did a job that very few people needed done. While having instant access to email and weather reports sounds cool – it’s actually not what most people either need or want. For the majority of the population, having your mail on your phone is quite enough. Apparently, Google Glass hasn’t gone away – but I predict that when it returns, it will be directed towards the sector of the population that really does have a need for it: e.g. police and security personnel, surgeons, on-location reporters. It seems unlikely that, culturally, society at large will be willing to accept Google Glass as personal tech for some time to come.

Apple: Product Success

Our household is a Mac household: Macs, iPads, iPhones, Apple Watches. My husband and I both like the Apple ecosystem – it’s reliable, efficient, and viruses are less of a problem (though my husband’s Mac still managed to catch one).

But one thing I notice about Apple is that they are very careful about what new products and features they introduce:

  • iPod/iPhone: kicked off serious changes to the music industry. Then – with the introduction of the app store – the rise of customisation of personal tech by enabling the consumer to buy little tiny programs that did a limited set of things, rather than a one-size-fits all big-program approach.
  • NFC technology: much whining about how Apple was falling behind because Android phones had NFC before the iPhone – but when Apple put NFC into the iPhone, it was coupled with the launch of Apple Pay, which revolutionised the way we pay for things. Either that, or they timed their market entry perfectly to catch a significant uptick in contactless technology adoption.
  • Apple Watch: latecomer to the smartwatch market, but I see Apple’s market share is now about half of the smartwatch market.

And this summer, we’re hearing much sneering about how Apple is missing a trick on the home automation market, with Google Home and Amazon Echo busily carving up the market between them. Personally, I think we’ll see – as predicted – the Apple entrant into the market next month, and I’ll be surprised if it isn’t something special. Apple’s strategy seems to be to wait until the technology available enables the manufacture of a product really worth having, rather than just a tech toy, before they enter that market themselves. More cynically, one might say that they wait for other people to make the mistakes, then swoop in with a beautiful, finished product that doesn’t have any embarrassing gaffes attached to it.

The Apple product philosophy seems to be, “Forget what’s cool, or what we can do – what can we make that is useful?” Then, of course, they make the useful product cool.

Back to Books

And, to relate this back to books and publishing…

Firstly, many of the same rules apply to books as to other products:

  • Don’t try to be all things to all men: figure out who your target demographic is, and write the book they want to read. Even if the target demographic is people exactly like the author, the market might be small, but they’ll be really happy. The more different people you try to please, the less chance you’ll please anybody.
  • Steer away from just mashing together as many genre conventions as you can, in the hope that this will increase popularity. It won’t: it’s more likely to look like parody. Or just silly.
  • If you’re going to offer something similar to what is already out there, you’ll have your best success if you add something new and interesting, something that is uniquely you. Otherwise, people will just stick with the market leaders, or at best you’ll have to fight everyone else for your share of the pie.
  • Know what people want from your kind of book. And give them that thing. You might give them other things as well, but you need to give them what they came for. People read romances for the happily-ever-after; they don’t read it for the hero and heroine to die tragically in the last chapter.

And when it comes to the book, the item itself? People want to read. E-books have taken off because they give people what they want – the author’s words – in a format that is convenient and fits into today’s busy lifestyles. Likewise, audiobooks are on the rise because they’re downloadable now, and they enable people to ‘read’ while they’re doing activities that otherwise make reading dangerous (like driving, or ironing).

Will electronic books ever include ‘expanded content’ like video, or background tracks? Well, maybe. But I wonder if those things come under the heading of ‘cool but ultimately useless’ because even though they’re possible (and people are already doing it) they’re just not what people come to (fiction) books for. I expect sound and video will become very much a part of textbooks, where they can be truly useful – but fiction is a different landscape, and like Google Glass as personal tech, I don’t think they’re what readers really want.

Of course… I might be wrong!

What do you think?

Technology: Winners and Losers

A Dodo

History is full of winners and losers, and it’s particularly obvious when dealing with technology. Take video recording, for example. Does anybody remember Betamax? I remember borrowing video cassettes when I was a kid – the shop had lots and lots of VHS tapes, and tiny little section for Betamax. Pretty  soon you couldn’t get Betamax at all (although if you really tried, apparently you could – as Sony only stopped making them this year). I did hear that Betamax was actually better technology – it just didn’t take off. Now, of course, the VHS has been replaced by DVD, and the last manufacturer of VHS tape players stopped making them.

E-books are an example of a technology that was somewhat slow to take off until Amazon brought out the first Kindle device. As a person who started reading e-books on a PDA with a battery life about an hour and a half, I desperately wanted a Kindle when they first went on the market – but unfortunately, I couldn’t have one because they were only on sale in the USA. Now, they are everywhere – and I’ve said before that I think they will eventually completely replace mass-market paperbacks. The market for paper books will probably continue, but only for presentation and collectors’ editions.

But the advent of e-books also brought with it additional sub- technologies. When e-books first became available, there was an assumption that the time of a book as being simply words on a page – whether that page was electronic or paper – were drawing to a close. Books would be enriched with audio, and video, and probably a bunch of other enrichments too.  And that is what the company Booktrack thought too: they develop soundtracks for books that include background music and sound effects, just like a film. The technology never really took off, and possibly one reason was because the only way to listen to the soundtrack with via their app.  Another reason may have been that in the early days, most people were reading on dedicated e-Ink book reading devices, which may not have had audio capability. Now that more people are reading on smartphones, this raises the possibility that Booktrack were simply ahead of their time – were they to start up now, would they do better?  Since they are still going, will they manage to popularise their technology? Or will it die, a technology that simply did not fill a need? It happens: look at the Google Glass. While in the abstract, it’s kind of cool to think of having your own heads up display, in reality it probably makes you feel a bit silly, not to mention getting you thrown out of restaurants. I expect the Google Glass will make a reappearance, but probably aimed at security services rather than the general consumer.

At the other end of the scale, you have Pokémon Go. A game that involves people walking around in the real world, looking for imaginary monsters. Most people stop doing that at about the age of five. Yet, it’s become a global craze. People are getting mugged, falling over cliffs, and crashing their cars because they are paying more attention to hunting Pokémon than to the real world around them. Who would have guessed that the game would take off to such an extent?

It makes me glad that I’m a writer.  No matter what the technology – whether audio or visual, dead tree or electronic – people will always want stories. The way in which they consume those stories might change, but the story’s the thing.

My new book reader finally arrived… Hooray!

Kobo Aura H2O

Kobo Aura H2O

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to break my primary ebook reader. It is (was) a lovely Kobo Aura HD. It went everywhere with me, which may have been the problem because everywhere includes to work in a rucksack and into the shower.

This was, of course, an opportunity to order the new Kobo Aura H2O, which wouldn’t mind if I took it in the shower.

A waterproof book reader – it’s amazing nobody has thought of it before. I knew there were places you could send your reader off to, and they would waterproof it (for a price, obviously), or you could do it the low-tech way, which is to put your reader in a freezer bag, but a real waterproof reader is amazing.

It’s lovely to be able to take it in the shower – and I’ve started having baths again, just so I can relax in the bath with my Aura. Plus, the screen is an improvement over my old Aura HD – the white is whiter, the black is blacker. There isn’t a hard button for turning off the light any more, but I’ve got used to doing it with the on-screen slider.

I was an early adopter of ebooks – I like gadgets! Since getting my first ereader – an Irex ILiad, which cost over £400 – I’ve become a firm believer in ebooks, for fiction at least. I love being able to carry multiple books around with me, and never having to worry about running out of things to read (especially since I also carry my emergency reading on iPhone and iPad, just in case). I love being able to read while eating without having to work out some way to keep the book from closing or flipping over pages. I love being able to read in bed by the soft glow of the reader screen, rather than having to keep the main light on. It’s also easier to get to sleep after reading in a mostly-dark room.

Aside from my love affair with my book reader, I always love to see more authors’ backlists being published as ebooks – for me, it’s one more step towards every book being available electronically. Being a long-time ebook fan, I’ve watched as more and more prominent authors moved towards having ebook editions, and rejoiced every time I found a new one, whether I intended to buy any of that author’s work or not. Ebooks have also allowed the revival of the novella – uneconomical to publish in paper format – and for authors to publish short stories as singles for the first time. Thanks to ebooks, authors have more freedom than they have ever had before, incuding the freedom to publish without involving a commercial publishing house.

Yet, even with the evidence of ever-increasing ebook sales, there are still people who swear that ebooks are a passing fad, or that ebooks aren’t as good as paper.

For some uses, yes – at least at the moment – paper wins. I still prefer paper for textbooks (until I have to copy out any quotes, of course, at which point I prefer electronic), and in schools it’s probably logistically easier to use paper for class reading books. And yes, paper books look pretty on a bookshelf, and downloading an epub file doesn’t have the same feel as buying a book and taking it home…

It’s noticeable, though, that most critics of ebooks do not concentrate on what paper books do well (easier to keep a class of kids on the same page, easier to flip back and forth, no colour diagrams on an ereader); nor do they concentrate on what ebooks do badly (colour pictures, browsing bookshelves, being able to see at a glance what books you own). Instead, they concentrate on emotional responses that are nothing to do with the author’s words. When I read of someone criticising ebooks because they “like the smell of a paper book” or they “like to turn the pages by hand”, I find myself thinking, “well, if that turns you on, buy yourself a blank notebook from WHSmiths; clearly, the author’s words aren’t important to you.” It’s also interesting how many of these ebook detractors admit that they’ve never even tried reading an ebook.

As for being able to pass on old copies of paper books – well, good luck with that. It’s getting increasingly difficult to find a charity shop that will take books, and second-hand bookshops are getting picky too. Selling on Amazon will get rid of the books, but since many paperbacks are selling for 1p each, it’s often more (or nearly as) expensive to sell the book than to just stick it in the recycling box.

These people seem to forget that books are for reading. Books are not for home decor, nor are they fashion accessories. They are a mechanism for making the words of the author available to the reader, and an ebook does that supremely well – far better than a paper book, because it’s faster and cheaper, and doesn’t snap shut if you don’t weight it down with the edge of your dinner plate.

After all, paper or eInk is only the delivery system: the real magic of reading happens in your own head, as the story unfolds in glorious technicolour behind your eyes – regardless of whether you have a paper page or a black-and-white eInk display.

Technology: fiction turning real (or not)

The iKettle

The iKettle

I love technology. The picture is of the iKettle – advertised on Amazon as the first-ever wifi kettle. With your iKettle, you can switch it on via your smartphone with an app or set it to switch on at a particular time; you can invite your friends around for a cuppa via the ‘share’ function, and it will ask you whether you want a cuppa when you arrive home.

Totally cool. I want one.

OK, I’m probably not going to get one, because while totally cool, it’s also kind of useless. It’s a gadget ahead of its time. One day, all kettles will be wifi-enabled. The days of a watched kettle never boiling will be over, because we’ll switch our kettles on via our phones, and only amble into the kitchen when the water is ready. However, at the moment, it’s just a bit excessive. And expensive. Saving 5 minutes of kettle-watching doesn’t mean enough to me that I would spend nearly £100 on a wifi-enabled kettle.

But kettles aside, we can already control home heating and the lighting via smartphone. We can pay for small items in shops via smartphone. Your smartphone is personal organiser, clock and calculator all in one.

If anyone has read Arthur C. Clarke’s Imperial Earth, first published in 1975, they will recognise the fictional ‘minisec’ as the modern smartphone. Likewise, in J.D. Robb’s In Death series (first published in 1995), heroine Eve Dallas wears a ‘wrist unit’ which supplements her ‘comlink’ – which items of technology bear a striking resemblance to a smartwatch paired with a smartphone.

Star Trek‘s replicator is now – sort of – available in the form of 3D printers, at least for non-food items. A tractor beam has been created at Dundee University.

On the other hand, some science-fiction technology predictions are being shown to be way off the mark. Aldous Huxley’s one-man light aircraft in Brave New World (the flivver) has never got off the ground in reality, despite several attempts – not the least being the Ford Flivver.

Both Isaac Asimov and J.D. Robb have a lot of robots (‘droids’ for J.D. Robb) in their books; robotics just hasn’t taken off in the way it was predicted to do twenty years ago (or fifty or a hundred years ago). We don’t have robot servants; producing a robot that will replicate even some of the functions of a person is proving to be much more difficult than originally thought.

Even for robots, though, there is still hope. Although the human-like robots of Isaac Asimov and J.B. Robb (let alone Star Trek‘s Data) are proving to less attainable than originally thought, you can already get a robotic vacuum cleaner  and robot ‘carers’ for the elderly are in development.

But the picture is actually more complex than what is technologically possible. As the Japanese have been discovering, it’s one thing to manufacture a robot – it’s quite something else to get people to use it. At the moment, it seems that the complexity of the technology isn’t the only reason that robot servants and helpers are looking relatively unlikely for the future – it’s the fact that people prefer to be looked after by other people. People are happy to use robot vacuum cleaners, or robotic chairs or toilets – or even a robotic pet, up to a point. But it seems that a line is drawn when it comes to something that looks and seems to act like another person.

Is the resistance to humanoid robots simply the reaction to something new and strange – or is it deeper than that, a deeper desire to draw a line between People and Not People? With a vacuum cleaner, it’s a pretty simple concept: it’s not a person, it’s a device. When we’re talking Commander Data, though, a robot who looks and acts like a human, where do we draw the line? Is he a person or is he a device (a question that was considered in one episode of Star Trek.)? There are already ethical questions being asked about the use of robots in caring for the elderly.

Then there are the advances that weren’t predicted at all. J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas still uses cash (‘credits’) instead of simply tapping her wrist-unit or comlink against a reader to make an electronic payment – yet we are starting to see not only tap-to-pay near-field-communications payments but also software that allows money to be transferred electronically between friends. In Star Trek, a character might have a number of PADDs, indicating that the tablet-like devices possibly come preloaded with information, or only have a very limited capacity – yet in the real world, we only have one tablet computer (usually) and download the information we want, then delete it when we don’t need it any more. References to ‘book disks’ in several series is jarring – now we have electronic book readers, we don’t use disks to load books onto them: we download directly from the internet, or download to a desktop computer program and then transfer. No disks involved.

What changes will the future hold? Robots haven’t taken off the way it was originally envisaged, and we don’t all have a personal flying machine, but computers have mostly exceeded authors’ expectations, with smartphones and smartwatches now able to control our homes and keep us in touch with our friends and with the news. But the most difficult thing about writing new technology, I think, is not the technology itself, but how people deal with it.

Authors did not predict our human reaction to humanlike robots, or the changes that social media, coupled with smartphones, have made in people’s daily routines. This isn’t surprising – there are always going to be some ‘misses’ along with the ‘hits’. But it does mean that anyone writing science fiction needs to learn from the mistakes of the past, and pay attention not only to the real technology that caught on (smartphones) but the technology that didn’t (humanoid robots).

Really good science fiction isn’t just about inventing some great new technology – it’s about telling the human story around it.

Master and Servant

Lately, I’ve figured out that a lot of people are finding themselves slaves to technology – or rather, to social media. I hear of people spending six hours a day (a quarter of their lives!) on Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest, or whatever.

I hear of people ‘disconnecting’, and deleting their accounts from everything, in order to regain control of their lives.

It’s a classic case of social media becoming the master, not the servant.

Now, that’s really, really sad. These people have not made a statement of strength: they have said that they do not have the ability to keep their own use of social media under control, so they only way they can prevent it taking over is to turn their back on it, including the advantages it offers. I would hesitate to call these people ‘weak’, because it’s such a value-laden word, and knowing your weaknesses and acting accordingly is its own type of strength, but they are certainly worthy of pity.

I can appreciate that it’s very easy to get into this position, and to think, like an alcoholic, that the only way to free yourself from technology-tyranny is to opt out completely, to go teetotal.

So I shall offer a few observations, or recommendations, on how to reap the advantages and rewards of social media without spending your whole life on Facebook.

1. Think, what does each social medium do for you? Really? What would your life lack if you deleted your account, and would you miss it?

Don’t think about it from your current state; think of it how you would like to be. If you have lots of real long-distance friends or relatives, then don’t give up your Skype or Facebook – it can be a cheap and convenient way of keeping in touch. But if the only people you interact with on Facebook are people you see or speak to in Real Life every day, then what does Facebook add?

I don’t have a Pinterest account because I’m not interested in collecting pictures, and I don’t have a StumbleUpon account because I’m quite good at searching the internet on my own for anything I might require. I have a Facebook account because it’s a useful way of contacting people, or of being contacted.

Do any of your social media subscriptions duplicate each other? If so, delete the one that’s least useful.

If you are in a servant-position, and you’re finding it difficult to evaluate what you need and what you don’t, then taking a couple of weeks of complete abstinence might help you get some perspective, help you realise which bits you really missed and which bits you hardly noticed were gone. But re-activating subscriptions that you really do find useful isn’t giving in, or being weak: it’s asserting your mastery, your determination not to deprive yourself of the advantages.

2. Don’t leave Facebook (or anything else, as relevant) running in the background when you’re working on the computer.

If you don’t get notified of people’s minute-by-minute status updates, you won’t feel you have to go and look at their pages, or comment. You can deal with that stuff more efficiently by allocating a short time each day to keep with anyone you need to keep up with.

3. Don’t be available.

The easiest method of not spending your time instant-messaging people instead of doing things you’d rather be doing is not to be available. Likewise, if you don’t want your mobile phone to ring while you’re at the cinema, switch it off. If you’ve got a smartphone, there should be an airplane setting where you can keep it on to use all the useful stuff without actually receiving calls. Remember, you have a right to privacy. Not being constantly available to everyone in the world is not rude.

Also, remember: If it’s important, they’ll call back or leave a message. If it’s not, they shouldn’t have been bothering you in the first place.

4. Don’t start playing online games/get loads of free apps just because they’re free.

These things always end up consuming more time than you think. Think, what are you really getting out of spending all that time playing Angry Birds? Everybody needs a bit of relaxation, but it’s not relaxation if you’re finding the temptation for just one more round too strong, or you’re playing minesweeper instead of getting on with your work, or interacting with, you know, Real People.

5. Keep your social network under control.

Do you really need to stay in contact with everyone you meet your whole life, from the kid who was in the next crib to you in the labour ward onwards? The bigger your social network, the more effort you have to put into maintaining it. With Facebook, it gets worse, because the site sends you notifications when your ‘friends’ update statuses and things. (Can you turn this off? If so, do it. For people you’re really interested in, you can go and look and see how they’re doing.) Ditch contact details for people you met once and are never likely to meet (or want to contact) again. Keep only those people you value, and who value you. This doesn’t mean just your best-best-best-ever friends and first-degree relatives; it means, that guy you met in a bar eight years ago and haven’t spoken to since – ditch him. He’s just cluttering up your system. It’s not an insult; it’s an acknowledgement that you can’t be ‘social’ with the whole world.

6. When you use technology, make it work for a living.

Can you use technology to save you time? If you have to keep updated in a particular area, can you subscribe to a news service that will find all the important news and deliver it to you so you don’t have to go looking? If you don’t have to read everything every day, at least you can then look at the headlines and only read what you need. And you’ll know it’s there if you need to find it again later.

Use an electronic to-do list program that will help you keep track of everything, including your deadlines. Life gets much more controllable when you’ve got it all pinned down in a list where tasks can’t writhe around and multiply without your permission. Deadlines never come pouncing out of the undergrowth at you, stressing you out. You can see them coming and beat them before they even get to you.

7. Don’t work harder; work smarter.

Constructive laziness, that is the key. Can you get the same result with less work?

Blogging, for example. I try to write a post every day. But if I have two ideas in one day, I don’t necessarily publish them both that day. The first idea will get published, but the second idea gets written up while I have the time, but set to publish itself at a pre-set time the following day. Then, if ‘tomorrow’ is busy, I’m still good – I’ve kept my blog alive but I haven’t had to take time out of an already crazy day to do it. You also save time and increase quality this way; the good posts get written, but you don’t feel you have to write something not-so-good because you need to post something but inspiration hasn’t happened.

What, you didn’t think I get up before 6am every day to do Thought for the Day did you? Nah, that generally gets written the night before. On the days I’m up at 5.30am, I need to get out of the house quick to get to work, so I still don’t have time.

Can you use technology to make your life easier, or, better yet, to do some of your work for you?

8. Keep reviewing.

Time can be spent as easily – or more easily – than money. We know to watch our money expenditures, but it’s easy to see time as free. Time is a resource; you need to spend it wisely. Take the time ( 🙂 ) every now and then to re-evaluate your use of technology. Can you ditch any of it? Are any bad habits creeping in? Conversely, has something new been developed that you can use to your advantage?

9. Set a good example.

I don’t have kids, but I vividly remember my childhood, and being fifteen (years, not months) before I had my first tape-player. And one tape. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat which I played over and over again until everyone was sick of it. I didn’t have a TV in my room, either, and I was about the same age when I dared to turn the TV on without parental permission. I grew up reading books rather than watching TV, and with a lot of hobbies involving real things like crafts and playing musical instruments.

OK, that was then and this is now. The internet, and web-2, are part of life. It would be wrong to cut children off from this, not only because they need to know all this stuff to be able to keep up with their friends at school, but also because it’ll be vital for later life. But if Mummy and Daddy aren’t in control of their own use of the internet and social media, how will children learn to keep their own balance?

10. Remember you are an individual.

Different people have different needs when it comes to technology and connectedness. If your friend has an account with every type of social media going, and spends hours on the internet, that’s not necessarily because she can’t control it (although it might be); it might be because her job needs her to be that connected, and every minute spent on social media is a minute well spent. Authors spring to mind – they need publicity; they can’t afford to only communicate with good friends. On the other hand, if your other friend doesn’t own a computer and only has a mobile phone in case she breaks down in the car, it’s not necessarily because she’s either mega-in-control or a techno-luddite. Maybe her social connectedness is all done on the land-line and in person and Facebook and so on wouldn’t add anything.

Different people have different needs; you need to evaluate your own technology and social media needs against your own life. What’s right for someone else might not be right for you.


So, there we are, ten ways to be the master, not the servant. Social media are here to stay, and the world is only going to get more connected. We cannot afford to just bury our heads in the sand, and declare that it’s all too much and we can’t cope. Now is an exciting time in that respect; social media are expanding incredibly fast, and we’re having to figure out new ways of working, new ways of living. We have to learn to take control and keep it, find ways of taking full advantage of the new opportunities without falling into any of the traps.

But we can do it. We are the masters of our fate.

Dyson Awards 2012

The shortlist for this year’s Dyson Award has been announced.

As you’d expect from anything bearing James Dyson’s name, it’s an award for an engineering solution to a problem you sometimes didn’t know you had.

Need an ambulance capable of vertical takeoff and landing? The Dyson Award entrants have it covered.

Need to capture water vapour from the air to feed back into the soil in arid farming areas? The winner of last year’s Dyson Award has exactly what you need.

Worried about small fish being unable to escape from fishing nets because the holes close? Someone has been working on this and it’s on this year’s Dyson Award

But the problems tackled by the students entering the competition are not always so earth shattering. You know how toast always goes leathery and limp about thirty seconds after leaving the toaster? Obviously, this is a problem that has really exercised someone’s mind, because they’ve invented a toaster that is not only cordless and more efficient, but makes better toast.

And my favourite?

My absolute favourite is the Spanish entry, which is a suitcase that will follow you, like an obedient dog, through an airport terminal. It works by following a signal from your smartphone, and it moves on little caterpillar tracks.

It’s official. The Luggage is real, and it is coming to an airport near you.

Be afraid. Be very afraid…