SLIBALL is a curious device designed to disinfect shopping cart handles

It was probably about time that we became acutely aware of the unseen dangers that lurked in corners and surfaces, particularly the viruses and microorganisms that lie in wait on tables, door knobs, and handles for days. Unfortunately, it’s hard to break old habits of touching things without much thought, especially when it involves something as trivial as wiping down handles and surfaces before using them. Those who do try to develop good habits, on the other hand, will discover that there isn’t that much support for making it convenient to keep surfaces clean without doing too much work. That is especially a problem in very public spaces like supermarkets, where everything is exposed to dozens of people touching almost everything. This is the reason for this odd round device’s existence, to make cleaning such surfaces, specifically shopping cart handles, as easy as inserting a coin.

Designer: Xinyu Ye

It doesn’t take too much effort to wipe something down before using it, especially if it’s something that tends to be used by multiple people. The problem and the inconvenience come from not having the right tools for the job, which is often a pack of wet wipes in your bag or pocket. Alternatively, you could just spray it with alcohol, presuming you’re carrying a bottle all the time, but the end result could be a sticky, wet, and almost gross handle that will still leave you feeling dirty in the end.

Truth be told, customers in a store shouldn’t be waging a crusade against germs on their own. While it has become customary for many businesses to provide hand sanitizer dispensers at key points in an area, those just aren’t enough for high-traffic, high-contact areas like supermarkets. It’s about time that companies and businesses also step up their sanitation game, and this device, partially inspired by a mushroom, is one gadget that could help them improve their customer safety and satisfaction.

At first glance, SLIBALL almost looks like some futuristic sci-fi device, especially thanks to its sleek shape and glossy white or black surface. It has a hole that goes through its roughly cuboid body where the handle of a shopping cart would pass through. The core idea is that the device would sanitize the shopping cart handle it’s attached to using UV-C light. And rather than forcing a shopper to take an extra step, SLIBALL can be integrated into the process of claiming a cart right from the start.

Some shopping centers and supermarkets require you to insert a coin to unlock a shopping cart, and this same coin can be used to activate SLIBALL. The device starts sterilizing the handle automatically and can even be slid across the length of the handle to cover all the spots. Once done, the “head” of the device pops up like a mushroom after the rain and returns the coin to the owner in the process. It’s actually a simple concept that few have probably considered, but given our present circumstances, it is an avenue worth investigating. It could even become a profitable business for sanitation device manufacturers, especially as more and more people go back to doing groceries in person.

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This reusable tissue cleaner concept offers a solution to wet wipes pollution

Since viruses and harmful microorganisms are known to stick to certain surfaces for long periods of time, some people have gotten the habit of wiping down tables, shelves, door handles, and even chairs before using them. While it is definitely a commendable hygienic practice, it has also increased the use of products such as wet wipes. Contrary to popular misconceptions, these aren’t simply “wet tissues” since real tissue paper easily breaks down when wet. Unfortunately, the synthetic materials in wet wipes turn them into environmental hazards in the long run, essentially on the same level as plastics. Rather than discourage a good habit, this concept attacks the problem from a different angle by essentially providing wet wipes that can be cleaned and reused rather than being thrown away all the time.

Designer: Yeounju Lee

Despite their appearance as thick tissues or thin pieces of cloth drenched in disinfectant like alcohol, the majority of wet wipes are actually made partly from polyester or polypropylene fibers, sometimes interwoven with organic fibers like cotton or wood pulp. This means that these wipes don’t actually break down when you flush them down toilets, and definitely not after they’ve reached sewers or other places you might not want to imagine. It can take hundreds of years for these to actually decompose, meanwhile posing a problem, not unlike typical plastics.

The problem is that, like common plastic, wet wipes are convenient. Their small packages can be slipped into bags easily, and they are like a cross between tissue paper and cloth. A wiping cloth would, of course, be more economical and more environment-friendly, but the chore of washing and sanitizing after each use is too high a cost for many people. What if we could automate that last bit almost the same way we automate washing our own clothes? Re:clean is a concept that proposes exactly that, to make single-use wet wipes into reusable wet tissues.

Re:clean is practically an appliance that cleans, disinfects, wets, and dispenses these wet tissues that curiously come in the shape of a circle with a hole in the middle, pretty much like a CD. Used pieces are loaded onto a spindle from the top, while cleaned wet tissues are collected in portable storage boxes that you just pull out and put in a bag, ready to be used at any time. The machine has controls that let the user select the amount of water content the tissues will hold or the number of tissues to be dispensed per box.

It’s definitely a creative way of solving the pollution problem of wet wipes, though some might have misgivings about reusing such materials over and over again. Then again, it’s really no different from washing rags, towels, or chamois, except everything is automated and regulated. Ideally, the wet tissues themselves can be made of more sustainable materials as well, but even if they were of the same composition as wet wipes, delaying their arrival in landfills and oceans can still have a positive impact on the environment.

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Naver 1784 demonstrates how robots can change the workplace landscape

The idea of robots replacing human workers is both the stuff of science fiction and, in some industries, an unavoidable reality. Fiction and media love to create drama and tension when it comes to advancements in robotics and AI that seem to be trained to mimic even the most artistic aspects of human creativity. Reality, however, is far less dramatic, and robots have a long way to go in putting office workers out of employment. Instead, robotics can actually help improve the quality of life of people in workplaces, and Naver’s new 1784 “technology convergence” building tries to serve as the blueprint for this harmonious kind of human and robot interaction.

Designer: Naver x SAMOO Architects & Engineers

Robot Helpers, not Usurpers

From the outside, Naver’s 1784 HQ looks like any other high-rise building. Located at 178-4 Jeongja-dong, where it partially gets its name, the online platform giant’s second and so far biggest HQ stands over a 165,000 sq. m. area and over 28 floors with eight underground floors. As they say, looks can be deceiving, and the 1784 is touted as the world’s first robot-friendly building while also being very human-friendly.

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The building houses the company’s latest and greatest R&D on robotics, AI, and the cloud, while also serving as sort of the testbed and showcase of these very technologies. Alongside thousands of humans, the 1784 also has around 100 robots under its employ, primarily designed to deliver packages to people inside the building, at least for now. While that purpose may sound trivial, the technology and infrastructure built to support this function are quite novel and still unique.

For example, the building houses what is perhaps the world’s first elevator built especially for robots, which means that the building’s architecture was designed with this in mind. And unlike the technology-loaded pizza or package delivery robots featured in the news, Naver’s little helpers are “brainless,” with a central control system named ARC (short for AI, Robot, Cloud) that is able to pinpoint the exact location of each robot and the path it needs to take inside the building.

Rather than the cold overlords that our imaginations think them to be, these robots are designed and programmed to make life more convenient for humans inside the workplace. There are even character robots inspired by LINE’s mascots that try to study how the presence of more familiar places can help boost morale or offer emotional support for humans that may be a little stressed over work.

New Normal

The Naver 1784 building isn’t just a convergence of technology due to being robot-friendly, though that’s definitely the highlight of its existence. Almost everywhere you go, you’ll find new and old technologies at work to improve the lives of people working inside, especially in a world forever changed by the recent pandemic. The Rookie delivery robots, for example, tries to reduce the risk of contamination by minimizing human contact when handing over packages.

The building is also equipped with CLOVA FaceSign technology that can recognize faces even while wearing masks. This simplifies authentication without having to require employees to touch surfaces with IDs or tags. Meeting rooms also have built-in AI and voice recognition, so you no longer have to worry about separate recording devices that you may forget to turn on at the start of a meeting.

Although construction started back in 2016, Naver and SAMOO had the foresight to design an advanced HVAC system that would have a critical impact in a post-pandemic world. As with any closed space with a single air handling unit, the chances of circulating contaminated air go higher. The 1784 has an independent outdoor air handling unit on each floor to minimize that risk, promising a disease control system almost on the same level as hospitals.

Going Green

Naver’s newest building isn’t just forward-looking because of the advanced technologies operating inside but also because of its attention to sustainability. With a hi-tech office that uses plenty of robots and computers to run the place, you’d presume that it consumes more power and has a higher carbon emission. Normally that would be the case, but the 1784 also employs several technologies to reduce its negative impact on the environment that goes beyond using solar panels and recycling rainwater water.

The building has a double skin wall, where a layer of glass windows is added to the outer wall. This creates a path for wind to flow and more effectively dissipate heat from sunlight. It is also the first high-rise building in the country to use radiant cooling, letting cold water flow through pipes inside floors and ceilings. All in all, these designs help cool the building without using more electricity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of work forever, making virtual meetings a staple in any business, big or small. At the same time, new sanitation practices are being implemented to avoid repeating the same mistakes of the pre-pandemic era. The Naver 1784 building takes these lessons to heart and uses a variety of technologies to create a conducive and healthy working environment. With robots, AI, and eco-friendly strategies, the building tries to show the way toward the human-centric, robot-friendly office of the future.

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This appliance envisions the future of folding and sterilizing children’s clothes

We have become more attuned to the sometimes unsanitary conditions of our homes in recent years. While harmful microorganisms may have been there all this time, their effects have been placed under a microscope thanks to concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus. There has been an uptick in interest and sales of air purifiers as well as the new breed of UV-C sanitizers. But while these take care of the air we breathe, they don’t really handle other places where germs, viruses, and other harmful substances can gather, especially on different kinds of surfaces. Clothing for children, in particular, requires special handling because of who wears them, and this simple yet innovative concept offers a way to ease the burden off parents and automate how clothes are kept neat and clean.

Designers: Junsik Oh, Da-yeon Choi, Kim Eun-seong

Perhaps next to taking out the trash, one of the most disliked chores is doing the laundry, probably because it’s actually a multi-step process that goes beyond just washing clothes. Even with smart washing machines and dryers, there are parts of the chore that can be considered manual and menial labor. And as if folding clothes and putting them away weren’t already tedious enough, people now also have to be mindful of keeping those clothes sanitized and germ-free.

The latter is a growing concern among parents today, especially with all the worries about viruses and germs in the air and sticking to surfaces. Anti-bacterial laundry soap only works during washing, but the clothes can be exposed any time afterward. That can even happen while a parent or sibling is folding a child’s clothes, potentially putting younger and more susceptible members of the family in danger.

FOL:U is an appliance concept that tries to do away with both the tediousness as well as the fears when folding clothes. It actually doesn’t fold clothes but rolls them up in a bundle for more space-efficient storage. It also sanitizes those clothes before they’re rolled, and you don’t even have to touch a single part of the fabric at any point in time.

The idea is that you’d pick up newly washed clothes with tongs that come with FOL:U and mount them inside. When you’re ready, you can soak the clothes in UV-C light to sanitize them. There’s even a tray on top that will let you also sanitize other items like baby bottles or toys simultaneously to save on time and energy. The machine then rolls the clothes into bundles that can be kept at the bottom of the tall box, which could also be sanitized along with the next batch of clothes.

With UV-C sanitization becoming more common inside households, it might only be a matter of time before appliance manufacturers turn their attention toward this use case. FOL:U might not be the most efficient machine for folding, and some might disagree about rolling clothes, but it does address the need for automating other parts of doing the laundry. It won’t be long before we reach a point where the entire process could be automated from start to finish, just like in some cartoons that portray future home appliances in a comical way.

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LED door handle can light up to help people evacuate in an emergency, and can self-sanitize too

Razeto and Casareto have been designing and manufacturing locks and door accessories since 1920. To mark 100 years in the industry, the company set out to usher in a revolution in the world of door handles and developed the Ossh, a door handle that does more than just open doors – it communicates with you too. Relying on a patented cable-free power system, the Ossh door handles have LEDs inside them that illuminate to act as ‘signage’ of sorts. Just simply by looking at a handle, you can tell if the door is locked or open, and the LED’s different colors can even transform into a wayfinding system, allowing you to color-code doors to let people know what’s on the other side or even help them during emergencies. Moreover, the handles are also capable of self-sanitizing, using a combination of purple LEDs and Esi – a permanent antimicrobial anodic protection coating.

Ossh is a multifunctional door handle system featuring a variety of safety and management applications. Lighting up in critical conditions Ossh can even help direct people to safe escape routes. Ossh is available in kits: Stand Alone, for privacy; Wired, for fire doors; and Wi-fi for domestic and commercial setups. Ossh even features Esi – an antivirus, antibacterial, and antifungal technology that uses silver ions for sanitation. Tested and certified to kill coronavirus, the combination of Esi and the ultraviolet LEDs help sanitize the environment and the hand while opening the door.

The Ossh multifunctional door handle is a Silver Winner of the A’ Design Award for the year 2021.

Designer: F.lli Razeto & Casareto SpA

Daan Roosegaarde designed an artificial ‘sun’ that can disinfect public spaces with UV light

The Urban Sun, designed by Studio Roosegaarde along with a team of scientists and virus experts, aims at bringing the rehabilitating power of the sun to public spaces. The artificial sun hovers above open areas, with a UVC lamp underneath it, creating an eclipse-like halo that disinfects everything within its reach. The Urban Sun uses a special 222nm wavelength of Far-UVC that’s powerful at killing the coronavirus but remains completely safe for human exposure.

The video above begins with a simple premise, “Imagine a place where you could meet again”. The Urban Sun hopes to make public spaces safe again. “The goal is not to say that we don’t need the vaccine or we that don’t need masks,” said Roosegaarde. “Urban Sun doesn’t cure coronavirus, but it does allow social gatherings to be safer.” The UV 222 light, specially calibrated and tested by the Dutch National Metrology Institute VSL, can neutralize 99.9% of all viruses in minutes, making social interactions a possibility, and encouraging people to congregate again, safely.

Urban Sun works by being tethered to overhead cables and suspended over a large area. It comes with two broad parts – a powerful lamp that illuminates akin to an artificial sun, and an orb containing the UV 222 lamp underneath that washes spaces with safe, disinfecting UVC light, allowing people to interact while vastly minimizing the risk of spreading viruses like the Coronavirus or even the influenza virus. The Urban Sun was designed in response to how the world changed overnight in the wake of the pandemic. “Suddenly our world is filled with plastic barriers and distance stickers, our family reduced to pixels on a computer screen. Let’s be the architects of our new normal and create better places to meet”, said Daan Roosegaarde, founder of Studio Roosegaarde. A self-funded project, the Urban Sun began in 2019 and eventually blossomed into an interdisciplinary collaboration between designers, scientists, and researchers from the USA, Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands. The studio developed the first prototype to work in Somerset House in London, although Daan envisions the Urban Sun as being installed at open public spaces to make social interaction safe again, and hopes to take Urban Sun to large-scale events such as the Olympic Games or the Burning Man Festival.

Designer: Daan Roosegaarde (Studio Roosegaarde)

This shoe-sanitizing doormat is a great example of a good/bad idea

There’s intent, and there’s execution, and while most things are created with good intent, their execution may not necessarily reflect it. The Shuzon, a now-canceled product on Kickstarter is a great example of a good idea that wasn’t perhaps taken to its real potential. Created by 26-year old Ariel Zaksenberg, the Shuzon is a shoe-sanitizing doormat that coats the sole of your shoes with disinfectant when you stand on it. Great idea, no? I thought so too, but the more time I spend looking at this design, the more I feel like maybe the doormat’s design isn’t entirely foolproof.

The Shuzon is a two-part doormat that disinfects your feet as you step on it. A soft foam layer helps evenly distribute disinfectant on the base of your shoes, so you don’t accidentally bring any germs into the house/office/hospital/shop when you enter. That’s the Shuzon’s intent, and given the circumstances, it’s a pretty great design brief and a wonderful alternative to those wasteful shoe-covers that people wear. However, where the Shuzon slightly falls apart is in its execution of that intent. Let me explain.

The Shuzon is a regular-sized doormat with two halves… a pink one, and a blue one. One of those halves dispenses the sanitizer, the other one absorbs any excess. Which one’s which? I wish I knew. The foam on the doormat unfortunately only showcases the branding, so it isn’t entirely clear which foam block I’m supposed to step on first; and that’s just one small problem – here’s the bigger one. The Shuzon is a regular doormat split in two, right down the middle. The average person wouldn’t stand on one half of the doormat, they would probably have one foot in each square (nobody occupies a corner of the doormat when they’re at the door). Unless explicitly explained to, most people would probably end up sanitizing just the one foot that happened to be in the right foam block. The third problem is the horizontal orientation of the Shuzon. Nobody side-steps when they walk into a house. People walk forwards, so it would only make sense to design the doormat in a way where the disinfecting block was kept BEFORE the drying block, and not BESIDE it.

Other minor problems in Shuzon’s design would probably be not considering what happens when pets step on it, or when there’s a group of people standing at your door (and nobody is really standing on the doormat), or when someone leaves a parcel on your doormat and gets its base soggy, or even when the liquid disinfectant at its bottom runs out but you never know. The Shuzon is a product with great intention, but to be honest, it’s a few design tweaks away from being perfect. I hope to see a future iteration from the design community that makes this product better, because heaven knows we really need it!

Designer: Ariel Zaksenberg