Futuristic designs for fun and good

<p>A hospital layout that prevents disease transmission, a landmine-deactivating tumbleweed and a kids' desk that can withstand a full ton crashing down on it are among the 100 nominees for the Design Museum in London's annual Design of the Year award. The museum <a href="http://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/2012/designs-of-the-year-2012">calls the award</a> "the Oscars of the design world"; whether or not that's accurate, the nominees have garnered attention in <a href="http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/2012/01/11/design-of-the-year---royal-wedding-dress-or-olympic-torch">Vogue</a>, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/jan/11/design-award-nominations-olympics-alexander-mcqueen">The Guardian</a> and the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16953520">BBC</a>, which has a nomination for its website's homepage.</p> <p>The nominated designs represent cool ideas from all around the world. Some are more frivolous Kate Middleton's wedding dress is among the nominees but there's a strong theme of designs that solve important problems, too.</p><p>Here's a selection of our favorite futuristic, optimistic designs that provide solutions for everything from a lack of health care in Rwanda to spending too much time at the grocery store.</p> For those in London, the Design Museum will have prototypes of all its nominees on display until July 4. The museum will announce this year's winner April 24.

Minesweeper tumbleweed

<p>Though it looks whimsical somewhere between a giant sea urchin and bouquet of toilet plungers the Mine Kafon ("Minesweeper") has a serious purpose. Set it in a space full of live land mines, and it will roll along with the wind and detonate the mines, splintering its long bamboo arms. A GPS device in its center tracks and remembers cleared paths for people to walk on afterward.</p> <p>The Mine Kafon's creator, design student Massoud Hassani, was born and raised in Afghanistan, which had <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2153371.stm">between 500,000 and 10 million undetonated land mines</a> by 2002. When he was a child, his toys would sometimes blow into minefields where he couldn't retrieve them. He also witnessed other children injured and killed by mines, <a href="http://minekafon.blogspot.com/">he recalled on his blog</a>. <a href="http://www.unops.org/english/whatwedo/focus-areas/public-order-security/mine-action/country-profiles/Pages/Afghanistan.aspx">United Nations-led efforts</a> have reduced Afghanistan's landmines to just <a href="http://www.macca.org.af/">over 6,000</a> by December 2011, but landmines are still a major problem there and in dozens of countries around the world.</p> <p>Hassani is testing the Mine Kafon with the Dutch Ministry of Defense. The explosions "feel like Mythbusters," he blogged.</p>

Hospital layout fights disease

<p>Butaro Hospital in northern Rwanda has no hallways. Instead, its open floor plan, by the nonprofit MASS Design Group in Boston, lifts air up and away from patients, creating ventilation that reduces the risk of transmitting airborne disease. MASS Design Group also planned staff and patient paths to reduce disease transmission. The well-designed hospital, which opened January 2011, should be a welcome addition to its home district, which has never had a hospital before, though it has a <a href="http://www.pih.org/index.php/news/entry/from-no-doctors-to-the-finest-hospital-in-central-africa/">population of 400,000</a>.</p> <p><a href="http://www.massdesigngroup.org/our-work/project-index/butaro-hospital.html">According to their website</a>, MASS Design Group made the construction process deliberately labor-intensive, to create local jobs. They also used local materials, such as the local volcanic rock, whenever possible.</p>

Making duck-and-cover safer

<p>Many schoolchildren around the world are taught to "duck and cover" under their desks in case of an earthquake. Ever wondered if that would really keep you safe? Design student Arthur Brutter and his advisor, Ido Bruno, from Jerusalem, realized most desks wouldn't actually be able to protect those ducking beneath. Check out their impact test on a desk at 1:09 in the following video:</p> <p><iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mj2Ng0WTofo" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p>Brutter and Bruno designed a desk that can withstand 1-ton sack falling on it. Their impact tests start at 2:00 in the video. There are no details on how much a desk would cost.</p>

U.S. spaceport for future leisure flights

<a href="http://www.space.com/13564-spaceport-america-readies-space-tourists.html">Spaceport America</a>, the world's first commercial spaceship port, won a nomination from the Design Museum. Actual commercial suborbital flights aren't yet availableand Spaceport America's leaders aren't sure when they will be but the port, located in the desert in New Mexico, is already a launch pad for test flights from companies that contract with NASA.

Solar-powered 3D printing

<p>Given sun and sand, the Solar Sinter doesn't need any other electricity or material to create glass sculptures and bowls, as <a href="http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/400-3d-printer-solar-sinter.html">InnovationNewsDaily reported in June</a>. The device uses a lens to focus sunlight onto a patch of sand. A computer program tells the lens where to aim to form and object right in the sand. Everything is entirely powered by solar panels, though the device's creator, London-based designer Markus Kayser, still needs to sweep a fresh layer of sand onto the growing object as his sinter melts each layer into glass.</p> <p>Kayser has tested his device in the Moroccan Desert and the Sahara Desert near Siwa, Egypt. <a href="http://vimeo.com/25401444">Watch him at work in Egypt</a>.</p>

Microsoft's Kinect system for games and hacks

<a href="http://www.technewsdaily.com/627-microsoft-kinect-is-fun-despite-a-few-problems.html">Microsoft's Kinect gaming system</a> for the Xbox, which senses motions all over players' bodies, garnered a nomination. In the innovation world, however, Kinect is known not for what it was designed to do, but what people have hacked it to do. Archeologists are working on using Kinect to map and <a href="http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/478-microsoft-kinect-3d-scans-archaeology.html">recreate entire archeological digs</a>. Researchers have equipped robots with Kinect sensing to <a href="http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/75-motion-detecting-kinect-robot-could-help-rescue-missions.html">map collapsed buildings</a> for search-and-rescue operations. There's a <a href="http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/200-kinect-rocket-launcher.html">Kinect-enabled TurtleBot</a> that follows its human owners, and can be programmed to fetch snacks.

Scan and buy groceries at your subway stop

<p>Tesco's Home Plus virtual grocery displays in South Korea are true-to-size posters of grocery-store shelves stocked with all the usualboxed curry, fruit, bottled juice. Except for the fact that they're pasted along the walls of subway stations, they look a lot like the real thing. And with their smartphones, people can shop for stuff off the shelves just like they can in physical stores.</p> <p>The display's price tags have <a href="http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/1857-qr-code-marketing.html">quick-response codes</a>, black and white squares with patterns that smartphones can read. While subway commuters are waiting for their trains to work in the morning, they can scan the codes of the items they want, then pay for their juice and eggs over the phone. By the end of the work day, they'll get their grocery order delivered to their doors.</p>

A font for the digital age

Sometimes beauty is in the details. Under commission from cellphone company Nokia, design company Dalton Maag created Nokia Pure Font specifically for reading on computers and mobile devices.

The million-dollar electric plane

<p>The Taurus G4 is an <a href="http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/457-electric-planes-calen-gologan-elektra-one.html">electric plane</a> that can fly more than 200 miles using the equivalent amount of energy as a little more than a half-gallon of fuel per customer. The plane's creators, a group from State College, Pa., called Pipistrel-USA.com, won $1.35 million from a NASA competition for their invention, as InnovationNewsDaily sister site <a href="http://www.space.com/13178-electric-plane-wins-nasa-challenge.html">SPACE.com reported</a>.</p> <p>At the time, Joe Parrish, NASA's acting chief technologist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a statement: "Today we've shown that electric aircraft have moved beyond science fiction and are now in the realm of practice."</p>

8 Most Innovative Designs of the Year