Innovation

Underpinnings

A new approach to modeling instruction at PolyPlane

The best way to learn 3D modeling?   Forget about the software.

For the moment anyway.  That’s part of the philosophy at PolyPlane, a new instructional site that emphasizes the broader concepts of 3D graphics before delving into the dashboard of a particular CAD application.

PolyPlane“People just starting out in 3D modeling are forced to wrap their brains around a lot of unfamiliar concepts all at the same time,” says Gabriel Mathews, principal of Portland’s Con Cor Design Group and author of the video series.  “At the outset, stepping back and understanding the process of modeling in general actually makes learning an application a lot less frustrating.”

The first series of free videos at PolyPlane.com – called “pre-flight” – gives the overall lay of the land (or grid, in this case) for students before they even get into the cockpit of a modeling application.  Each three-to-four-minute lesson focuses on a basic concept in the problem of generating 3D geometry.

“We try to build an overall framework of modeling for the newcomer.  We don’t want to just define the term but show why it’s important and how it works in the big picture,” explains Mathews.   “Once you have this sort of schema in mind, it makes it much easier to take command of the software when you do finally approach it, because you know what you need and what to look for.  After a short time on PolyPlane you can really pick up any kind of modeling application.”

This can include engineering packages, like SolidWorks or Pro/E, curvilinear NURBs-based applications like Rhinoceros or Alias or tools for animators or artists like 3DStudio Max, Blender, or Maya.  Having more prior knowledge about the basic tenets of 3D can also help students make smart choices about which software are most in line with their interests, Mathews says.

Sketch To Model video course from PolyPlane.com.

Modeling school bite by bite

Mathews was inspired to launch PolyPlane by a friend’s successful instruction site for 2D graphics called CTRLPaint, which uses short video illustrations and friendly narration to introduce new techniques piecemeal.  He thought a similar approach would work to cut through the complexities of 3D curves, meshes, and surfaces.

Mathews says there are dozens of other sites with modeling tips as well as tutorials put out by software developers, but he finds that too often the offerings expect the viewer to already have a background familiarity that amateurs usually lack.

“You get something that is 45 minutes long and loaded with acronyms and technical jargon,” he says.  “Any outsider is not going to know what a UVW map is.  It’s discouraging when you slog through a long tutorial and only grasp 50% of what’s being said.  And if the instruction is too centered on the software of a particular brand, it also tends to assume the viewer has a working knowledge of modeling already.”

In contrast, each short PolyPlane video explains in simple terms and clear illustrations another piece of the puzzle.  Visitors to the pre-flight series can accumulate a solid background of the principals in a few spare moments during the week, without opening up a modeler app.

“A lot of modeling is problem solving, more of a mental maneuver, like how to break up the object you want to make into more basic geometry, for instance.  Your modeler is not going to do for you, it’s something you learn to visualize,” says Mathews.

“Each video you wind up learning another little bead of wisdom:  how to control a camera view, why NURRBs are important, what does it matter to set up an origin point a particular way.  As you get into modeling in whatever platform, all these rules of thumb eventually become second nature to you and you don’t really even think about it.  But when you are starting out they can become the roadblocks in understanding the software.”Polyplane 3D modeling tutorialWatch and Learn: PolyPlane employs visual aids to show the conceptual underpinnings of modeling actions.

Test Flights

Learning by doing eventually is part of the ride, too.  PolyPlane has longer 2-hour series – called “sketch-to-model” – which put the principals to work in a practical, step-by-step modeling project.   Here it is helpful to follow along in a modeling application, Mathews says, but it doesn’t much matter which application; the user can adapt the general PolyPlane techniques to whatever platform.

Mathews says that many designers tend to switch applications at some point in their education or careers, so it helps to be open-minded at the beginning anyway.  He himself initially took a college course that taught AutoDesk products, then discovered Rhinoceros and taught himself the application with the help of his previous instruction.

“People tend to gravitate to a system eventually that becomes their favorite tool.”  For cost-conscious students, Mathews says a free sample version of Rhino or Google SketchUp works for the more intensive PolyPlane exercises.  Students can get a solid foundation with the pre-flight and the tutorial projects during a month of free trial.  After that, students can purchase the software for relatively low cost.

“I chose the Rhino environment in the video examples because it is what I am most fluent in and it tends to be the most affordable paid software.  It’s true that Google sketch up is free but the complete loaded version of the software is $499.  Rhino is around $1000 but if you are a student it is $199, so it turns out to give the most bang for the buck.”

Regardless of the software choice for students, Polyplane aims to create the most economical instruction method in terms of time.  “Whether you have to learn 3D modeling for school or on your own, we think PolyPlane will get you up to speed the fastest,” says Mathews.

PolyPlane plans new free videos every week throughout 2012, more advanced projects, and other design resources for the beginner.  Check out other video lessons at www.polyplane.com.

 


Building a Better Transmission

The Diametroid DT-CVT: An inside look in the new transmission concept by Australian inventor John Bisby.

The Diametroid DT-CVT: An inside look in the new transmission concept by Australian inventor John Bisby.

Inventor John Bisby’s quest for the ultimate CVT

By Brett Duesing and Alex Dickey

John Bisby was simply looking for an easier ride home.  On the way, he found himself entangled in a geometric problem that has puzzled mechanical thinkers since Leonardo da Vinci.  The improbable difference this time:  it looks as if Bisby may have come up with a new path to the solution.

The story begins when the 48-year-old automotive electronics technician wanted to modify his bicycle with an electric motor to assist in the steep climbs near his home in Jordan.  Having had some experience converting cars to electric vehicles in his native Australia, Bisby thought he could do it himself, but soon ran into a conspicuous gap in available technology.

“I searched the Internet for everything,” Bisby recalls.  “I could find suitable motors, controllers, and lithium batteries, but the transmission appeared to be an engineering impasse.”

Most electric assists make do by using the middle gear on the existing transmission and adding an electrical speed controller to the motor.  This did not satisfy Bisby.  He wondered, why the motor couldn’t output a constant rate – what an electric motor does best — and have mechanics transmit that power to gradually turn the rear wheel to higher and higher rotations?

That seemingly simple question de-railed Bisby from world of practicalities and plunged him into theory.  For 18 months, the idea that the input and output of a transmission could interact within a single dynamic system consumed Bisby.

“It’s not as if I was trying to break any laws of physics, so I kept at it,” he says.  Thinking about the puzzle kept him up at night.  New insights into the calculus came to him during long walks in the woods.

He spent several more months writing out the explanations and equations of his solution for a new type of continuously variable transmission (CVT).  He applied for a UK patent on his invention, the Diametroid, or what Bisby labels more generally as a DT-CVT.

Input and Output:  The device is designed to  receive a constant rotational speed of input, which continuously varying the speed of rotational output.  Once in operation, the device balances this ratio dynamically, and needs no manual or mechanical regulation to affect acceleration.

Input and Output: The device is designed to receive a constant rotational speed of input, which continuously varying the speed of rotational output. Once in operation, the device balances this ratio dynamically, and needs no manual or mechanical regulation to affect acceleration.

“In his research, my patent attorney could find nothing similar to the Diametroid,” says Bisby, who dubs the DT-CVT as the “holy grail of power transmissions.”  By all appearances, the mechanics of Diametroid approaches the problem in a fundamentally different way than contemporary CVT designs.

By his own admission, Bisby is not a transmissions expert, but the title might be fitting if the Diametroid proves to have viable commercial advantages.  Bisby claims that they are all there:  a smoother acceleration and a more compact size; less wear on engines and its own components; and perhaps most striking — a negligible loss in efficiency.

The Long, Strange Trip of the CVT

Transmissions most common in everyday life – our stick shifts and ten-speeds — operate on fixed ratios set by gears and controlled by clutches or derailleurs.  A shift in gears moves to rotational force onto a circle of wider or smaller radius, accompanied with the familiar lurch in acceleration or sag when downshifting that jerks the heads of drivers and passengers.

A continuously variable system, on the other hand, provides for a stepless acceleration. It gives not five or so intervals of fixed ratios, but an infinite number in between.   The simplest form of a CVT utilizes a belt between two rotating pulleys. Instead of 2D discs, the pulleys are actually cones.  A hydraulic regulator shifts the position of the cones perpendicular to the belt. The belt slips down and up the cones to a wide range of radii, smoothly varying the ratios between engine and wheel.

“Other CVT designs share a common characteristic,” explains Bisby.  “The input-output ratio of the transmission changes by varying the effective diameter of one or more components.”  Later variations of the CVT replace the spinning cones with some other 3D shapes to produce a similar variance.  Bisby’s Diametroid, however, does not employ this technique, instead relying solely on planetary gearing.

Since our conventional transmission is full of clunky shifts, each of which works engines harder and leaks efficiency, one might question why we have the transmission we have now, instead of a CVT.  One can only look back at the oddly sporadic evolution of the CVT and speculate.  Da Vinci sketched his version of a CVT back in 1490, way back before there were cars or bicycles to make use of it.  Four centuries would pass before a CVT device would be patented.

Only in the last few decades have CVTs achieved some a commercial popularity.  Small CVTs are found in a wide range of power tools, tractors, and snowmobiles.  More complex – and much bulkier — CVTs have been adapted in the automotive world by a few companies looking to boost efficiency.  Automotive CVTs earned public scorn when mated with lower-performing engines as with the Subaru Justy or the Ford Fiesta 1.1 CTX, but found more enthusiasm in more muscular offerings by the European carmakers DAF and Audi.

CVTs in   Cars:   The Danish automaker DAF was one of the fi rst to employ a CVT in cars.   This TDL model concept from 2007 features its fourth generation Variom-  atic transmission, designed   to work with a V8 5-liter engine. Automotive  engineer Pablo Serrano, who worked on the TDL transmission, weighs in on the Diametroid invention.  Image credit (TDL):   Pablo Serrano

CVTs in Cars: The Danish automaker DAF was one of the first to employ a CVT in cars. This TDL model concept from 2007 features its fourth generation Variom- atic transmission, designed to work with a V8 5-liter engine. Automotive engineer Pablo Serrano, who worked on the TDL transmission, weighs in on the Diametroid invention. Image credit: Pablo Serrano

Balancing on the Dynamic Threshold

There are big differences between Bibsy’s concept and current CVT designs.  First, as mentioned, the Diametroid is a compact box of orbitals and gearing, and does not rely on a big spinning solid to vary diameters (which makes current CVTs bulky) nor anything like a friction driven belt (which is liable to wear out and break). There are no variable elements at all in the Diametroid.  Unlike the pulley-driven CVT example, the Diametroid needs no hydraulic or other powered mechanism to regulate the ratio of rotational velocities.

Sweet Spot:  This graphs illustrates the concept of the  dynamic threshold.  Power begins transferring  to the wheel once the input RPM reaches an  established cadence, the dynamic threshold.   After that speed is achieved, the transmission accelerates smoothly and continuously.  The

Sweet Spot: This graphs illustrates the concept of the dynamic threshold. Power begins transferring to the wheel once the input RPM reaches an established cadence, the dynamic threshold. After that speed is achieved, the transmission accelerates smoothly and continuously. The

“The DT-CVT does not require any electrical, magnetic, hydraulic, friction or active centrifugal devices,” Bisby explains.  “Its function depends on the ability to precisely balance differential rotating forces.”

The dynamic threshold is the “DT” in DT-CVT.  It is the point where the power input reaches an established RPM rate.  Once reached, the dynamic system kicks in.  The output RPM then increases continuously from zero to its maximum rate, while the input remains always at the same RPM.   Once within this dynamic system, more torque (at the same rotational speed) translates directly to output acceleration.

Bisby's Rhinoceros model of a hypothetical bicycle application of his dynamic threshold CVT, one of many vehicular applications on display at his website www.diametroid.com.  In this scenario, the bike transfers power through a drive shaft rather than a chain to the transmission attached to the rear hub. In far right, an added motor for an electric-assist bike.

Bisby's Rhinoceros model of a hypothetic bicycle application of his dynamic threshold CVT, one of many vehicular applications on display at his website www.diametroid.com. In this scenario, the bike transfers power through a drive shaft rather than a chain to the transmission attached to the rear hub. In far right, an added motor for an electric-assist bike.

For sake of example, apply a small version of the transmission to a hypothetical pedal-powered bike.  The rider would give the bike a push off and start peddling; no power will be transferred to the back wheel in the first few seconds. But once the feet pedal at the prescribed dynamic threshold, for this example, say, a typical cadence of 66 revolutions per minute, the bike begins to smoothly accelerate.

“If you’re peddling along at 66 rpm, it does not matter how much force you put on the pedals, they will always spin at 66 rpm,” explains Bisby.  “If you try and pedal faster, it will simply translate the power to the back wheel as more torque.”  Balancing on this dynamic system, the rider needs no manual controls or outside regulating devices.

But it’s when an engine replaces leg muscles that the full potential of the Diametroid is seen.  Internal combustion engines are happy to run at a constant rate.  Revving from low to high RPMs creates wear on the engine.  This is even truer said for electric motors, which drain heavily on battery power in order to get up to speed.  By design, electric motors operate at a maximum efficiency when they run at one constant rate of output.

Any discussion of the next generation of fuel-efficient personal transportation seems to revolve around the prospect of electric motors, or at least some hybrid combination.

Not only does the Diametroid seem to answer this call because of its easy mating with electric motors, but also because the transmission itself is extremely efficient.  Bisby says conventional automotive torque converters are relatively inefficient.  Both stick-shift and automatic transmissions increase in friction while increasing rpm, while the Diametroid does exactly the opposite, approaching 100 percent efficiency at top speed.

Potentialities

For the mechanically and mathematically inclined, a detailed technical explanation of Bisby’s invention can be found at his website, www.diametroid.com.  In the 3D surface modeler Rhinoceros, Bisby has created a virtual prototype that simulates the rotational motion.  The site shows several exploded assemblies of the 3D model as well as a few hypothetical auto and bicycle application examples employing the Diametroid.

One mechanically inclined person who has reviewed Bisby’s materials is automotive engineer Pablo Serrano, who performed calculations for the original Variometric CVT on the 1985 SDL and TDL models from DAF, and has also worked on a more updated CVT concept for the Danish automaker last year.

Serrano says further analysis would be needed to come up with a full verdict on the Diametroid, but says that his first impression is that the invention certainly does what its owner claims.  “I believe all Bisby says in this explanation. I do think the transmission can be the substitutes for the current conventions, sharing a future with CVTs, including my own — the Variomatic CVT of DAF.”

One of the appealing features for Serrano is the size and simplicity of the device.  “It has less mobile pieces than current CVTs,” he says, explaining that Audi’s first-generation multitronic CVTs were about the same size as the engines.  A DT-CVT would very likely be more compact.

Although Serrano sees a “promising future” for the Diametroid in many applications, for automotive use he suggests that it may run into the same issue as other car-based CVTs:  the handling of high levels of torque.  “I see the same problem with this transmission,” says Serrano.  “It may not be able to cope with high RPMs because of torque. I would need to calculate it, but my guess is that we would need to have about three of these transmissions, one after the other, for powers of 100 horsepower and 80 pounds per feet, at least.”

Bisby confidently disagrees on the issues of high RPM and torque.  “Power transfer operates through a dynamic process which is completely immune to power levels,” he says. He also points out that the internal components spin much slower than a conventional automotive transmission, typically a maximum of 850 RPM, reducing to near zero RPM at vehicle top speed.

Also, unlike current CVTs, the transmission is not required to attach to a stable structure to brace against high levels of torque. This feature is visible in the Diametroid bicycle adaptation that Bisby modeled in Rhino.  The device attaches to the wheel itself, without any torque connection to the frame.  Bisby is sure that the concept can be scaled for nearly any power or torque application – conceivably even to a Formula One racecar, running at 20,000 RPM.

Whether or not the Diametroid can reach this vision may be answered in the next stage of Bisby’s journey:  testing.  The work continues for the inventor in a far less theoretical mode.  As he is starting to build out real components, Bisby is also shopping for interest among manufacturers, who would devote some R&D resources to development.  “I’ve just done the math,” says Bisby.  “There are other people — experts in materials and production — who much more qualified than me to make those types of decisions.”

And perhaps after his theory becomes a bit closer to reality, Bisby can get to work on putting that motor on his bike.

For more information and more models of the DT-CVT, please visit: www.diametroid.com.

About Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros provides the tools to accurately model your designs ready for rendering, animation, drafting, engineering, analysis, and manufacturing. Rhino can create, edit, analyze, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces, and solids in Windows, without limits on complexity, degree, or size. Rhino gives the accuracy needed to design, prototype, engineer, analyze, and manufacture anything from an airplane to jewelry. To see the many diverse products designed with this affordable 3D tool, and to download a free evaluation version, please visit: www.rhino3D.com.


Boarder Crossing

Office of innovation: Designers of Italy's Bastard brand of snowboarding gear are also steeped in skateboard culture, to such a degree they added a bowl above their flagship headquarters in Milan. Capturing the interest of customers of all types of boarders was the core strategy of its recent RHINO design.

Office of innovation: Designers of Italy's Bastard brand of snowboarding gear are also steeped in skateboard culture, to such a degree they added a bowl above their flagship headquarters in Milan. Capturing the interest of customers of all types of boarders was the core strategy of its recent RHINO design.

Italian innovators design a multi-tool for the waves, slopes, and streets

By Alex Dickey and Brett Duesing

“Snowboarding is very popular on the Alps,” says Max Bonassi snowboard designer at the Milan-based Comvert. “The main difference between Europe and the U.S. is the consistency of the snow. Here we mostly ride on hard pack. Rarely do we get real powder you see in America.”

Comvert has carved out its own path with Bastard, a brand that offers a line of gear specifically designed for Italian conditions. “We produce boards with a longer effective edge, and a bit stiffer than average boards,” he says. “The result is a very fast ride.”

Although the snow might vary across the globe, snowboarding fashion is universal. Boarders on the slopes of Torino go for the same styles as their counterparts in Breckenridge. Since the Comvert released its first board designs in 1994, the Bastard label has steadily grown to include a full catalog of outerwear, street wear, and accessories.

Since its beginnings, snowboarding counter-culture has always traded style influences with the sport’s rebellious half-cousins, skateboarding and surfing. Boarding enthusiasts often change between the sports according to the season, a fact confirmed by a visit to Comvert’s offices. Comvert recently constructed an indoor skate bowl in their headquarters, so employees could skate on their lunch hour.

Comvert enlisted the help of another Milanese firm, Sardi Innovation, to produce a new accessory for Bastard’s new line. CEO and founder, Enrique Luis Sardi, seized on this idea that snowboarders hit the slopes in the winter, surfed in the summer, and skated to work. This persistent crossover inspired Sardi to devise an all-in-one tool designed for all three sports.

Party animal: The many instruments in Bastard's RHINO pocket snow/snow boarding and surfing tool fold up into the shape of a Rhinoceros.

Party animal: The many instruments in Bastard's RHINO pocket tool fold up into the shape of a Rhinoceros.

The Clash of Rhinos

Sardi’s idea was a pocket-sized multi-tool that would combine ten mechanical devices for use in snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. Other sports pocket tools existed, Sardi explains, but their looks were utilitarian rather than phat. To give character to the tool, the Sardi team looked to a bit of zoomorphism:

“We actually considered 60 different animals based on sketches,” says Sardi. The design team settled on the Rhinoceros, giving the guiding principle behind the shapes as well as the product name, the Bastard RHINO Multi-tool. “Once we had the animal idea, the whole design naturally came together. And let’s face it, if you want to make the coolest tool, the rhino is definitely one of the coolest animals.”

At that point, Sardi designers had already engineered the functional metal tool shapes in the 3D surface modeler coincidentally called Rhinoceros. Sardi says the modeling platform was ideal for Comvert’s tool project, as it is for many of his other high-concept designs. Comvert designers (as another coincidence) used the same application to model their snowboarding products and to engineer the curves of its wood-frame skate park.

rhino-03cmyk

The NURBS-based environment allowed the team to play with the tool concept on screen, arrange the metal parts into different positions, and define the encasing animal form with smoothly arching curves.

“Its horns, front feet, and back feet are three different open-end wrenches,” explains Sardi. “On its mouth, you plug in the four interchangeable multi-screwdrivers it stores in its stomach, which also contains an ice-or-wax spatula. Its throat opens up to the surf wax comb. Its tail is the keyring clip.” In keeping with the boarder lifestyle, the RHINO’s ears make for a handy beer bottle opener.

“From the business concept to the final design product, the project came together in no time at all,” says Sardi. Ordering the parts into production also went smoothly. The Sardi team could easily export the separate parts for different kinds of production (injected Nylon PA 6.6 copolymer for the casing or 316 stainless steel for the tool heads). Prototypes were made to preview the product with Comvert and its retail buyers.

“When we sent the design to rapid prototyping, it was ready,” says Bonassi. There was no doubt or redesign. We didn’t even make a single change in the Rhino model. The same prototype files were used in final production.”

Changing Geography

The Bastard RHINO is now released through Comvert retail partners through Europe. The toolkit hit a sweet spot, a balance between the practical needs of the sports and the fashion sense of the audience. And the audience for the product is now bigger, mainly because, as Bonassi points out, the tool can hang in shops year round.

wire-rhinocmyk

“We haven’t done any kind of advertising at all, and still the response just gets better everyday,” he says. “We’re seeing not only magazine and design book features about it, but also hearing about cool stories from customers using their RHINO.”

The multi-tool even made the ADI DESIGN INDEX of the 150 best Italian-designed products in the world.”

As the RHINO gains momentum around the Alps and Mediterranean, it soon may be migrating to the Rockies and California beaches. “Now it’s available in the online stores and the Bastard web site. We are currently studying worldwide store distribution that will take it to North America very soon.”

Sardi is also proud of the recognition, and views the project as an instance of high-minded design turning a simple mechanical idea into a marketing breakthrough.

“The key to success,” says Sardi, “is to keep on innovating non-stop. That’s were the real business is. When the competitors try to copy, you are ready to launch a wholly new product and leave them the wake.”

sardi-innovation-logoAbout Sardi Innovation

At the cutting-edge of entrepreneurial innovation, Sardi is the multi-award-winning firm that businesses turn to for success in developing unique products that strengthen and consolidate their brand image. Clients such as Pirelli, Lavazza, Avio International Group, and McK Aviation have recognized the ability of Sardi Innovation to create real impact in the marketplace. For more information, please visit: www.sardi-innovation.com.

comvertlogo

About Comvert S.r.l.

Founded in Milan in 1994 by four skateboarders, Comvert conceives, produces, and distributes gear and clothing for skateboarders and snowboarders under the brand Bastard. Comvert also distributes the brand Electric in Italy. To view Comvert’s quality lines of product, please visit: www.comvert.com.

rhinologoAbout Rhinoceros
Rhinoceros provides the tools to accurately model your designs ready for rendering, animation, drafting, engineering, analysis, and manufacturing. Rhino can create, edit, analyze, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces, and solids in Windows, without limits on complexity, degree, or size.  To see the many diverse products designed with this affordable 3D tool, and to download a free evaluation version, please visit: www.rhino3D.com.


Making Good

promo-photos-vf-002

LifeStraw shows how products — rather than politics — may be the answer to the needs of the developing world

Lately, a small plastic tube has been lauded with superlatives. After it swept international design awards, TIME announced it as Invention of the Year, Forbes magazine called it “one of the ten things that will change the way we live.” Reader’s Digest chimed in with “Europe’s best invention,” and tech-reviewer Gizmag went one step further, labeling the tube “the invention of the century.”

The tube in question is called, LifeStraw®, produced by the Vestergaard Frandsen Group, a Swiss textile firm which has for years supplied developing countries with anti-malaria netting.

Although the 10-inch-long polystyrene tube seems modest in its construction, lifes_productthe problem LifeStraw sets out to tackle is of monumental scale. Sipping through a LifeStraw makes contaminated surface water drinkable.

“At any given moment, about half of the world’s poor are suffering from water-related diseases, of which over 6,000 – mainly children – die each day by consuming unsafe drinking water,” says company CEO Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen. Today, 1.1 billion people are without access to safe drinking water. Diarrhoeal diseases affect the world’s HIV-infected populace (numbered at 33 million) especially, ranking as one of the leading cause of death among HIV-infected children.

LifeStraw may also be significant for another reason. One of the eight Millennium Development Goals set by the UN is to halve the number the people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. A simple and inexpensive product — rather than bureaucratic outlay of aid — is now poised to achieve this objective.

This raises the question: Can products of designers, rather than the policies of bureaucrats, alleviate the worst of the world’s conditions?

‘The Invention of the Century’

According to Roelie Bottema, the designer at Vestergaard Frandsen who modeled the LifeStraw, the idea originated nearly a decade ago, when world-aid personnel from the Carter Center assigned to travel in Sudan and Ghana to fight Dracunculiasis — also known as Guinea Worm Disease — which was particularly endemic to these regions. The simplest method was to build a filter into a straw-like construction.

The guinea-worm straw inspired the idea of a super-straw, equipped with a combination of polymer-based purification filters that would protect against a full range of pathogens. In the final design, each replaceable LifeStraw filter purifies about a year’s supply of drinking water for one adult, up to 700 liters. The LifeStraw filters kills 99.999% of waterborne bacteria, eliminates 98.7% of waterborne viruses, and removes all particles over 15 microns.

The idea of travel factors greatly into the proper framing of the water purification problem. Village drinking water often has safeguards already – boiling through cooking, chlorination, or filtering at the well source. Also, residents naturally develop some degree of immunity to the microbe content in their local supply. The biggest risk for infection comes when villagers travel outside their localities for work or trade.

“With the guinea worm, for example, people would have protection against this disease where you have villages.” says Bottema. “Because people travel so much, they get easily contaminated from outside water sources. If you have a solution that cleans your water inside the village, it doesn’t necessarily address the entire problem.”

promo-photos-vf-005

Personal, portable, and cheap, LifeStraw ensures protection against unsafe water anywhere. Worn on a cord as a necklace, the durable, lightweight product provides even small children with a safeguard against waterborne diseases.

Design of the LifeStraw

The bulk of the research and development behind the invention took place in a laboratory. The University of North Carolina School of Public Health performed the large battery of tests for a wide range of filtering methods and media.

“You do a lot of testing to determine what sorts of filter dimensions and which filter media work best together,” explains Bottema. “In the end, you design the chambers according to the data. You make sure you know what the effect will be if you adjust the size of the chambers or if you find media that work better or as cheaper substitutes.”

Bottema crafted the injection-molded plastic design in a 3D surface modeler called Rhinoceros, a software used by industrial designers to give consumer goods their distinctive curvatures. Rather than aesthetics, the focus of LifeStraw modeling was the parsimony of construction costs.

“The biggest challenge of engineering the LifeStraw was to combine the right media at very low cost,” says Bottema. The cost of each personal LifeStraw is under four dollars. “It is not that hard to make a water-purification device. It is very difficult thing to make it affordable.”

Engineering Solutions

Another product making headlines for developing-world innovation is Plumpy’nut, invented by a nutritionist in the French firm Nutriset. Extreme food scarcity threatens the youngest the most. In Niger, for example, more than a quarter of children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday.

Plumpy’nut is a simple protein-rich peanut paste fortified with other nutrients, which has been administered through Doctors Without Borders. Four-week treatments of foil packets of the product have been miraculous in reversing even the most severe symptoms of malnutrition.

Just as the design of LifeStraw addresses the real situation of villagers’ mobility with respect to water sources, Plumpy’nut satisfies the famine situation, at least better than the previous remedy, powdered milk formulas. Plumpy’nut takes up less space and costs less than powered milk. While prepared milk goes bad, Plumpy’nut has a shelf life of two years. The product can also be manufactured locally with ingredients common to much of the developing world.

Perhaps the most important improvement is the access to the relief. Fortified milk-based treatment required sanitary preparation by professionals at a feeding center on a daily basis, resulting in long lines and full hospital beds. The full four-week Plumpy’nut regimen can be given to mothers, who feed it twice daily to their children at home.

“With this one product,” says Dr. Milton Tectonidis, nutrition specialist for Doctors Without Borders, “we can treat three-quarters of [the] children on an outpatient basis. Before, we had to hospitalize them all and give them fortified milk.”

Framing the most dire of humane crises as a design problem — rather than a political one — may be the most effective way that industrialized nations can aid less fortunate countries. For innovative designers and manufacturers, it can as simple as considering a new, overlooked market – consisting of about one billion people.

Planners and Seekers

Former World Bank economist William Easterly wrote in this 2006 book (White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good) of the ironic example that millions of children all over the West unfailingly find their own copy of the latest Harry Potter novel at their local bookstore on the day of its release, while cartons of donated medicine sit in warehouses far away from the dying children of the developing world who need it. The difference, he writes, is that Western aid, although generous, is not tied to mechanisms of the market. There is no effective link matching resources to needs, nor any accountability between good intentions and beneficial results.

Easterly describes two mentalities to helping poor countries, the Planner and the Seeker. Planner thinking, abstract and political, is a macroeconomic and lawyerly approach, involving governments, banks, corporations and bureaucracies. The Planner approach has dominated in West’s interventionist attempts throughout the 20th century. In broad terms, Planner aid has failed to trickle down to the needy in time to save them, and its large-scale projects frequently misread the cultural or economic realities on the ground, leading to incongruities inside an already unfortuante state of affairs.

Instead of focusing on macro-level projects to re-make developing nations in the West’s image, Seekers look for simple, inexpensive solutions that have proven immediate benefits at an individual level.

The idea of well-designed products as a way to improve lives in the developing world fits well within Easterly’s definition of Seeker-type programs. A common element in many such community-based programs ties beneficial supplies to the local economy. The goods cost a token amount to prevent hoarding. A shopkeeper can make a small profit as an incentive to re-order supplies.

Designing a Better World

In VF’s case, the LifeStraw is sold in high volumes mostly to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some organizations find that subsidizing the cost but still charging a small amount helps to regulate supply to demand. “The NGOs don’t always donate the product, sometimes they sell them,” says Bottema. “It depends a great deal on what the organization wants. Sometimes they ask for just part of the price.”

Incentives in product-driven solutions exist too for designers and manufacturers of the developed world, if they tune their ingenuity to the basic needs of a billion-person market. Vestergaard Frandsen and Nutriset are for-profit companies, which in typical entrepreneurial style, shoulders the risk of the product’s success or failure and supplies the upfront costs for the product’s R&D and manufacture. NGOs are in effect altruistic wholesalers, who instead of marking up the price, subsidize it with donations to fit into local economies.

If last century’s charity passed through the hands of politicians and planners, perhaps a system of aid in the new century will revolve around products. This may indicate a trend to greater reliance on the private sector than governments, and it may also change the way Westerners give donations.

As recent tsunami and hurricane disasters have shown, many in West are eager to give charitably, yet where and how the aid is spent is anybody’s guess. A more precise method of giving would address the specific means, not just a vague intent. Like stockholders backing a commercial product they perceive to have the most chance of market success, charitable donators could support the most effective solution.

Rather than aid siphoning through corrupt or inefficient bureaucratic systems, monies devoted towards a product like LifeStraw or Plumpy’nut ensure that maximum benefits reach the individuals in need.

About Vestergaard Frandsen

The Vestergaard Frandsen Group is an international company founded in Denmark in 1957. The company specializes in complex emergency response and disease control textiles, with clients all over the world. With headquarters in Switzerland and branch offices in Denmark, India, Ghana, Nigeria, Vietnam, Kenya, USA and UAE, and licensed production in India, Vietnam and Thailand, the Vestergaard Frandsen Group is able to meet complex emergency needs at a very short notice. Over the years, Vestergaard Frandsen has worked closely with most non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, as well as ministries of health in various countries. Vestergaard Frandsen takes pride in its superior technological and quality standards, innovative products and constantly works on new product development as complex emergencies require. To find out more about the LifeStraw product, or to make a donation to organizations distributing the device, please visit: www.lifestraw.com.

About Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros provides the tools to accurately model your designs ready for rendering, animation, drafting, engineering, analysis, and manufacturing. Rhino can create, edit, analyze, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces, and solids in Windows, without limits on complexity, degree, or size. Rhino gives the accuracy needed to design, prototype, engineer, analyze, and manufacture anything from an airplane to jewelry. Rhino provides the compatibility, accessibility, and speed in an uninhibited free-form modeler that are found only in products costing 20 to 50 times the price. To see the many diverse products designed with this affordable 3D tool, and to download a free evaluation version, please visit: www.rhino3D.com.