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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 July 2005, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Students high-tech design show
By Trystan Young
BBC News Interactive

Breathing furniture, a digital paint roller, and a concrete tent are just a few of the projects at this year's Royal College of Art student show in London.

Ed Swan's Project Obscure

Simply called The Show, this annual event is one of the most popular dates in the design calendar.

It offers a glimpse at some of the cutting edge innovations taking place in Britain today, and a chance to see the products of tomorrow.

And with tutors and former students including design guru Ron Arad, Habitat's Tom Dixon and James Dyson, the show attracts the cream of the design world.

Pixel power

The first students I met were Florian Ortkrass and Stuart Wood.

Pixel roller - Light Roller
Pixel Roller I: Florian Ortkrass and Stuart Wood's Light Roller
Their Pixel Roller project has been a big hit.

A "paint roller" with built-in UV lights is brushed on a wall coated with phosphorescent ink, "exciting" the ink and making it glow. When connected to a laptop it literally paints digital images and text.

"We wanted to change wallpaper every day, but in a very simply and easy way," says Stuart.

"The light roller started out as a proof of principle model, but it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Pixel roller - Paint Roller
Pixel Roller II: Florian and Stuart's Paint Roller
"Now we've created a paint roller which you can essentially graffiti with."

Stuart and Florian have taken the initiative with this project. Together with a former RCA student they have a small design company and have funding to develop the idea.

During their pixel roller demonstrations they wear white boiler suits promoting the company name and attracting maximum attention from passing would-be investors.

Tripping the light fantastic

A neighbouring project called Split68 catches my eye. It is a lamp shade for fluorescent strip lights.

Split68 light design
In the shade: Split68 by Caroline Noordijk
"We looked at fluorescent lighting and thought, well, that's quite boring," says Caroline Noordijk.

"We wanted to create different sections within the light source so people could be playful and interact with it."

Caroline, who designed the light in collaboration with Florian Ortkrass, says she has had a lot of interest, but as with many students here, has yet to secure financial backing.

"Everyone is asking where they can get one. But the problem is we haven't found a manufacturer yet."

Out of breath

I am about to head over to the Vehicle Design section, when my path is blocked by Keigo Harada (Design Products). He insists that I see his breathing furniture.

Keigo Harada on his breathing furniture
Deep breaths: Keigo Harada on his 'breathing' furniture
I am cornered several times during my visit, by both enthusiastic students, and equally enthusiastic companies sponsoring some of the competitions.

But Keigo has a certain charisma, and the crowd around his project is a good sign. He has designed a piece of furniture with a mechanism inside which causes the surface to rise and fall, as if it were breathing.

"This one has a motor and gears inside, but I have another one which uses an air pump, so it's much quieter," he says.

"I tested it with children and when I put a baby on it, it fell asleep in 10 minutes. I've tested it with 16 babies and they all fell asleep."

He is in talks with a furniture company which wants to use the technology in baby cots.

Are we there yet?

I arrive at the Vehicle Design platform just in time to see Leslie Lau win a 2,000 award for his car design.

Leslie Lau's car design
Top gear: Leslie Lau's car design
"This will cover about half the cost of the prototype," he says.

These vehicle designers are fiercely competitive, and their prototypes are the show's most impressive.

Leslie seems pleased with the recognition, even if it only covers some of his costs.

With BMW, Mercedes and Toyota represented here, it is a good night to be the centre of attention.

Foot fashion

As award executives spill out of Vehicle Design, many find themselves in Fashion and Textiles.

Michelle Houghton's shoe design
Fashionable footwear: Michelle Houghton's shoe design
Appropriately positioned nearby is shoe designer Michelle Houghton.

"The inspiration for my shoes came from an exhibition I saw of the E-Type jag, and a nuclear submarine I visited in France," she says.

"The shapes, colour and form come from that."

Her sights are set on an R&D job with a major trainer manufacturer.

Lurking in the shadows

Interaction is the driving force behind many of these projects. Philip Worthington's idea combines light projection and computer technology to create living shadow puppets.

Philip Worthington's Shadown Monsters project
Shadow Monsters: Philip Worthington's project
"The computer sees a silhouette of your hand, and analyses its curves and contours," says Philip.

"By looking at the gaps in-between your fingers, and where they're pointing, it knows what kind of puppet you're making."

It is bit like watching a cartoon, as animated teeth and hairs dance around the silhouette to a tune of squeaks and buzzes.

Just add water

In the exhibition basement I met Peter Brewin and Will Crawford. They are unnervingly confident and focused, and I soon see why.

Their project, Concrete Canvas - Building in a bag, has won several awards, and they are hoping to patent the technology.

Concrete canvas: Peter Brewin and Will Crawford
Concrete canvas: Designed by Peter Brewin and Will Crawford
It is effectively a large concrete tent, which they are targeting at aid agencies and the military.

"It is deployed in 40 minutes, ready to use in 12 hours and lasts for 10 years," says Peter. "And because the inner skin remains bonded to the inside, it can be delivered sterile."

The pair spent a month in Uganda with an non-governmental organisation getting feedback on the design.

As more guests arrive, the students step up their charm offensive. These industry officials represent some of the biggest companies in the world, and can turn the students' projects into reality.

The Show runs at the Royal College of Art in London until Sunday 3 July.



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