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Feature article

Meet the James Dyson Award 2023 Winners from Southeast Asia

From an open heart surgery rehabilitation tool to an alternative energy source made from algae, take a peek into the designs from the region’s up-and-coming engineers and inventors

13 September 2023

The James Dyson Award is an international design award that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers. Current and recent design engineering students are challenged each year with a simple brief: to design something that solves a problem. It is a chance for budding inventors to make a name for themselves, and to win a cash prize of £30,000.

In 2023, the award saw hundreds of inventions across Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, focusing on different areas spanning from health to sustainability.

After rounds of rigorous judging, 11 teams emerged as the National Winners and Runners-up across Southeast Asia. These entries will proceed on to the international phase of the competition, with the Global Top 20 being revealed on 18 October 2023, and the International and Sustainability winners announced on 15 November 2023.

National Winner – Singapore: Auxobrace

  • The Problem: Open-heart surgery is a common medical procedure, with over a million cases globally each year. However, nearly 30% of the cases are affected by infectious complications during post-surgery recovery, leading to prolonged recovery and increased postoperative mortality rates. After going through two open-heart surgeries, inventor Siew E Ian found that his recovery process was challenging and painful due to the use of conventional sternal braces which were bulky and cumbersome.

    The Solution: Auxobrace is a vest-like device designed for open-heart surgery patients who have been discharged from the hospital. The device incorporates a mini vacuum pump to remove air from the internal structure, resulting in targeted pressure and force around the chest. The internal structure comprises mini cubes with precise gaps that close as air is evacuated, causing the fabric to shrink and contract uniformly.

    The sternum support section features a finger joint-like design that bends inward when air is removed, providing optimal inward support and stability to the sternum bone, ensuring it will not move or slide during any activity.

    Siew E Ian, inventor of Auxobrace, said, “I’m extremely grateful for the recognition from the James Dyson Award. I’m glad to share my invention with the world and take it to the next level. As a design engineer, I developed Auxobrace with the intention of bringing back the human touch in this digital world. I hope to inspire and encourage people to reimagine the potential of rehabilitation cast because there are always better ways we can recover.”

Runner-up – Singapore: Project Mimir

  • The Problem: Access to Braille materials is limited, despite it being a crucial aspect of education and communication for the visually impaired community. This is because many of the Braille embossers on the market are expensive and difficult to use, creating significant barriers for the visually impaired to access education and information.

    The Solution: Project Mimir is an innovative and accessible Braille embosser, acting as a modified 3D printer which allows users to connect to the machine via USB and input text to be embossed through a computer. It is designed to empower the visually impaired community through seamless and affordable printing of Braille reading materials.

Runner-up – Singapore: Thermal Floater

  • The Problem: After experiencing frequent blackouts and unreliable electricity supply in their hometown, Sparsh and Shivansh realised that there were no methods of renewable energy generation which provided a consistent and regular supply of electricity. Renewable energy is often very expensive to set up, and requires a significant amount of land, which is scarce in densely populated areas.

    The Solution: Thermal Floater is an environmentally friendly device that converts solar-thermal energy into electricity. It offers a unique solution to the challenges of space constraints, efficiency, and reliability in renewable energy generation.

National Winner – Malaysia: SOAPY

  • The Problem: During her time as a teacher in a day-care centre, inventor Lim Zi Suen realised that good hand hygiene habits are still lacking today, especially in Malaysia. The Global Hygiene Council finds that almost half of children globally are not always using soap to wash their hands at school, even though handwashing with soap could protect 1 out of every 2 young children from diseases.

    The Solution: Soapy is an ergonomic, sphere-shaped product that is designed to appeal to the young children with its design akin of a toy. Resembling a spaceship, the product incorporates playful elements such as a 40-second timer to educate children on the proper handwashing duration, an indicator light, and in-built speaker to enhance interactivity and foster good hygiene habits.

    The portable product operates on batteries and is made of silicone rubber, featuring rotating and vibrating functions to effective remove dirt from the hands. Additionally, it dispenses foam soap through a pressing system. Its ergonomic sphere shape makes it easy to hold and minimises soap wastage, making Soapy unlike any other product. It encourages children to adopt cleaning habits in an enjoyable manner, anywhere and anytime.

    Inventor of SOAPY, Lim Zi Suen, said, “I hope to collaborate and to continue sharing this vision of improving children’s health through innovative solutions. I’d like to think that we, as design engineers, can play a very significant role to the society, using our creative thinking and impactful solutions as catalysts for positive change. Our society needs more of such, now or never. The James Dyson Award has opened doors to connect with a diverse network of professionals, experts, and change-makers, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity.”

Runner-up – Malaysia: Braillepad

  • The Problem: There are many challenges in traditional Braille book production – it is labour-intensive, expensive and time-consuming, taking up to 3 months for a single book production. This hinders the education of visually impaired students and limits their career pathways.

    The Solution: Braillepad is a 3D printed tablet for the visually impaired, revolutionising learning with accessibility while solving manufacturing issues. Users will be able to load and replace their braille sheets into the page cartridges easily, making the product personalised, affordable, and self-learning.

Runner-up – Malaysia: Nomadic Seafaring Life

  • The Problem: Sea nomads in Southeast Asia were observed to face difficulty in using electricity as there was a lack of access to affordable clean energy. Environmental pollution has further worsened the situation as it affected their main source of livelihoods, fishing, thus influencing their living circumstances and needs.

    The Solution: Nomadic Seafaring Life hopes to design and improve the quality of life for sea nomads, addressing lighting and lifestyle needs of sea nomads with a sustainable approach. It taps on local advantages such as traditional weaving, utilizing electromagnetic induction and waves to generate electricity through low-cost structures.

National Winner – Philippines: Make-roscope

  • The Problem: Over 4,500 high schools in the Philippines have no access to a designated and working science laboratory, reinforcing the lack of resources to support access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the country. During the pandemic, Jeremy De Leon witnessed how challenging it was for students and teachers to learn and teach biology and life sciences because the school labs were closed.

    The Solution: Jeremy De Leon invented the Make-roscope which uses just one special lens to make things appear up to 400 times larger using a smartphone. The exterior of the Make-roscope is made of food-grade silicone, which is waterproof, and can be used almost perpetually. Instead of using gears like a machine, the Make-roscope has flexible arms which the user can bend to make things look clearer. Designed to be user-friendly and simple, it introduces the world of microbiology to children at a young age.

    The inventor of Make-roscope said: “Usually, in a school laboratory, a microscope is shared by around 10 students. With Make-roscope, it's possible to have one for each student. The child has the freedom to explore and to be curious both inside and outside the classroom.”

Runner-up – Philippines: AI-Assisted FES Device

  • The Problem: Stroke impacts numerous individuals, causing one-sided weakening or paralysis, significantly affecting daily activities and quality of life. Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) is a rehabilitation technique that employs electrical stimulation to activate muscles. However, it is limited in its effectiveness in improving finger movement.

    The Solution: The device uses AI to automatically find the optimal electrical stimulation location needed for the rehabilitation of patients with paralyzed fingers. The device improves access to rehabilitation, enhancing the quality of life of post-stroke patients.

Runner-up – Philippines: SugarBuddy

  • The Problem: Globally, 3,000 to 5,000 babies are diagnosed with Down Syndrome (DS) every day. People with DS experience motor and cognitive challenges along with a myriad of health risks including diabetes.

    The Solution: SugarBuddy is a wearable Diabetes-monitoring aid that guides the user through animated steps, LED lights, & verbal instructions from their caregiver. It aims to bridge the inclusivity gap between the current processes and the challenges faced by people with Down Syndrome.

National Winner – Thailand: O-GA

  • The Problem: Petroleum energy is a popular fuel source that is widely utilised. However, it is a non-renewable source of energy and causes significant pollution as a consequence of its production. There is a pressing need to look to an alternative source of energy that will address energy shortage and is environmentally friendly.

    The Solution: O-GA presents an alternative source of energy generation by extracting oil from algae. Algae is a plant that is propagated quickly, and does not require a high level of care for its cultivation. This makes it a cost-effective solution in generating energy, posing as an impactful alternative to petroleum energy.

    O-GA consists of 3 main parts: algae cultivation, algae extraction and oil supply. Algae is first cultivated within the product itself, which is then filtered and dried before being extracted. The process of separating the oil, water and fiber then begins, allowing users to gain access to the oil.

Runner-up – Thailand: Radiostent

  • The Problem: One of the most aggressive brain tumours is Glioblastoma (GBM) which has poor prognosis and low survival rate. It affects more than 14,000 people in the US per year. However, the treatment for GBM faces several challenges such as its fast-growing nature and its ability to invade nearby brain tissue.

    The Solution: Radiostent is an integration of radiation and stent technology which is minimally invasive and highly effective treatment for brain tumors. The implantable radioactive stent will continuously kill the growing tumors, eliminating the need for invasive open surgery.

About the James Dyson Award

  • The James Dyson Award forms part of a wider commitment by Sir James Dyson, to demonstrate the power of engineers to change the world. The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, the James Dyson Foundation and James Dyson Award encourage aspiring engineers, to apply their knowledge and discover new ways to improve lives through technology. To date, James Dyson has contributed over £140m to boundary-breaking concepts in education and other charitable causes. The James Dyson Award has supported over 300 inventions with prize money, and is run by the James Dyson Foundation, an engineering education charity funded by Dyson profits.

    The award runs in 30 countries and regions worldwide. These are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkiye, UAE, UK, and USA. Entrants must be, or have been within the last four years, enrolled for at least one semester in an undergraduate or graduate engineering/design related course. This course must be at a university in a country or region chosen to participate in the James Dyson Award.

    For more information and regular updates on the progress of the James Dyson Award, check out the Award’s website, Facebook, and Instagram.