Electrolux competition winner has got some serious balls

The Electrolux Design Lab is a global competition whose “challenge is to create a concept that is relevant to the time and raises questions about what design will be like in the future” (source: Electrolux). As such, the competition would demand rigorous research from its entrants as well as serious considerations in future manufacturing, market conditions, and problems that exist both in the present and in the days to come. Its entries would be original world-changing concepts that would tackle serious shortcomings of current product experiences in a way that is both novel, plausible, and effective while really showing a great understanding of users and usability. So naturally, this year’s winning design, just barely beating out a spoon that tastes for you, was an air purifier that floats about your house via magic and cleans your air using fairy dust.

The Aeroball (no, not that aeroball) by Jan Ankiersztajn, is a… machine? Robot? Giant artificial dirty air antibody? That you release into the air after which it cleans the air. Aeroballs have several unique features that make it extra special. Naturally, it is ultralight. The material is ecological. It floats in the air. It also absorbs ambient light and emits it at night. How does it do all of these things? We’ll get to that in a minute. Suffice it to say this genius idea took some serious thinking. If you had thought of flying air-cleaning balls, you too could be landing yourself 5,000 euros and an internship at Electrolux. Right now you’re hitting yourself for not thinking of this yourself; or maybe you’re wondering how an idea so AWESOME could also be so very very FLAWESOME.

Flying Balls
Some of the more lucid amongst you might be wondering: Wait a minute, how does this thing float? Well you know what else floats? BALLOONS! See the inside of Aeroballs are filled with helium but in some kind of smart way so as to be perfectly in balance with the surrounding air so it floats just so; without going up or down. Here’s the quick lesson on buoyancy since every class you took up through high school taught it to you exactly wrong. Something floats in a fluid (including air) if and when the an object in the fluid displaces more fluid mass than the mass of the object itself. It’s not because it’s “lighter”, and being “less massive” doesn’t paint the whole picture. Got that? A helium balloon floats in the air because if you took the same volume of air that the balloon took up, that volume of air would be more massive, and therefore ‘heavier’.

Aeroballs are an inch in diameter (source shown below), or 2.5cm across giving them a rough volume of 8.58 cubic cm. Air at sea level at 20 degrees C (more on this later) is about 1.2g/1,000 cubic cm. If you already did that math, then YES it means Aeroballs filled with helium would need a combined mass of less than 0.01 grams to stay afloat. And to stay perfectly afloat in different atmospheric conditions (gas density is wildly affected by temperature and elevation after all) it will have to … smartly adapt to its surrounding environment. Hope those changes don’t add too much to its 0.01 gram mass limit. I think it wouldn’t be a total stretch that the designer thought the whole thing could be made from aerogel, which is still more dense than air, is porous, and has no built-in air filtering capabilities.

The Air Filter That Isn’t
Let’s say through some miracle of technology, the thing can actually stay aloft using some kind of … smart … material to automatically adjust its own density to float … somehow using this new fancy material as a way to reduce its weight. It still has to perform its primary function: filtering air. How does it do that? Maybe this quote will help:

Ultra-light and ecologically sourced materials are critical to the Aeroball concept. The ‘stickiness’ of the filter and its ability to retain particulate matter from the air is also central. The outer layer will also be coated with a thin fluorescent film to absorb light during the day and re-emit it in darkness. The inner structure is to be held aloft by a helium/oxygen balanced balloon.

Okay so that’s actually about the materials and it’s just as pointless a read. Let’s say in absentia of the designer that the … materials absorb, clean, then exhale clean air. Aeroballs appear to have no mechanical parts so it must be a passive air cleaner (if it did have moving parts I’d be surprised if it didn’t fly using anti-gravity and could also perform open heart surgery). This method to clean air is probably just as effective as hanging a vanilla scented candle from your ceiling and praying the room will quickly fill with a pleasant odor.

Look, air filters have fans because they need to move a lot of air through them to keep the air ‘clean’; even the Ionic Breeze (air ionizer) generates some kind of air movement (and is large, and much less effective than traditional fan powered air filters for removing allergens). The idea that these little flying balls will somehow do the job better seems both outlandish and unnecessary. If technology were so advanced that something 1/100th of a gram that floats could clean the air of entire households, it’d be much better just to have something the mass of your cell phone zip around the countryside cleaning the air for entire neighborhoods.

Unrelated Services
These things also glow by the way. So maybe this whole thing is some kind of weird horror creation of design and genetic engineering; like a floating sack of artificial plant matter that literally eats sunshine and craps clean air. So in addition to its incredible material properties and unfathomable air purifying capabilities, they also glow in the dark! YAY. It makes them behave like fireflies, except not really because they’re on all the time. Actually, if that’s all it did, it would be great for weddings. Or science museums.

Every Other Solution is Already Better
So you would be forgiven for why you’d ever want a bunch of floating mediocre or useless air filters cluttering up your rooms when all you want is some clean breathable air. Well…

The Aeroball is a tool to improve quality of life. It is practical, stimulating, beautiful, and effective. Appropriate for an extremely diverse set of applications, ranging from purely pragmatic to purely aesthetic, the Aeroball is at home where you are. Sustainably designed, the Aeroball is also ultimately convenient. The popularity of air fresheners shows consumer interest in this genre of project, and the Aeroball is a logical extension of that work. And while those products are limited in their function and application (not to mention potential locations in space,) the Aeroball provides all of their functionality with none of their restrictions.

Practical, stimulating, beautiful, and effective. Supposing you could make unicorns appear out of thin air that ate your garbage; I suppose it would also Practical, stimulating, beautiful, and effective. It would additionally be a tale of total madness. How is Aeroball sustainably designed? Because the designer said so. How is the Aeroball superior to air fresheners? By replacing all the limitation of air fresheners with magic. Limited locations? These things fly! Wonderful!

Here’s a list of products and how they compare with Aeroball:

Hepa Air Purifier
Pros: Probably purifies air millions of times better than Aeroball ever will
Cons: Doesn’t look all artsy because it has a  job to do

Air Freshner
Pros: Provides night light like Aeroball and comes with refillable scents
Cons: Can’t be used to add 3 dimensional flying clutter to a room like Aeroball

Scented Candles
Pros: Also provides scent and can provide a warm inviting aesthetic
Cons: Doesn’t float in the air

Pros: Slowly refreshes the air in a ecologically friendly manner
Cons: Doesn’t glow in the dark (yet!)

Electrolux? More like Electrosux! Am I Right Guys? Guys?
My next post is going to be how terrible a competition Electrolux is; but here’s hope they don’t change their ways so there’s still an influx of things to write about for 3 months next year. After all, this product, Aeroball, is the winner of the competition. No really, it won. How does it work? What market does it serve? Who would want this? WHO CARES. It’s magical and its the future and that’s good enough for Electrolux. Really these flawesome concepts eschew every challenge of design. What’s the point of coming up with real solutions when it’s easier to resort to hocus pocus? Aeroball is a product that can’t be made, runs on fair dust, fulfills no need, is almost pointless, and yet an award winning design. Flawesome.

VIA Electrolux and Yankodesign