Is This The Future of the Urban Environment?

Posted on by Watershed Issues Team

An innovative drainage grating from BCU product design students

How can the access cover or drainage grating contribute more than its core functionality to the urban or infrastructure environment?

Following a collaboration between Birmingham City University and Saint-Gobain PAM, we ask Ziqiao Wang from the university’s Product Design Masters degree about his winning design, and the thought process behind it.

How do you believe product design will evolve in the next few years?

Interactivity with products and our environment is becoming increasingly important, leading to new opportunities to challenge both form and function.

We live in a world where all products need to be viewed with a critical eye, not just to improve their core functionality but also to ask how they can contribute to the overall environment in which they operate. This may be to improve their environment, act as information or help points or to collect and then utilise data.

How does this apply to access covers and gratings?

Most people probably don’t give access covers or drainage gratings a second thought. Yet they are very much part of our urban and infrastructure network and could potentially contribute much more than their core functionality.

People taking the Conceptualism module in the Masters Product Design course came up with a number of ideas ranging from combining drainage with bike locks to information or help points for motorists or pedestrians.

Can you tell us more about your concept?

For me the kerb is an interesting area as it is where pedestrians meet drivers – the intersection between two different environments.

Some research followed and I discovered that this intersection is a potentially dangerous area; according to UK government statistics 446 pedestrians were killed when crossing the road in 2014 and this figure had increased by 12 per cent from the previous year.

I would argue that the traditional zebra crossing is functional but has become predictable and over familiar. By employing emotional graphics crossing a road could become more interactive, fun and noticeable.

My concept the Magic Crossing is a smart product designed to improve road safety, especially at night. It is not only a kerbside drain but also a projector that can generate an emotional and playful experience by projecting dynamic graphic patterns onto the road.

These patterns can also indicate the remaining crossing time available, with the sky blue circles slowly disappearing one by one to count down the remaining time available.

My vision is that each Magic Crossing is connected to an online database that can collect data and calculate the safest strategy for a pedestrian. Sensors mounted in the drain cover will detect the number of cars and people who want to cross the road and when it is deemed best, the graphic patterns will be thrown onto the road automatically.

Will the Magic Crossing become a real product?

Who knows? Maybe in ten or twenty years reality might catch up with such concepts, or if you like science fiction will become science fact.

I think the important thing to ask is whether the concept has a realistic product narrative – could it become real? I’ll leave others to judge that.

And what about the future?

We live in a fast-paced world where innovation is constant. My generation has grown up with smart phones, so the concept of interactivity and readily available information is expected.

With the emergence of the Internet of Things, smart cities and challenges faced by our infrastructure we must examine the function of everything in our environment.

For me as a product designer this is truly exciting. As to my future – I embrace it wherever in the world it takes me.

Ziqiao Wang was the winner of the Birmingham City University Conceptualism Design Award sponsored by Saint-Gobain PAM. He is currently working towards his Masters Degree in Product Design in the School of Architecture and Design at the university.

You can view all of the entries for the Design Award here on Watershed Issues, on the BCU Innovation tab.

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