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A tiny robot to plant seeds in the desert and a simple way to keep plastic out of the ocean: Global Grad Show looks to a greener future

Updated 15th November 2021
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A tiny robot to plant seeds in the desert and a simple way to keep plastic out of the ocean: Global Grad Show looks to a greener future
Written by Tom Page, interviews by Ana de Oliva, CNN
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The annual Global Grad Show in Dubai is never short on ideas. Some are bewildering, but others might just change the world.
The show, billed as the world's most diverse gathering of graduate design projects, aims to provide solutions to social and environmental issues, with the cross-pollination of ideas and the meeting of minds all part of its appeal.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the international exhibition was partly virtual this year, but the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) section of the show was an in-person event as part of Dubai Design Week.
As in 2020, many concepts responded to the pandemic, with a host of ideas tailored to "the new normal." Global Grad Show director Tadeu Caravieri told CNN this year's show had "two or three trends."
Global Grad Show presents innovative designs for a greener future
"People are extremely concerned about health and mental health," he elaborated. "People are (also) concerned about how to make the house a place that is civilized for work, for education, for healthcare and food security."
As ever, the environment was high up the agenda, often dovetailing with pandemic-related concerns. Dalilah Mansoor and Kaya Tueni, students at the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, created "Wastology," an indoor composting machine that doubles as herb and vegetable grower.
"We're trying to solve excess food waste in the UAE (United Arab Emirates)," said Tueni. "We're hoping that this small project, implemented at a domestic level, could have a bigger impact globally," added Mansoor.
"Wastology" is a two-in-one composter and plant grower designed for indoor use.
"Wastology" is a two-in-one composter and plant grower designed for indoor use. Credit: courtesy Global Grad Show
Mazyar Etehadi, a student at the same institution, similarly looked to home with "A'seedbot," his solar-powered robot designed to sow seeds in the desert. "I just wish that there were more plants, more greenery out there," he said.
A'seedbot is approximately 20 cm (8 inches) long and designed to recharge during the day and work by night. Working autonomously within a set five kilometer (3 mile) radius, its 3D-printed legs crawl through sand in search of the right levels of moisture (detected through one of its "eyes") in which to plant a seed. With built-in collision avoidance, humans are only required to refill the robot.
"I think it was an easy solution to come up with, but no one ha(d) actually came up with it," Etehadi said, adding he's working on a version capable of navigating different types of sand and that a few investors were showing interest in his creation.
A'seedbot is a solar-powered seed-planting robot designed to charge its battery during the day and work at night.
A'seedbot is a solar-powered seed-planting robot designed to charge its battery during the day and work at night. Credit: Global Grad Show
Meanwhile, Darya Ercivan decided to put a new spin on laundry and came up with a way of catching microplastics at the source. The student from Middle East Technical University explained that clothing often contains plastic microfibers, which are shed during washing and can end up in rivers and oceans. "I'm trying to solve this problem before it contaminates our water," he said.
EcoPhil is Ercivan's solution: Fitted to the front of the washing machine, it filters water coming out of the machine, preventing microplastics from entering the wastewater system. Ercivan said an app will even tell you when to replace the filter attachment.
Caravieri anticipates environmentally conscious innovations will only increase at future Global Grad Shows. "I think the conversations that are happening now will have an even bigger impact on the applications in the future years," he said.
He also argues the show is the perfect catalyst for change. "Global Grad Show has that power, it sparks something in you," Caravieri said. "You'll get first motivated; (then) hopeful that things can change faster than we thought."
"No other group is as well equipped as academic innovators are to create real, tangible change," he added.