Design: The inventions that win favour in a Blairite vision of the Millennium

Yesterday Tony Blair went on television to launch the Millennium Products collection chosen by the Design Council to promote the best of British talent for the 21st century. Products had to have been manufactured between January 1995 and the end of 1997. Here Nonie Niesewand surveys the first 27 products announced in a list which will eventually comprise 2,000.
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On the evidence of the first 1 per cent, the exhibition comes with attitude that is very politically correct and environmentally aware. There is an Oxfam bucket being field tested in Botswana; nothing flashy but an indication that water is going to be a key issue in the 21st century; and the Grippa, a plumber's tool designed to seal leaks. There is a low- tech building (pictured and described on the right), good-looking but no more than that. It was chosen because it pioneers energy saving techniques so dear to the heart of this government. There's a life raft with a chute which frees itself the minute a ship starts to tilt; laser coded cabling on aircraft that makes maintenance much safer and easier; a pest control device for farmers that reduces that need for environmentally damaging crop spraying. This is not a fun list; the only thing for children is for disabled children. Those who think of the Design Council as a promoter of gadgets and gifts will learn that when Millennial thinking takes hold, the fact that Britain's leadershipin electronics and technology looms larger than souvenirs.


Grippa stops water mains springing a leak with a plastic pipeline adaptor in three sizes to link all household pipes to the water mains. So many variations in plumbing into the mains means that plumbers carry 20 fittings

for each repair.

Grippa Universal Pipeline Adaptor - Products designed by Isis

On field trial in Botswana, the Oxfam water bucket with a snap-on, no-spill lid plus cap and nozzle is concaved to carry on the head. In airlifts, it stacks for food storage on flight.

Oxfam Water Container


A horizontal land gas drilling system reaches parts that other drill bits could not reach. Up to five miles from the rig, the fully rotating head effectively drills around corners to stop oil and gas fields closing down too early. Now it's being tested to extend 10 miles from the rig.

Steerable Rotary Drilling -Camco International (UK)


Crop spraying needs careful controls since it affects the environment. Pest lifecycles are determined by temperature and the shirt pocket-sized Tempest lights up when conditions are ripe for a plague.

Tempest - Insect Investigations

The Helicon building has triple glazing with motorised movable louvre blinds between double glazing to cool the facade. Chilled ceilings between every floor replace air conditioning.

Helicon Building by Ove Arup


Seaweed dressing with polymer film replaces skin. Absorbent, transparent,

alginate seaweed extractions convert to a gel for removal, without tearing

healing tissue, and if thewound is wet the breathable polymer reacts to dry

it and maintains moisture levels.

Intelligent Wound Dressing - ITG

Surgical gloves go green if they are punctured to alert surgeons.

BIOGEL Reveal - Regent Medical

Artificial limbs with a tiny computer chip inside adjust the amputee's painfully learnt swing of an artificial leg to their former gait.

IP + by Charles Blatchford & Sons Ltd

Bright, curvy Woosh chair for disabled children is static and can be modified at low cost for special needs.

Woosh Chair - Lecky Design Ltd

Contact lenses that keep the eye moist for longer are made of bio- compatible phosphorylcholine (PC), which is found in blood cells and stops protein adhering. PC catheters are less likely to become infected just as PC stents prop up damaged arteries.

Proclear Contact Lenses - Biocompatibles

Cowslip is a recyclable plastic overshoe which comes in two pairs for dairy cows with aching legs. They alleviate pain to increases milk yield and effect a cure for tired legs in a month.

Cowslips - Giltspur Scientific


The first new man-made fibre for 30 years. Made from sustainable wood fibre, unlike the crackly, shiny nylon and rayon, Tencel from Courtaulds drapes well, colours intensely and is durable.

Tencel - Courtaulds


The Rolls-Royce Trent Engine is 11/2 tons lighter than its rivals. Fan blades made from titanium rather than carbon fibre make it the world's lightest, strongest and most powerful aircraft engine in the world. These weight loss winners allow each aircraft to carry up to 30 more passengers.

Trent Engine - Rolls-Royce

The all-weather road and rail bridge in Hong Kong links the island with the new airport and stays open even in typhoons.

Lantau Link - Mott Macdonald

Life rafts with chutes attached are blown clear of containers in emergencies when a ship is in distress. Huge crowds are evacuated down chutes into the attached catchnet of a raft.

Marin-Ark Marine Evacuation System - RFD

Fail-safe laser labelling for military and commercial aeroplanes uses ultraviolet to change the colour indelibly on hundreds of miles of cabling.

Capris 50 UV Laser Wire Marker - Spectrum Technologies Ltd

Information Technology

Forget PIN numbers. Just as no two fingerprints are the same, no two irises are identical. Now automatic telling machines can identify by their eyes anybody wanting to withdraw cash. The machine also issues everything from money and airline tickets to information on the video screen.

Persona S ATM -NCR Financial Systems Ltd

Shoppers at Safeways get a handheld rod with their trolley which scans purchases and tots up the bill before check-out.

Shop & Go - Safeway Stores

The new mega byted Psion series 5 is a more powerful palm-top computer with a keyboard and touch-sensitive screen which can write documents, create spreadsheets, make diary entries, access e-mail and track share prices.

Psion Series 5

BT already has 200 public Internet booths open in London like phone boxes offering 20 channels of news, sport, weather and leisure activity with interactive access.

BT Touchpoint

The London stock exchange's 200-year-old monopoly is broken by an automatic transaction service conducted online, real-time, by computer rather than by telephone, without a broker.

Tradepoint Financial Networks

The world's smallest camera attached to your PC means you can video- conference the world.

Universal Serial Bus Camera -Vision


Fibre-optic cables can beam into your home multiple channels. But accessing them is expensive. This new silicon transceiver reduces costs by translating light data into digital information.

ASOC Optical Fibre Transceivers - Bookham Technology

Could you spot the real Dalamtians from the fakes in 101 Dalmatians? Animatronics hide a person inside an animal costume to manipulate hand and body movements while, off screen, a puppeteer with a joystick changes expressions. Creature Shop created Babe, the pig, out of computer graphics with animatronics and now they're

building Buddy the gorilla.

Buddy - Jim Henson's Creature Shop

Mobile phones can access personalised information via the Internet. Genie bleeps to alert the user to share price changes, broadcast bulletins, job vacancies, TV listings and so on.

Genie - Cellnet

Run with the dinosaurs on screen with a CD-Rom, starring a giant 3D Tyrannosaurus Rex, which animates dinosaurs and stages a virtual dig to excavate bones which come to life and wait in ambush. Internet links allow the curious to question top palaeontologists. Dinosaur sounds can be downloaded.

Eyewitness VR Dinosaur Hunter - DK Multimedia