Twenty ideas that will battle to be the prize invention of the future

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The Independent Tech

His bagless vacuum cleaner and bladeless fan are loved by millions for their practicality and style, but a new generation of inventors hand-picked and promoted by Sir James Dyson could revolutionise our lives in different ways – and may even save them.

Among the inventions in the running for a design award sponsored by the British engineer and entrepreneur are a mobile seat for the infirm, a battery that zooms cyclists uphill, an intravenous drip that prevents seizures, and an inflatable life raft that converts saltwater into drinking water.

Other ideas include a fold-up mini-scooter and a smell-free UV sports bag that kills odour and bacteria. The James Dyson Awards are run by the inventor's charitable foundation which invites entries from "problem solvers" in 18 countries, including the UK, US, Germany, France and Japan.

Click here or on the image to see the twenty contenders

The top prize is £20,000, split equally between the inventor and their university, but the publicity surrounding the award and Sir James's personal involvement could be worth as much as the prize money. Last year's winner was Automist, a fire extinguisher that can be fitted to a standard tap, which fills the kitchen with a fine mist. It is already on the market.

Of the 20 designs shortlisted this year, Sir James said: "Many have real potential." The tycoon, whose inventions have earned him an estimated fortune of £920m, told The Independent: "Some may have already secured investment, while some have barely submitted their final-year projects at university. I'm encouraged to see inventors protecting their ideas where possible."

One of his persistent complaints has been Britain's failure to back science and engineering. The prize is part of his attempt to counter what he perceives as an establishment bias towards the arts.

"We've just seen a record number of people taking science GCSEs," he said. "Numbers choosing to continue technology, engineering and science into higher education are higher than last year. I'm pleased but the structure of education in the UK still needs attention. Inventors need serious commitment from government to succeed economically, and keep making useful things."

No idea is too big or small to be shortlisted. Some may have profound benefits. Pure, for example, is a water bottle which can filter and sterilise dirty water from a lake or a stream in two minutes, using a wind-up UV bulb.

As well as sheltering the shipwrecked, the circular SeaKettle inflatable raft pumps sea water up into a covered reservoir. The evaporated water hits the top canopy and condenses, filling four pockets around the raft with fresh drinking water. The FlO2w, from Ireland, is an adjustable oxygen mask fitted onto a patient's head that is more comfortable and efficient than larger, uniform masks.

Other inventions could be runaway commercial successes, such as the Copenhagen Wheel, a wheel hub that contains a motor, batteries and a gear system which helps cyclists overcome hilly terrains. It is already in production.

The winner of the competition will be announced on 5 October.

A 'bold' shortlist

Small things can sometimes spur people into action. Becoming frustrated at having to pin pieces of paper to a noteiceboard, Jonathan Jordan came up with an elegant solution: a pinless, electrostatic noticeboard.

Users rub the paper against the board and the resulting electro-static charge holds it in place.

Other designs have more serious benefits including several with medical applications, such as Reanimation, a resuscitation vest that pushes blood into the brain more effectively and evenly than a manual cardiac massage, and a device which prevents air entrainments in intravenous drip lines, reducing the chances of a fatal air embolism.

Sir James said: "This year's shortlist addresses a number of functions - though each is motivated by bold thinking and attention to detail."