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A vision of the future

24 February 2020

2020 was once thought of as the gateway to a futuristic age. While it’s not quite the world of flying cars and robots as imagined in the early 20th century, today’s products are increasingly influenced by tech unimaginable 100 years ago – from AI to IOT technology. Wales-based GX is a major player in the UK’s fourth industrial revolution. This technological shift – with mobile supercomputing, self-driving cars, intelligent robots and genetic editing – will see our lives fundamentally change. The products GX is designing and developing now are at the cutting edge of this revolution. “As everything has become digitalised, we’ve seen a new product design process come to the fore, which is the constant improvement of products that already exist,” GX’s design director Gary Ross reveals. “Though significantly improving on things is generally harder than innovating.”

From imagination to reality

When Gary co-founded the company in 1987, he predicted electronic memory devices would shrink to the size of a computer chip and that mobile phones would feature a camera, video and music. In the last five years, GX has developed products that far exceed his wildest predictions, including remotely operated surgical robotics and soap dispensers that notify a web interface when empty. Extended reality can be seen in GX-developed medical devices such as Intelligent Ultrasound’s Compact Scantrainer that simulates transabdominal scanning. IOT tech has been incorporated into unassuming products, such as TSL Products’ power distribution units for use in broadcasting, with a web interface that provides detailed information on each individual power outlet.

The new status quo

As we head into 2020, apps have already established their influence on design. Often, products that GX is developing interact via the web to another device, such as a phone or tablet, and are controlled with an app. “Now virtually everything we’re getting involved with is app based,” says Gary. “Products often no longer have controls beyond a power switch. Instead, they can be controlled with mobile devices. What’s more, you can store data on the cloud and retrieve it in seconds. We rarely work on a product that doesn’t use electronics – whether they’re driving it or responding to it.” In a world where a smartphone in your back pocket is as standard as your wallet or keys and information is king, electronics are increasingly used to enhance functionality. “As smartphones are now the norm rather than the exception, people expect this type of tech to be both producible and saleable at a reasonable price.” If we delve even further into the engineering of electronics, it’s clear that everything has become much more module based. Single board microcomputers and discrete technologies such as GPS and radio can be built onto circuit boards as additional modules. This means increased performance and functionality are becoming much more affordable. A perfect example of this is Agito – a modular filming platform that GX electronically designed for Motion Impossible.

The progress of process

When it comes to production processes, GX has been using additive manufacturing for well over a decade, but in the last year things have changed exceptionally quickly. “There is now mind-boggling capability for prototyping – additive manufacturing irons out production glitches and sometimes is the best way to test products in materials that are close to final production.” says Gary. “Incredible advances in high-speed milling technology mean GX can utilise this process to manufacture high-tolerance, low-cost products without the need for tooling.” Gary believes we must rethink how and which materials are used in future design. GX has committed to using more recycled plastics, though the team must be wary of those that contain substances that are now restricted by new legislation.

So where does design go next?

“We could go in two directions – back to the dark ages or towards utopia,” says Gary. “But something in the middle will probably be the way forward.” His predictions for the next few decades include a chip implant for every human being at birth to identify them and monitor their health and movements, as well as ‘pyrolysers for the home’ – a system that will reduce waste to create energy from generated heat. Within ten years, he believes, electric cars will be truly affordable, house building will be much more efficient and energy will be generated almost exclusively by nuclear, wind and solar technology. “Ultimately, I believe we have to go backwards before we go forwards, especially in relation to energy and materials – we need to find new ways by resetting to zero and starting again.”

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