Dominic Wilcox teams up with Sunderland makers to turn children’s inventions into real products

In August last year, artist and inventor Dominic Wilcox took a trip to his home town of Sunderland and asked 450 children to draw an invention. He then asked makers from around the city to turn their sketches into real products…

Wilcox is known for creating fantastical inventions, from a stained glass car to some innovative breakfast tech for Kelloggs to encourage children to eat cereal. He also publishes concepts for wacky everyday creations on his Variations on Normal blog, from toothbrush maracas to a cup and saucer complete with tea cooling fan.

Last summer, Wilcox travelled to Sunderland and held a series of workshops for four to 12-year-olds, where he showed some of his inventions and asked children to create their own. He also ran a workshop at Ocean Arts, a charity for children with learning disabilities, and sourced ideas from teachers, relatives and carers.

The project was commissioned by The Cultural Spring, which runs creative and cultural programmes for children in the Northeast of England. After receiving more than 600 inventions, Wilcox selected 60 ideas to present to local manufacturers and makers at Sunderland’s Fab Lab. Makers met with children to discuss their ideas and were given four weeks to create a product or a computer visualisation (some ideas, such as a skipping rope that could fly children to other countries, proved impossible to manufacture).

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The Inventors! exhibition at Fawcett Street in Sunderland. Font and illustrations drawn by Dominic Wilcox
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Children’s drawings on show at the Inventors! exhibition

Inventions are now on show at an exhibition in Sunderland until January 30 and include some useful, witty and imaginative designs.

The Liftolator (War Avoider) by 11-year-old Charlotte Scott (pictured top) is designed to help people escape conflict. “If you want to get away from war simply get your house and garden on a platform. Sit on the seat and get on the platform. Soon you will be on the seat and steering your way out of the war zone and into a safe area,” says Scott.

Her idea was made into a miniature model by Erin Dickson, who says the concept reminded her of the work of 1960s architectural group Archigram. The glass dome comes with an invisible shield and contains a house with a pre-planted vegetable patch in the garden. Families enter the pod via an elevating arm chair before being driven to a peaceful location:

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Snack aid the Pringles Hook was devised by Georgia Dinsley, aged 11, to help children and adults rescue the last few remaining Pringles from the bottom of a tube. Dinsley’s idea was brought to life by product designer Andy Mattocks, who had it 3D printed. It’s very effective, apparently:

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10-year-old Kaja Jach’s Self Waterer Plant Pot contains a light source, a pump, a water sensor and an arduino micro controller, and was made by Brian Degger. The container senses when the soil is too dry and turns on the pump until the plant is sufficiently watered:

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Gif animated by Rosario Rivas Leal

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Four-and-a-half-year-old Daniel Shimmin designed this Shout Activated Camera, which takes a picture whenever it detects someone shouting. It was made by Alistair MacDonald, who created a working prototype based on Shimmin’s colourful sketch.

“The physical design was a mound like shape with a stalk coloured “all of the colours,” says MacDonald. “It took me a while. The invention was built by hacking a traditional camera and adding a sound module to simulate the shutter button being pressed when it detects a loud sound. The body was vacuum formed and painted inside with acrylic paint,” he says.

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Wendy Riley, aged 9, invented the ingenious family scooter, which was manufactured by Roger O’Brian and AMAP. Handlebars are adjustable and the design can be folded to fit inside a car.

“This design really works and has seen lots of people keen to try it out and have fun,” says O’Brian. “It was important with 5 wheels in a line that we ensured the scooter would articulate and steer so we had to make ensure the finished product was safe and manoeuvrable, which we discussed with Wendy.”

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The Phone Friend telephone arm was devised by Colin Salmon, 54, at Ocean Arts, and features a phone on an extendable arm. The phone can be handed to wheelchair users who struggle to use traditional phone boxes (visualisation by Andy Mattocks):

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Morgant Shaun’s invention offers an unusual alternative to a cot – her colourful Paint Splatta Baby Sleeper allows babies to sleep on a wall, while suspended in a pouch. It was made out of fibreglass by Dave Park from Fibre Style, and the seat is made out of the back seat of a race motorbike.

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Alex Luke Dickers’ Glasswards, meanwhile, allow the wearer to see behind them, and were made by theatre prop designer Alan Parker. “Out of the designs the reverse glasses really appealed to my sense of humour. On speaking to Alex about his initial idea was ‘mam’s eyes’ as mums have eyes in the back of their heads to see what you are doing behind their back,” says Parker.

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It’s a brilliant way to foster children’s imaginations, and show them the potential of a creative idea. It’s great to see local makers involved in the project, too, and Wilcox says the exhibition, hosted in a disused shop on a busy street in the city centre, has proved popular so far.

You can see more inventions, including a machine to give you a Hi-5 when no-one else is around, a Lynx tea spray, “for when you want tea but are late for something”, a lunchbox that tells you if it’s lunchtime yet, creakless slippers and a food cooler fork, over on inventorsproject.co.uk

The exhibition is on until 30 January at 18 Fawcett St, Sunderland, SR1.

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