By  on August 24, 2007

Aesthetically pleasing as they may be — and many are nothing short of sleek — the Index design award nominees are far from fanciful.

This year's theme is Design to Improve Life, with prototypes aiming to address everyday issues such as driving while talking on a cell phone to weightier ones like dealing with land-mine injuries or curbing the world's oil and clean water shortages.

Today in Copenhagen, Index prizes, considered to be the top design awards worldwide, valued at $135,464, will be awarded for five categories: Body, Home, Work, Play and Community. Finalists span the seven continents and were initially drawn from 188 recommendations by the world's leading design institutions. The jurors had their work cut out for them considering the far-reaching nature of the top picks.

The Body category alone deals with an array of crucial issues. For those who have been mutilated in land-mine explosions, Canada's Sébastien Dubois has developed Mobility for Each One, a lightweight prosthetic that costs only $8 to produce compared with the thousands of dollars that is the going rate for such a device. Finland's Tell No One Design Collective has created Mukana, computerized clothing for the visually impaired equipped with voice recognition software that allows wearers to identify their location and provide public transportation timetables. A team of American designers developed Mechanical Advantage Tourniquet, or MAT, which allows victims of war or natural disasters to stop blood flow in less than 10 seconds and potentially save lives.

Another finalist for the Body category is Italian designer Chiara Sandri, whose biodegradable TrackLess footwear is designed to offset the 200,000 pairs of bathing shoes and sandals that are discarded in Italy each week. Made from a large herbaceous plant whose fruit is soft and spongy, these kicks are geared for tropical and subtropical climates where the plant grows abundantly. Production would provide a source of revenue for poor nations. Alberto Meda's and Francisco Gomez Paz's Solar Bottle, which uses solar disinfection, is another contender. The pair is trying to help out the one-sixth of the world's population without access to safe drinking water and prevent some of the 2.2 million deaths annually caused by diarrhea. China's Li Jin wants smokers to think twice before polishing off their cigarettes. The designer has created smoking paper that darkens to a shade of black as the smoker inhales.

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