Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Electrolux, that’s right, the Swedish vacuum cleaner and washing machine company, is sponsoring some clever designs for the future. One finalist, Le Petit Prince by Martin Miklica of Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic, is presumably named after that weird French children’s book. It’s a cute little robot with a single human-looking eye and a glass dome that resembles a vacuum tube. Must be the Electrolux connection (ha ha ha). Ahem. Inside Le Petit Prince’s glass bubble lives a plant, or even conceivably something else – personally, I’d like one with a Siamese Fighting Fish inside so I could take it for walks as some kind of ironic commentary on insecure tough guy douchebags who strut around with their Pit Bulls.

Anyway, the plant is mobile and has its own mini Earth atmosphere inside. The robot Prince can drive – or crawl rather – around Mars like a Little Red Corvette, in search of minerals and water with which to feed its botanical charge. It really is the most darling little robot since R2-D2 and it reminds me of one of those closed ecosystem brine shrimp paperweight thingies. I love those.

Le Petit Prince is also reminiscent of one of my favorite science fiction themes: the human colonization of outer space and other planets. Something is very 1970s about space travel in popular fiction; terraforming, living in biospheres with hydroponic gardens and artificial suns was a hot subject in the years following the Moon landing. It gained more ground during the wave of environmentalism that swept Western society during the late 1960s and into the 70s. Hollywood reflected this new space-crazy, environmentally conscious mood. Suddenly Bruce Dern was tending a garden in deep space in 1972’s Silent Running or consequently Michael York was living in an indoor paradise, isolated from the ruined outside world in 1976’s Logan’s Run. Hey, Soylent Green starring Charlton Heston even depicted global warming as early as 1973.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

If we really do end up destroying the environment to the extent that the Earth is no longer habitable and our only choice for sanctuary is that inhospitable barren red rock known as Mars, I guess it would be of some comfort to have Petit Princes crawling around like crabs, always at the ready with a Brussels sprout or a sprig of parsley to sooth that savage hunger that only comes from interplanetary colonization. Or maybe we should try the Moon. After all, according to a recent online CNN poll that had many people in a huff, 23% of respondents would actually like to live on the Moon. I know I would. Besides a few golf balls and some bits of space junk left up there by the Soviets, I hear its natural environment is more or less pristine. I think that me and my army of little robots would really like it there.

Check out other Electrolux Design Lab 09 finalists here. Included are some nifty environmentally friendly ideas like a waterless washing machine that looks like a deck chair covered in Astro Turf, a meat grower and the Teleport Fridge, which recycles leftover food. Wait, do any of these ideas actually work?