Magnetic fridge attracts top innovation prize
The inventors of an environmentally friendly magnetic fridge won top prize in the Swiss Technology Award at an inaugural event promoting Swiss innovation.
The designers were honoured during the first Swiss Innovation Forum that organisers hope will help dispel criticism that Switzerland falls short in the global innovation stakes.
Professors at the Graduate School of Engineering and Management in canton Vaud used existing magnetic technology to create a household fridge that does not emit harmful hydro-carbons into the atmosphere.
They plan to develop their innovation by using magnets in household heating, supermarket freezers and industrial cooling processes.
Speaking at the Swiss Innovation Forum in Baden, canton Aargau, on Friday, parliamentarian Ruedi Noser said the invention deserved the award because it has potential to solve an environmental problem.
"One key issue in the future is how to deal with the environment and make energy more efficient," he told swissinfo. "The makers of this technology deserve credit for their innovation in this area."
The forum brought together inventors, academics and business leaders to discuss the challenges of innovation facing Switzerland in a competitive world.
On display was the hydrogen-powered PAC Car II, designed by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, that smashed a world record by completing the 25-kilometre Shell Eco Marathon on one gram of hydrogen last year.
Other innovative designs included an intelligent hearing aid that filters out background noise, a robotic walking aid to help neck injury victims get back on their feet and a display from the makers of Team Alinghi's America's Cup winning yacht.
The forum heard keynote speeches from industry leaders who advised the audience on how to develop strategies for successful innovation.
But Noser warned in his speech, entitled Roadmap for Innovation, that Switzerland needed to improve its image if it wants to be a world innovation leader.
"When people think of Switzerland, they think of banking secrecy, chocolate and mountains," he later told swissinfo.
"No one sees Swiss competence in life sciences, electronics and medical technology. Maybe we earn too much money in Switzerland to go abroad and market our ideas. I believe you can only call yourself a proper company when you have a presence abroad."
swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Baden
Some 550 chief executives, entrepreneurs and decision-makers in the fields of industry, science, development and education attended the Swiss Innovation Forum 2006.
The Forum exhibited 20 examples of cutting-edge Swiss innovation.
The audience heard five keynote lectures, attended three innovation workshops and heard the views of key experts during a podium talk on innovation.
A recent European Union report ranked Switzerland's innovation performance as second behind Sweden in a comparison of 33 countries, including the United States and Japan.
But Switzerland dropped down the ratings in the EU Innovation Scoreboard 2005 when it came to turning ideas into products and producing science and engineering graduates.
The government Innovation Promotion Agency that helps convert laboratory ideas into products funded 448 projects in 2004 with SFr70.8 million ($55 million).
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