As we enter what promises to be another defining year for the technology industry, it seems like the North East’s digital scene has finally found its feet. Home to five tech-savvy universities, huge training and investment opportunities, and a thriving ecosystem of local businesses and startups, the region has one of the quickest-growing technology sectors in the UK, and is fast bridging the gap in the North-South digital divide.
Part of this revolution, Cohda is a design, development and research studio based in Gateshead. Set up by Spennymoor-born creative Richard Liddle, the company develops innovative products for regional, national and international clients aimed at solving problems and boosting profitability.
Alongside this, Richard encourages his team of in-house designers, artists and engineers to come up with solutions to widespread problems, resulting in the development of ‘world first’ products that aim to help us all live a little easier. Their latest invention, the Recycling Identification Device (RID), is a small handheld kitchen device that tells users whether an item can or cannot be recycled when pressed onto a material, and is making waves with its world-class innovation and global reach.
‘We saw recycling as a current major problem that needed addressing, almost like an itch we needed to scratch,’ explains Richard. ‘People just don’t know what is recyclable, and the guidelines on what can and can’t be recycled are constantly changing.’ For people living in the North East, this problem is all too familiar. Different local councils recycle different materials, and Newcastle City Council have recently made some considerable changes to their guidelines, adding further ambiguity to an already confusing issue.
This results in two negative outcomes: the consumer will attempt to recycle non-recyclable items, causing issues for waste processors, or worse, the consumer disposes of a recyclable item into their general household waste ,leading to landfill.
Using near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, the RID shines a very intense light onto the packaging to identify the material, before indicating to the user whether or not it is recyclable. ‘It essentially does the thinking for you’, says Richard. ‘We want to keep materials in a constant state of flux, and make people’s lives infinitely easier.’
Cohda are currently in talks with a range of waste organisations hoping to bring the RID to market next year, clearing up the confusion over recycling while satisfying Richard’s vision of a more managed technological world. ‘Technology is amazing, and we’ve got so much moving at speed,’ he admits. ‘But I think we all need to get more control over our lives. We want to bring products to market that add real value to life and connect us with one another, as opposed to just creating technology for technology’s sake.’
This mantra is something Richard has continually practiced. After graduating from London’s Royal College of Art and working for big tech brands in the capital, he returned back home to the North East to be closer to family and work on projects he thought would be of value to the world. During a family dinner, Richard noticed how his children were more interested in their iPads and iPhones rather than engaging in conversation with him and his wife. This inspired him to create a product to tackle the modern-life issue of smartphone addiction.
The result is Komoru – a bowl filled with conductive microspheres to create a signal ‘deadzone’, stopping any digital devices submerged into its centre from sending or receiving data. ‘We’re constantly bombarded with data and information, even when I’m speaking to you now my other phone is buzzing,’ Richard tells us. ‘But there’s so much more value in being able to give yourself a moment to disconnect from the digital world, and reconnect with reality. We want to get families back together.’
Richard’s passion to change the face of technology is clear to see. And, while he admits that the business isn’t quite there yet, he hopes that the next 10 years will see Cohda get a foothold in the global design market and make a positive impact on people’s everyday lives for generations to come.
To find out more about Cohda’s work and how it could impact your life, visit cohda.com