Inside the Collection

Baby capsule – 1980s Australian product design pt1

Baby capsule
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Visiting The 80s Are Back exhibition I wondered: if I had to pick the best in Australian product design from the 1980s, what would it be? A Sunbeam kettle or the décor wine cask cooler? The Stackhat or a Caroma toilet? Perhaps a mop bucket or an early ResMed CPAP machine? The 1980s was a productive decade for Australian industrial designers, and the Museum holds many examples of Australian products from the era. So I’ve decided to bring out a series of my favourite Australian-designed products from the 1980s.

Beginning with an innovation that has without doubt saved many lives – the baby safety capsule. Developed 26 years ago, this product is still one of the safest child restraints on the market. In Australia, babies up to six months of age must use rear facing restraints and new child restraint laws introduced this month recommend that children face the rear of the car until age four. All child restraints sold in Australia must meet strict standards, considered to be some of the most stringent in the world.

Of course safety standards haven’t always been this strict. Wearing car seat belts has only been compulsory in Australia since the 1970s and this is when restraints for children began to come onto the market. Babies were either held in arms or travelled in a traditional bassinet that lay across the back seat, secured by the seatbelt with a protective net over the top. There was no really secure way to protect babies in a smash until the baby capsule was developed in 1984.

Rainsfords (later called Britax Childcare), the makers of the Safe-n-Sound child seat restraint, came up with the idea of the capsule. It consists of a bassinet inside a base that can be secured by a seat belt. A release mechanism allows the bassinet to rotate in a crash, keeping the baby more upright and distributing forces uniformly over its body; at the same time, the bassinet pushes against an impact-absorbing bubble in the base. The capsule was designed to fit in an adult seat space. The bassinet can be removed from the base to carry the baby around outside the car.

The capsule was designed by PA Design (later known as Invetech) with Rainsfords Safe-n-Sound and took five years of research and development. It won an Australian Design Award and Design Council Selection in 1985 and the Prince Philip Prize for Australian Design in 1986. The design was improved by the introduction of a harness in 1991 to replace the Velcro body band on the capsule in our collection.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of 1980s Australian-designed products. In the meantime I’d be interested to know – what is your favourite Australian-designed product of the 1980s?

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