Change may be the only constant in the world, but a group of student-designed prototype appliances demonstrates just how radical and far-fetched change can be.

Peter Alwin, a student at the National Institute of Design in India, recently took home the top spot in Electrolux Appliances' Design Lab 2010 competition for his invention, The Snail, a micro-induction heating concept that takes up far less space required for conventional cooking products. In the process, the Indian native wins a prize of approximately $6,000 and a six-month paid internship at one of Electrolux’s Global Design Centers.

“With every passing year, the standard of entries to the Electrolux Design Lab contest becomes stronger,” said Henrik Otto, senior vice president of Global Design at Electrolux.

Established in 2003, Electrolux Design Lab is an annual global design competition open to undergraduate and graduate industrial design students who are invited to present innovative ideas for household appliances of the future. In the short seven years of its existence, the program has gotten very popular. This year, more than 1,300 entries were submitted from students in more than 50 countries.

The theme this year was “The Second Space Age,” so the students were charged with creating “thoughtfully designed products that will shape how people prepare and store food, wash clothes, and do dishes by 2050 when 74% of the global population is predicted to live in an urban environment.”

Cooking up prototypes for compact living, Alwin and his fellow students channeled their inner mad scientists. His portable heating and cooking device uses a well-known technology—magnetic induction—but the size and application of that the technology is more advanced. “The Snail is small and versatile enough that it can be stuck directly on to a pot, pan, mug, etc., to heat its contents,” Electrolux explains. “This reduces the amount of space required for conventional cooking while adding portability to the process.”

The unit is powered by a high-density sugar crystal battery, the company continues, which converts the energy from the sugar and heats up a coil to conduct the magnetic induction process to the utensil. “Integrated sensors detect the food type being heated in order to automatically adjust the time and temperature,” according to Electrolux.

Alwin may have won the competition, but there were also designs that stood out among the crowd either for their sheer wackiness (such as the virtual reality kitchen) or their inventiveness (such as Elements Modular all-in-one kitchen shelving system). Other standouts included the Clean Closet, which allows users to clean clothes in a closet; and the External Refrigerator, a unit that is fixed directly on the outside wall of residential buildings.

As experimentation, many of the student designs show the creativity of young designers and thinkers. But the real question is whether we can expect to see micro-induction devices, virtual kitchens, clean closets, and external refrigerators anytime soon? It's not likely. As cool as some of these products are, they are mainly exploratory exercises. The company has said in the past that the student designs may provide inspiration for future home appliances and solutions, but the program is essentially an incubator for ideas and a way to discover new talent.