Greener Gadgets 2010: What Do Top Concepts Say About Us, Electronics Industry?


Photo via david.orban via Flickr CC

The Greener Gadgets Design Competition is pooling the best concepts for eco-friendly electronics and handing them over to the public to narrow it down to three top choices from which the competition judges will select a winner. Not only is the competition a terrific way to scan what designers are dreaming up in green gadgets but also it allows us to take the temperature of the consumer marketplace - what do people expect from eco-friendly electronics and where is the industry heading? We're checking out some of the designs getting the most attention from voters, and exploring some answers.

We Like Energy Savers



The Fair Energy Clock is gathering a massive amount of votes and seems to be a reader favorite. It's a small plug that allows you to cut power to a device at any time, and turn it back on whenever you'd like. You can pre-program it to provide just a certain amount of charging time for a phone, or for lights to come on only at certain hours. Sounds great but...We already have outlet timers, including those that nip vampire energy consumption in the bud. Plus, it's one more thing to have to purchase - with an embodied energy that has to be offset before it can realize energy savings - rather than a smart software or innovation that reduces energy consumption on a large scale. So, why all the buzz around this gadget? Is it the lure of the quick fix?

We Like Off-Grid Chargers Even More

Getting nearly double the votes of the Fair Energy Clock, though, is the Go Mechanical Charger - something even more common in the market place than smart plugs. It's a human-powered charger that, rather than pulling a string like YoGen or requiring shaking like the nPower PEG, you just roll with it - quite literally. The features that makes it particularly "green" other than the fact that it's an off-grid charging solution, is that it's made of reclaimed and recycled materials, is priced at just $8 plus $1.50 for adapters, and is made to last.

It's very interesting to see that human-powered off-grid chargers are this popular among green gadget geeks - though not entirely surprising. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, the YoGen made quite the impression, gathering major press coverage, and a recent report stated that the market for off-grid cell phone chargers is rapidly becoming a $2.3 billion industry.

Fancy Lights, Please

Lighting for people in developing countries is a big area for designers. We've seen some brilliant ideas, from solar powered bags that transform into lanterns to smart DIY creations. That's probably why Niteo is doing well among voters.

It's not only a lamp but also a charger handheld gadgets - perfect for cell phones which are a leap-frog technology in places like India and African countries. "Niteo converts chemical energy, available in a bio-convertible substrate, directly into electricity." Exactly how it works isn't well explained, but clearly voters like the idea of off-grid lighting and charging solutions for developing nations.

Don't Forget A Smarter Smart Grid

Ahhh - smart grid stuff!! We knew this would be included in at least some fashion in a greener gadget design competition. And this is an area where a lot of innovation is both needed and happening - but, much more so on the consumer end for energy management than on the big-picture smart grid end. The Smart Grid Home Controller, however, is looking at a bigger picture, particularly looking at how it can make the smart grid protocol less about the competing Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols, and more about smart energy use by all. Right now, Zigbee is winning out in adoption among utilities, but Z-Wave is making major progress in smart home wireless devices. This intelligent design by BuLogic bridges the two:

"The Bulogics Smart Grid Controller... receives Zigbee signals from your local utility indicating the current cost of electricity (typically updated every 15 minutes), and then begins to send signals to your z-wave enabled devices to begin to conserve... Since Zigbee uses power lines for data transmission, they have been the leader in making smart homes speak with the "smart grid" to more intelligently and efficiently control your power useage. Z-wave, on the other hand has focused almost entirely on providing low-cost consumer-friendly after-market home automation. For some time, z-wave enthusiasts have suggested that power utilities would send signals to z-wave via the internet as a work-around to the developing zigbee smart grid initiatives, but the BuLogics product makes it unnecessary for the utility company to support two standards. "

In other words, it makes it easier for everyone to take part in the smart grid and smart homes in order to conserve energy. Beautiful. No wonder its doing well in gathering votes.

Green: There's An App For That

Finally, one more fascinating design that is currently ranked 6th in votes: AUG, an app that helps consumers purchase locally grown or produced goods when shopping. AUG stands for Augmented Living Goods, and it centers around a barcode directory for things like produce and dairy. When you head out to the store, you can scan the barcodes of various items and find out information like where the item was grown or made, pricing data, and other useful information. It's like the GoodGuide app, but centered around slightly different information. While not a gadget in itself, it's an idea for how to use a ubiquitous gadget - a smart phone - for greener living. While somewhat problematic - exactly how green can you get with your groceries if you're buying them in a location where they have bar codes? - it still shows the massive popularity of green apps among, well, practically everyone.

So - energy savers, off-grid chargers, off-grid lighting, smart grid integration, and green apps are the most popular concepts among voters for this competition. Can't say there's a whole lot of anything really new here, but perhaps it's simply because we all want to see more of these things actually exist, rather than live only as concepts or fragile start-ups.

We'll see which idea makes it to the top in a couple weeks at the Greener Gadgets conference February 25th.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
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Tags: Concepts & Prototypes | Contests | Designers | Electronics | Gadgets