Woot!! The winner of the Greener Gadgets design competition was the one I was rooting for. It's a rare thing to have that happen.
There were two thought currents running through this competition as the judges gave a thumbs up or down to each of the top ten designs vying for a spot in the final round for audience voting: dematerialization and, well, disappointment. The finalists and winners reflected the feeling among the judges and audience that we need to a) make less stuff and b) get a lot smarter in the devices we dream up. Check out who made it to the top picks, and who took home the cake.
Overall, the judges - and the audience - were a little less than thrilled about the contestants in the greener gadgets design competition, with the judges even voicing that perhaps their expectations were too high. But really, when it comes to dreaming up the next generation of devices that can be part of a sustainable future, we have to have high expectations. There were some that really rose above the rest in terms of ingenuity and keeping sustainability in mind - rather than just being a "green" gizmo that would get lost in the sea of green gizmos being put on the market today - but most lacked real innovation. We have to encourage all creative thought in this area, but the judges are right: we also have to expect a lot.
The judges highlighted something I think we all are feeling at this point - the greenest gadgets are the ones we already have and they do a lot for us, so the real innovation comes in how we can get our gadgets to help us live more sustainably. That's why designs like a new home energy monitor, or an ottoman/subwoofer that utilized an upcycled stock car tire didn't quite make the cut -- we don't want necessarily want more stuff, we want what we already have to do as much as possible.
However, the designs that did make it to the top three included the IllumiCharger, a solar charger that utilizes indoor lighting to gather a charge; the Empower, a glider-style chair for public spaces that generates kinetic energy so people may charge their devices while waiting for a train, a plane, etc; and the AUG Living Goods App, which helps buyers buy smart, green and local by scanning a barcode of a product and getting background info on it.
The third place prize went to IllumiCharger, which the judges liked because most indoor light is simply wasted though they questioned just how powerful it could be, considering indoor light is not a good source for a solar charge. The second place prize went to Empower, which the judges also liked because they - like the rest of us - think everything we make should gather its own charge. However they also noted that while this could be useful in public spaces, it's not a good design for individual use at home or at the office.
And the first place prize went to the only design that wasn't a new device at all. AUG, the Living Goods Program. The main reason why this won was two fold: first, it focused on dematerialization - it wasn't a new "thing" at all, but something that we could add on to our existing devices to help us live more sustainably. And while it isn't a thing, it does function to help us be smart when we do buy things, since it helps us track, read about, and decide on the purchases of local products.
Similar to the GoodGuide app, which provides information about the environmental impact of products on store shelves, this app specifically focuses on local goods. It solves a current problem, and can be created now - it doesn't rely on futuristic technology like better solar cells or the implementation of the smart grid, nor does it rely on some company being willing to manufacture a new product.
So, we congratulate the AUG Living Goods Program on its win, and encourage all the participating designers to keep up their creative thinking and push the limits of design to create a more sustainable consumer electronics industry.