Greener Gadgets: This time for sure!

Last year, one of the award-winners in the Greener Gadgets design competition wasn't all that it might have been.

To summarise: It didn't exist, and was physically impossible.

This year, the winner is an actual object that actually works. It's the "Tweet-a-Watt" prototype, a system that gives wireless computer access to as many power-usage meters as you like, so you can have your Internet washing machine - or, at least, the power-monitoring feature thereof - without having to wait for an appliance company to make one.

Some of the other shortlisted entries seem quite good, too. You can't argue with something that's actually built and working, for a start. And I spent a while trying to think of something wrong with this little cardboard PC case, but couldn't (here's a bigger one).

This roll-up solar flashlight wouldn't be cheap to make with current tech, but it looks workable. And the BugPlug looks fun and useful, while these evil eyes for standby LEDs are hilarious - I don't care if the light-guide design doesn't seem quite right.

The Zeer evaporation cooler looks good, too. As do the WattBlocks, except for the slightly embarrassing detail that they seem to be turning off "vampire" standby devices by adding a bunch of little doodads that must themselves be in standby mode all day. The clockwork Vampire Plug looks like a better bet, but doesn't do the same job.

Many of the other candidates seem to be the usual "cool design project" things that look really neat at first but become less and less appealing the more you think about them.

Take the RITI printer, for instance, which uses "coffee or tea dregs" for ink.

What a great idea! Make the coffee-ring work for you!

Except that dregs are full of particulates, which I strongly suspect would instantly clog any printer nozzle capable of output resolution better than that of a nine-pin dot-matrix. I suppose they could put a filter in the thing, but that'd have to be a frequently-replaced consumable for your "eco-friendly" printer.

(And apparently the whole thing's run by the user moving the print head back and forth by hand. So it doesn't just need sub-millimetre head-tracking accuracy to know when to squirt out a dot - which would seem to rule out the usual rubber-belt system - but apparently when you're sending a document to it, you have to whip the head back and forth so the printer can hear you. And yet it still features an on/off button.)

This neighborhood intercom doodad might perhaps work, but there'd be non-trivial security issues, unless you made setting the system up no easier than just instant-messaging your neighbours. (Not that it wouldn't be great to just drive through the city with a spare "Eco-Neighbuzz" transmitter broadcasting "Big dog-fight this evening at number 29! No homos, negroes, fat chicks or Jews!")

Some of the entries are more art object than realistic product (this one's on the border line), which is fine by me. I've got no complaints about those, unless they win prizes.

But then, along with various solar devices that don't seem to have enough cells to perform as advertised, there's this solar battery charger, which does not appear to have any solar cells at all. Perhaps the green block in the middle is Kryptonite, or something.

The Urban Fan is entertaining, too. It's a ceiling fan that plugs into a light-socket. Commenters predict rather unpleasant failure modes when you try to hang it from a loosely-anchored socket, and I'd like to add that if it uses an Edison screw fitting, it may unscrew itself after a few on/off cycles.

Oh, and then there's the Enviro'clock Bandage, which commenters observe appears to be a sticker with mental telepathy.

And it wouldn't be an eco-gadget competition without yet another dodgy small wind turbine. This time, there's one that has one little turbine that's meant to work in both wind and water. And the "Wind-Helmet" seems to be trying to set a record for personal-wind-turbine smallness and uselessness.

(Some commenters on both of those entries are, again, unimpressed.)

This solar-powered air-cleaning fan is only mildly stupid. This home 12VDC socket idea could work, but seems to me to be almost completely unnecessary (it's remarkable how many of these proposals have glaring spelling errors). And then there's PpMm pre-perforated paper, which aims to end the endless nightmare that is... tearing up a piece of paper.

If you find any other howlers in the top 50 candidates, please point 'em out!

33 Responses to “Greener Gadgets: This time for sure!”

  1. corinoco Says:

    When I was a young 'un I wanted to be an inventor / designer of some sort. I had seen pictures of them - they either worked in big white rooms, wore white 'science jackets' with pens & calculators in the pockets; or they wore the standard word-work teachers dusty blue or grey coat and lived in a shed, drank lots of tea and had a sheepdog called 'Sprocket' (I was almost too old for Fraggle Rock, but not quite!)

    Now it seems designers must wear black, carry a damn Apple ilaptop, ipod, iphone, ilifestyle, ishoes and a big chunky iwatch, and appear to be always in a soft-drink commercial.

    I ended up being an architect, though a steadfast non-suit-wearing, non-bow-tie-wearing, jeans-and-polo-shirt type.

    I still want to design Saturn V rockets though.

  2. corinoco Says:

    I forgot to add the bit about betting that NONE of the designers in that comp would be seen dead in a science jacket with pocket protectors.

    And that they also took courses in 'Marketing'. Bah. Kids these days.

  3. Darien Says:

    I must have those LED evil eyes. Those are too hilarious for words.

  4. Itsacon Says:

    I rather liked the Blight solar-panel/venetian blinds combination.

  5. trouserlord Says:

    IMHO, a design competition should only accept entries that have been actually built by the entrants, with their own hands. If their creations turn out to be impossible, impractical, or inferior to existing designs it would be obvious to everyone, including the genius designer. There's also a good chance they'd learn something in the process. See the guru Tim Hunkin's thoughts on trail and error:

  6. RichVR Says:

    I really want a set of those LED evil eyes.

  7. torqu3e Says:

    About the wind helmet, I am into biking and all so know about this product, which you may not have heard about...

  8. torqu3e Says:

    About the wind helmet, I am into biking and all so know about this product, which you may not have heard about...

  9. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    Hmm, it's just not letting me post at all, is it? I wanted to share my God-awful cardboard Mac.

    [Yep, you managed to get past the comment-spam-blocker, but I just destroyed all of your ingenuity by just approving your first blocked comment, above, and deleting all of the others :-). If anybody's valid comment is blocked by the spam-ometer, it's not deleted - it's just sitting there in the admin interface waiting for me to approve it, which I will probably do in only a few hours, at most. -Dan]

  10. rho Says:

    Regarding the wind and water turbine, there used to be a product called, I believe, the Aquair that did exactly that. You converted it from a wind turbine to a water turbine for use on cruising sailboats to charge the batteries. So this isn't as absurd a product as you'd think, though it certainly shouldn't be considered a green "breakthrough", since I think the Aquair was around in the '80s and early '90s or thereabouts.

  11. stevetecza Says:

    some of the comments for the dumber entries make me wonder if the positive commenters are trolling.

    ex: "wow! what a great idea, can I buy one???!?"

  12. TwoHedWlf Says:

    Actually, I'd love that tweetawatt if it was plugged into every outlet in the house. Have a little applet on my computer that displays total current draw and current at each outlet. Swweeeeeeet.

  13. Malcolm Says:

    @TwoHedWlf: point a webcam at your electricity meter?

  14. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    I just noticed your paragraph on the neighborhood intercom and have decided that acquiring one would be worthwhile for that purpose alone.

    Not that you couldn't just hang a loudspeaker out your car window, of course.

  15. TwoHedWlf Says:

    Malcolm, I have a cent-a-meter which is a wireless power meter, but that only shows the whole house usage. I'd need about a dozen webcams pointing at a dozen wattmeters to see the power usage at every outlet.

  16. Chazzozz Says:


    A couple of years ago, Dan pointed me to Trashcade. You'd probably get some value out of it, and I suspect that the designer of the cardboard PC case may have ripped the idea off. ;-)

  17. corinoco Says:


    You could spend a lazy Saturday (or any day, actually) morning wandering around the house plugging in equipment one at a time and looking at your results on your existing 'Cent-a-meter'. This is by far a "greener" solution as 1. you don't buy yet more plastic-and-packaging tat, and 2. you get some exercise. Win-win, to use a marketroid term.

  18. denzacar Says:

    Harness the power of household doormats, hamsters and trampolines with "The Inlet-Outlet".

    I can almost imagine such a world where every single movable object would have a micro-generator of some kind attached to it.
    Pick up a book - it creates energy. Drop it - it creates energy. Turn its pages - it creates energy. Burn it for warmth - it creates energy.
    Reading it would probably be frowned upon though as it does not create enough energy.

    Also, people who have the balls and "ingenuity" to lay a claim of "inventing" a device such as this one bellow should have their iPods jammed up their respective behinds and used in a program to repopulate world's deserts.
    By dropping them in the middle the said deserts from a very high altitude without a parachute.

  19. evilspoons Says:

    denzacar: Generators like that wouldn't *create* energy, exactly. They'd merely make you work harder for everything you do. Which, in an age where everyone's fat, is actually a pretty bloody good idea.

    I'm intrigued by the idea of a house-wide DC distribution system. I wonder how much more efficient you could be if you threw some sort of massive AC-DC converter with some smart load-based electronics down next to your utility panel, then ran that through the walls. Downside would be double wiring. I suppose you could also just stick smart transformers in the wall outlet plate and feed off the existing AC - have them switch off when there's no load and you'd get rid of a lot of wasted energy - not to mention piles and piles of stupid bloody transformers.

  20. FuzzyPlushroom Says:


    Damn, and I thought Afrotech Mods was cool. Thanks for the link, mate!

  21. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    Ahh, I understand now. A'ight, Dan. Ingenuity is as follows, once it's (hopefully) approved:

    Well, it looks as though I was ahead of the game.

    (Anyway, I'm sorry for spamming your queue. I thought it was just refusing 'em outright.)

  22. TwoHedWlf Says:

    Corinoco, I've already done that. But it's not real time.:) In case you're interested, my reef tank peaked at about 2kw, my other two freshwater tanks at 600 and 300w. Everything else was relatively small. I need to throw it on my computer actually, I haven't done it...

  23. hye Says:

    Re: the urban fan

    The solution to the problem of conservation of angular momentum is to use counter-rotating blades. Of course, that would only add to the mass/complexity and increase the fixture support problem, but that could be solved by the rotors constantly spinning to generate lift for itself...

  24. Matt Says:

    Concerning the cardboard computer case - what about RFI?

  25. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Oh, yeah, that's a thought - a computer built in that case would be illegal to sell in most countries! The case itself would probably be illegal in many places, too.

    There's no real problem with making a computer in a cardboard box or with all of the bits hung on the wall or whatever - it'll interfere a bit with nearby radios and TVs, but won't be a serious interference source like, for instance, an old-fashioned spark-gap radio transmitter.

    But it's still, usually, very much illegal to actually sell such computers. Cases with windows in the side may be technically illegal, too.

    (I've mentioned this occasionally in reviews, like this old one.)

  26. Stark Says:

    I love the idea of a whole house DC system... it would make for amusing accident report reading. Nothing like watching a home DIYer become stuck to the outlet because they failed to turn off the circuit before they tried that rewire!

    At least with AC it makes you let go when you get zapped. Or so I've heard... I mean not that I have any personal experience here.... no, we will not discuss the tweezer incident when I was 8. Besides, it wasn't that big a fire and we needed a new TV in any case.

  27. Daniel Rutter Says:

    The whole-house DC system was only meant to be 12 volts, so electrocution wouldn't be a problem. The proposal glosses over how it would actually be implemented, though, and the devil is of course in those details.

    Plugpack circuitry integrated into every power point? One big switchmode DC supply in the basement and chunky wires to every outlet? Separate solar-powered grid-independent circuits? I don't think there's any really elegant way to do it.

  28. Popup Says:

    When I was a kid we wired my parents home with 12V (And 'thin' ethernet, phone lines and twisted pair - none of which is used in this era of wi-fi and DECT). There was big (inefficient) transformer in the attic, and thick cables to the basement and the garage. The main problem was that as soon as you tried to draw any serious current the voltage dropped dramatically.

    Modern switched power supplies aren't bad. The only problem is that there's no standardised connections. (Or rather that there are too many standards...) Surprisingly USB is starting to become a standard for 5V up to 1.5A.
    All we need now is a similar standard for 12V (preferably up to, say, 5A). I'd propose the Molex floppy connector, but it's probably too expensive. The sata power connector is probably cheaper to make as it's just an edge connector.

  29. Stark Says:

    Yeah, I got that it's only supposed to be 12 volts... but then again I've seen people manage to make the standard US 120 volts into 240 and, on one memorable occasion involving two different household power feeds, 480V without intending to. The 480 volt incident did involve a fatality. The un-intentional 240V upgrade didn't kill anybody but it did destroy a kitchen full of appliances. Coffee makers meant for 120V catch fire rather quickly when supplied with 240V - turns out many of them aren't internally fused and when the sometimes electrician removes all the GFCI gear (cause it keeps tripping) and then bypasses the circuit breaker because it kept tripping for "no reason" as well.... well, hilarity ensues (as long as it's not your house and nobody get hurt in the process). The amateur electrician in question was sure he knew what he was doing so it had to be the safety equipment that was at fault, not his wiring - the insurance inspector disagreed.

    Never underestimate the ability of a home tinkerer with too many tools and not enough common sense (or electrical education) to do things you previously thought impossible. And.... like I said, amateur electricians plus DC in the walls = entertaining reading!

  30. Harald Hansen Says:

    Most of these submissions seems like they're straight out of

  31. Kimmo Says:

    Aside from the RF transparency of the cardboard case, it looks like it'd do a hell of a lot less than an ordinary case to protect its guts from the likes of spilt coffee...

    Still pretty cool though.

  32. zenpunk Says:

    I know I'm... a little late to the party, but you could have a large step-down transformer to say, 24VAC, distribute that across the house, solving the resistive losses/double wiring thing, and then have rectifier/voltage regulator circuit at each power point. This would also allow each outlet to deliver any voltage from 1-24 Volts for whatever the device wants without forcing the main power supply to output many different voltages at once and having redundant distribution to get them to all the power points.

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