The Weird, the Far Out, and the Yet to Come
Al Gore has probably convinced just about everyone of the need to get off their eco-keisters and think about what they're doing to the planet. Many devices are billed as helping to reduce the user's carbon footprint and, of course, most of these items are available on the Internet. Some are undeniably strange but others represent well-considered concepts for pushing the environmental envelope. Here's a sampling of both kinds of Green Gadgets. --Kajsa Linnarsson
Now That's Lawn Furniture!
Where better to focus your Earth-friendly efforts than in your yard? But why stop at drought-tolerant plants and chemical-free gardening when you can move on to the next frontier: patio furniture? Just assemble this eco-friendly chair's skeleton, cover it with soil and seed, add water, and wait for it to transform into a chia chair. The frame is available from the U.K. company Lazybone for about $118. After a few weeks of sitting on this thing, you'll look like you celebrate St. Patrick's Day every day!
How Power Greedy Is That Electrical Device?
The EnerJar is a do-it-yourself power meter that measures how much energy any electrical device pulls. Designed by Matt Meshulam and Zach Dwiel--both from the United States--the EnerJar was the grand prize winner of the Greener Gadgets Design Competition sponsored by Core77, a Web site that bills itself as a gathering place for designers and enthusiasts.
Grow Your Own Cell Phone
Gert-Jan van Breugel of the Netherlands was worried about the ever-increasing number of mobile phones being thrown away when he dreamed up his Core77 contest concept for the Bamboo, a biodegradable cell phone. The case would be composed of--guess what--bamboo, impregnated with bamboo seeds. When users tired of this concept phone, they could remove the battery, the antenna, and the board with the numerics on it; and toss the case into a hospitable environment. A 2G stand of bamboo would then grow, feeding in the first instance on nutrients contained in the case. The phone would come with a crank, too, so users could grind out more minutes using people power--if the device actually existed.
Bounce Dirt From Your Clothes
These weird, spaceship-looking, green balls are billed as detergent substitutes. Put them into your washing machine with your dirty clothes, and they supposedly produce ionized oxygen, naturally activating nearby water molecules. This, according to their maker, enables the balls, priced at approximately $70 for a set of three, to penetrate deep into clothing fibers and lift dirt away. Eco Balls promise to be chemical-free and environmentally friendly, and the maker says that one set will last for 1000 washes, which would make them less expensive per use than regular detergent.
This would be a charming way to track your home's energy gulping--and a way to reward yourself for reining it in. The FlowerPod concept, designed by Designnord of Denmark, presents you with a full-grown digital flower (right) if your energy use is moderate. If your eco-consciusness flags, so does the flower. The idea is that the reward of a healthy-looking blossom will encourage everyone in your family to do their part to shrink the home's carbon footprint. The FlowerPod also hooks up to an Information Portal, which displays your usage of electricity, heating, cooling, and water.
But Can They Find Nemo?
This little octopus is, in fact, a 1.3-megapixel Webcam known as Lili. Manufactured in Vietnam under fair-trade conditions, Lili is composed mainly of renewable and recyclable materials. The Webcam's body is made of sand, cotton, and kapok (a natural tree fiber), and is shipped in recyclable PET packaging. Lili is made by a U.K. company called United Pepper and costs about $60. The company makes an equally odd-looking USB hub called Oscar (priced at about $38), which comes with a quartet of USB 2.0 ports.
Not "Let's Drag," but Less Drag
The Electrobike Pi is an electric bicycle with flywheel regeneration that feeds excess power back to recharge the battery instead of simply losing it to friction. It also has a great slogan: "Cooler Wheels for a Warmer Planet." You can ride the Pi the way you would a traditional bike, or you can use its 36-volt pack of Lithium ion batteries to carry you along. To reduce the vehicle's carbon footprint from low to zero, you can attach a giant arch-shaped solar charger to it. After an 8-hour day in the sun (or after 2.5 hours plugged in to an electrical outlet), that battery is good for another 50 miles, even if you don't pedal at all. This sleek guilt-reliever will set you back only $7500.
Portable Wind Turbine
The HYmini is a baby wind turbine that can produce sufficient electricity to charge most gadgets, including MP3 players, digital cameras, and cell phones. Attach it to your bike handlebars or to your arm as you move about. Just 20 minutes of wind exposure will give the device's internal battery enough juice to support 30 minutes of iPod time. The $49.99 HYmini comes with mini solar panels and extra batteries, too, so you can switch elements to store power. And in a pinch, you can charge it in a regular wall outlet.
No Plug-In Required
How often do you get a chance to work out and feel good about your carbon footprint at the same time? In the Greener Gadgets competition, U.S. resident Clay Moulton's Gravia lamp captured second place. You power this lamp yourself by hoisting a weight inside the lamp to a height of about 48 inches. As the weight falls, it powers a mechanism that generates the electricity needed to power the Gravia. Unfortunately, the lamp is not available for purchase.
People-Powered Music Player
Christian Karlsson of Norway scored an honorable mention in the Greener Gadgets competition with his concept for the RollOn mp3 player, a device that the user powers by rolling the charging wheel (shown above) in between two hands or on a flat surface such as a table. Karlsson says that he was inspired by old-fashioned dynamo-powered lights for bicycles.
Finally, A Useful Tattoo
In this concept design for the Core77 contest, Jim Mielke of the United States really pushed the boundries of his imagination. When the cell phone rings, you push a small dot on your arm. A 2-by-4-inch tattoo with the image of the cell phone's digital display then appears. Answer the call by pushing one of the tattoo's buttons. When you're done, the tattoo disappears. And best of all, you'd never leave this phone in your jeans in the washer.