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GREENER GADGETS LIVEBLOG: Inhabitat Reports Live From Greener Gadgets!

by , 02/25/10

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The 3rd annual Greener Gadgets Conference came to New York City yesterday to examine how we can make our gadgets and consumer electronics cleaner and greener. This annual conference is always chock full of amazing speakers, cool gadgets and a lot of future-forward ideas and we look forward to it every year. This year’s opening keynote presentation was given by industrial design superstar Yves Behar, and the closing keynote was delivered by Robert Fabricant – the VP of creative at Frog Design. For those of you who couldn’t make it out in the snow to Greener Gadgets yesterday — you missed out! Fortunately for you, however, and the Inhabitat crew was there in full-swing, live-blogging the entire event from start to finish, so you can catch up on any details you missed right here >

We’ll also be putting up our videos of the event very soon, so stay tuned!

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OPENING KEYNOTE BY YVES BÉHAR

Team Inhabitat is LIVE on the scene at this year’s Greener Gadgets Conference as Yves Béhar kicks things off with today’s keynote! Yves is the founder of Fuseproject and has designed many of our favorite greener gadgets including the OLPC laptop, the Mission 1 Motorcycle, and the Herman Miller Leaf Lamp.

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Yves kicked off his presentation with a discussion about putting the sexy back into green: “I like the term ‘Greener’ because it implies we are always working towards being green but we are never there yet. Last year I went to one of these ‘eco shows’ in San Francisco – and it was probably the most unsexy thing I’ve ever been at. It was disheartening. As designers, we can put the sexy back into green.” To illustrate this point, he showed some images of his PACT eco undies, and then his super sexy electric Mission One motorcycle.

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“I’m tired of hearing about the ‘How’ to go green – and I’d rather spend some time showing you some new products and technology. My big question is this: ‘How do we create companies that challenge the status quo?’ It’s not new technologies typically that are ruining the environment – It’s the OLD technologies that our polluting our way of life… As a small design shop, what is our role in creating 21st style companies. How do you change the business model of design itself? How do you create a long-term relationship with companies that leads to lasting, sustainable design?

Typically we are hired for 3-4 months, and then we create a product that is only around for a short time. I want to change this. But to change this, we designers need a different reward system. We can’t just work on short-term contracts. So, we create partnerships. We have a venture design model, where we get equity/royalties in long-term partnerships with companies. So instead of creating a PRODUCT, the idea is that instead we work with a company to help create their mission, their philosophy, their brand, their SOUL…

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Yves goes on to talk about the One Laptop Per Child project and the responsibility of designers in respect to the wider world. OLPC has distributed a total of 1.4 million laptops to kids in countries including Mongolia, Haiti, and Uruguay, proving the idea that we can design a product for kids in the space of education.

In Uruguay, there is 100% distribution. It’s the only thing that the outgoing and incoming president could agree on. They’re even bringing the laptops to high school kids.. They even made a postage stamp celebrating the program! Yves’ nephew Antony spent an afternoon with the laptop and even made his own version out of paper.

Nobody thought this laptop was possible and nobody thought anyone would want such a thing: a laptop designed specifically for one type of end user. The XO proves the idea that you can specifically design a laptop just for kids in the developing world and even more specifically for education, and somehow, by its specificity, that design can become universally desirable – even for adults in San Francisco and New York City.

“When Nicholas Negroponte contacted me about the One Laptop Per Child Project I was so over designing laptops. They are all the same, there is no innovation – it is really boring. But Nicholas really wanted to do something different and groundbreaking, and he really became an ambassador for design We learned a lot of things and the rest of the world learned a lot of things through this process. For instance, we learned that a laptop could be made light and cheap and that people would find that desirable.”

“Kids have intuitive needs for interaction that our different from us that basically have been beaten into submission by our standard computer manufacturers. We wanted to provide something different that would allow kids to interact in a more human way with others around them. The next generation of XO Laptop – the XO 3 – really takes this to the next level. With the tablet design with the touch screen, this allows much more interaction that a normal PC. PC stands for “Personal Computer” – meaning it is only for use for one person. With this new tablet design with a touch screen, two kids can play a game together on one laptop. All of a sudden this isn’t a “personal computer” anymore.”

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Yves now goes on to unveil 2 NEW BRAND NEW PROJECTS that have never before been seen! The first is a design for an electric vehicle, which represents an immense field of opportunity for Yves. It’s a tough, versatile, dirt-simple green car for the developing world that is ‘hackable’, meaning that you can build your own functions on top of the basic frame. The basic setup would have electric propulsion and a simple structure, but you can change portions of it to suit needs ranging from a car to a truck, van, taxi, delivery vehicle, or ambulance. In many ways, this EV design is similar the One Laptop Per Child project. Yves says we can make the most innovation by designing for specificity. Typical design briefs try to encompass everything and everyone, which means that there is no innovation and nothing ever changes. By designing for specificity, you can make breakthroughs in thought. The car Behar proposes is completely symmetrical meaning that the front and back component pieces are interchangeable, and the roof is covered in photovoltaics. We want one! Yves, you should team up with Trexa!

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Another new conceptual project Yves is working on is a beautiful crystal chandelier that will soon launch at the Milan Furniture Fair in April. The question Behar asked is “Can the magical effect of crystal be achieved using less energy and light?” The idea was to give people what they want using one LED light bulb, one crystal, and one paper shade. The project plugs into regular current, and its LED light consumes 50% or less energy than traditional bulbs. Rather large fixture and pretty amazing effect that happens, and of course you can multiply and add to it and get what is really sustainable crystal. Those two words together are almost like a misnomer, but those are the kinds of things we can do.

“If a design is not ethical, it cannot be beautiful. if it cannot be beautiful, it probably shouldn’t be at all”

Yves concludes saying that there are several ideas that we need to practice every day and every night and pursue in design. We need to be pushing green, not as a constraint, but as sexiest tool in the design toolbox. Second, if a design is not ethical, it cannot be beautiful. if it cannot be beautiful, it probably shouldn’t be at all.

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Green Living Begins at Home

Following Yves Béhar’s keynote presentation is a panel discussion entitled “Green Living Begins at Home” moderated by Sarah Rich, senior editor at Dwell magazine and contributing editor here at Inhabitat. The panel will explore how innovative home automation gadgets can make everyday living easier, greener and more efficient. Panelists include architect Ellen Honigstock, Autodesk Industry Manager of Sustainabiuty Sarah Krasley, founder of Caster Communications, Kimberly Lancaster and co-founder of Home Automation Inc., Jay McLellan.

Designers and engineers want to do the right thing, but they might not have the data or information. As most of you designers know, Autodesk is company which makes design software and one of its goals is to democratize the process of designing for sustainability. Ecotect is one of the projects that does this. 80% of a project’s sustainability is decided in the planning phase and Ecotect allows architects to model factors such as sunlight, etc. to make those decisions.

Kimberly Lancaster is a homeowner who set out to prove that a home could be both green and have all the bells and whistles that she would want. Her home is now built and has scored LEED homes Gold, while still implementing all the luxuries that she might want.

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Jay McLellan, founder of Home Automation Inc. pointed out that people want to save money and achieve efficiency but systems that they place in their home use electricity too. If those systems use more energy than they save, the point is moot. So his goal is to make systems that can control and monitor electricity usage in the home without using tons of power themselves. Demand response is another interesting thing that HAI is working on. It’s a way for a home automation system can send a signal to the source of power to say that the load needs to be increased. That way, there is communication between the home and the grid.

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Sarah Rich threw out an interesting question about infrastructural changes verses changes in behavioral patterns and the balance between them. Do we need both? One more than the other?

JM: we all have a responsibility for sustainably and were going to have to change our ways and become more cognizant of when we use energy and how much we use it. Dashboards—what you’re consuming and how much its costing at that moment, see them on mobile devices, more feedback on energy consumption and well have to change our ways.

EH: one thing we’re really pushing is data—analyzing utility bills. There’s that kind of behavior but we make infrastructural changes.

KL: As home owner who has energy management system, its not just about how data comes in, but how you interact and react to it. In the summer when energy prices go up, don’t use dryer—put the laundry on the deck. Kids adapt so quickly to how info is provided to them, and adults are so stubborn. We have to change the way we look at how energy is coming into the home, and then we as adults can make daily decisions.

SK: Both are essential, but I’m interested in changing the behavior of designers and engineers. Put sustainability criteria in there right off the bat.

SR: some people think sustainability and tech are in different camps—do you find clients are demanding something different?

JM: It used to be based on cost. Now, cost is not so much an issue—environmental sustainability is an issue. Responsible people who have money to pay for this stuff want to do the right thing. Our message has shifted slightly in that now its environmental responsibility and cost.

SK: Saul Griffith is a big proponent of heirloom design. One Tenet of sustainability is keeping something durable and long-lasting. He’s going to give a nice pen to his newborn son, who will carry it his whole life, and then pass on pen to son. It’s a great design objective.

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SR: How do you advise some of your clients — do you suggest take back programs?

SK: We’re looking at lifecycle assessment in terms of it being an early-stage conceptual design tool. Designers can get good feedback on what impact is of those materials. We can give some decision support, help quantify or visualize what the impact of the materials are.

EH: People don’t think about 10-year paybacks or that being acceptable. And at some point that shift has to be made.

SK: Helping a designer and empowering engineers to make the business case — it’s andshift. It used to not be in the designers purview, but it’s becoming more and more so.

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SR: Yves was talking about hackable cars. Prefab houses kind of treat the house as a product – what about a hackable house?

SK: I think that would be great. They were thinking about that car in terms of needs for the developing world, and were going to see a massive change in how we design things. There will be 2 billion new consumers in the economy by 2030, whichis going to make resources and materials really scarce. We’re going to have to customize and hack. I see a lot of innovation in emerging economies because they have to do that to survive.

EH: Something like the Katrina house is great and some of these houses where there are scarce materials, it makes sense. But for residential areas, I don’t think that makes sense.

JM: Coming out of Katrina, we saw designs for sustainable, energy-efficient homes like Brad Pitt’s Make It Right house. The house is mounted on what looks like a tub, and has 2 poles on either side of it. And the thing can actually float up if water rises and then sink back down. There’s some very clever designs out there—looking at not only sustainability, but cost, sustaining weather events, and energy efficiency.

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GREEN SPOTLIGHT: 30 MINUTES WITH JEFF OMELCHUCK

For today’s next talk, TreeHugger’s Jaymi Heimbuch is interviewing Jeff Omelchuck, the founder of the Green Electronics Council. They’re talking about EPEAT, and what makes an electronic “green”. EPEAT is the system used by the U. S. federal government and purchasers from all over the globe to rate and specify green electronics. Jeff talks about how EPEAT will give consumers the ability to access this information before purchase, and how that will change their relationship with electronics.

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EPEAT isn’t as new as you might think – it started in 2006. One of the ways that it tracks its success is the dollar value of contracts that require epeat and today about $60 billion worth of purchase contracts require epeat. EPEAT is a design standard that is based on 61 factors and allows consumers to participate in a dialogue about what makes an electronic green. It is society deciding what green is. Laptops, desktops and monitors have one standard, another covers TVs, and yet another covers imaging equipment. We expect those standards to be released next year.

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In terms of e-waste, Jaymi says that statistics are staggering. How does EPEAT deal with making sure that e-waste is reduced? Jeff answered by saying that recycling systems don’t change the nature of a product. End of life systems are important in reducing e-waste but they won’t make the products any less toxic whereas EPEAT can. The program makes sure that products are more recyclable and less toxic. Some of the ways it does this are product takeback programs, battery takeback programs and just making sure that less hazardous materials are used to make electronics in the first place.

EPEAT is a way for the market to speak directly to consumers. If purchasers want it, manufacturers will follow. If the market demands green, producers will follow. That’s why EPEAT’s budget for promotion goes promarily towards getting consumers (not manufacturers) to buy green electronics – because that is how they can get manufacturers to make greener gadgets.

Jeff asked the audience for our help to increase consumer awareness of EPEAT – one of the ways we can do this is through retailers like Amazon.com. We can go to the website, search for electronics and search by EPEAT gold, silver, or bronze.

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GADGET TALKS: THE ANDREA AIR FILTER

Today’s next segment is called Gadget Talks and features Tom Hadfield, COO of LaboGroup, a French innovation company that developed the ANDREA air purifier. We’ve covered the ANDREA filter before, and have always wanted to know more about how this fascinating and aesthecitally designed device works, so we were especially excited to hear this talk!

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Scientists for many decades have known that plants are very efficient at removing toxins from the air – the problem is that they are very slow compared to commercial air filters. Le Laboritoire set out to design a prototype at that would combine the uber efficiency of plant filtration with the speed of mechanical air filtration to achieve the best of both worlds.

The fan system actually pulls dirty air through the holes in the top of the plastic casing by means of convection, swirls the air around the leaves of the plant, sucks the air through the soil and the roots and water, and finally blows cleaner air out the vent at the bottom.

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When a plant is inside the ANDREA casing system, it works much faster than a plant alone. ANDREA is 44 times more efficient than a standard HEPA or carbon filter. Any household plant can be used inside ANDREA, but some are better at filtering air than others, such as peace lillies, snake plants and aloe vera. Location is very important – ANDREA performs best when it is located in high-use areas like on tables, desks and near doors.

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GADGET TALKS: SOURCEMAP

The Next Gadget talk is being given by Leonardo Bonanni, PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab and founder of SourceMap, a system that that explores where the things in our lives come from. He starts off by talking about ivory, a material that was highly sought after in the 1880s, resulting in the death of many elephants. The end customer had no idea that elephants were being killed, they just knew that they wanted more ivory. While we may think we’ve come a long way since then, we can take our laptops as an example that we haven’t really.

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For example, a laptop typically contains a pound of copper, tin, lithium (“in fact theres so much lithium it could be called a bomb”), rodium (only 5,000 tons in the whole world), and indium (there’s about 5-10 years left of indium). If people who buy computers continue to rise we’re going to run out of these materials. Sourcemap offers a way to track the sources of these materials — as Leonardo Bonnanni says, “we don’t want there to be any excuse for people to not know where things come from.”

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SUSTAINABLE SHOW-OFF

Today’s next talk is the Sustainable Show-Off which features three products that help consumers green their homes. Ecovative is developing materials that can replace the toxic plastic present in the products that we use in our everyday lives. ThinkEco designed the Modlet, a system that combines conserving energy and engaging your social networks so that you can compete with your friends to see who saves the most energy. Tenrehte produces a smart plug that allows real-time control of your energy use with monitoring and remote capabilities.

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THE MODLET

Going around and manually unplugging all your electric devices is a pain, so by installing the Modlet, you can program devices to turn on and off. It consists of an adapter with a receiver that plugs right into existing outlets and interfaces with your computer using a web-based application. The device is able to track usage of devices so you can see the power consumption. You can then use the on/off scheduling component which will shut devices off when you don’t need to use them.

You can also share your power-savings ideas with other people—for example, tips on how you cut back on your power bill by timing when you turn your air conditioner on. The Modlet is currently in pilot testing phase and is expected to commercially available by the 4th quarter of this year.

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THE PICO WATT

The PICO Watt is up next — it’s a product that gives consumers smart grid control of appliances in the home. Using simple techniques you can cut back on your power consumption, without the need to replace all your devices with energy star appliances, etc.

The device plugs into any outlet, and then any appliance you plug into it can be controlled remotely (via smartphone, laptop, etc.). You can turn devices on and off (lights, water heaters, etc.), set timers, schedule devices to run when energy prices are at their lowers, enter energy pricing information and get smart grid control without participation from utility. The display shows how much energy each appliance is using and what percentage of it is of your total home energy use. The PICO watt will be available on amazon.com by the end of the year for less than $100.

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ECOCRADLE PACKAGING

Next up is Ecovative, a company that is aiming to replace Styrofoam with an eco-friendly, mushroom-based product called EcoCradle. Styrofoam sits in landfills forever, is found in oceans, and made from carcinogenic compounds (which are now found in everyone’s blood).

The company is using mushrooms (mycelium fibers) to create packaging. Mycelium grow and assemble—they glue together naturally and take the shape of whatever mold they’re placed in, essentially growing into an eco-friendly packaging material.

The fibers are completely compostable — you can actually put them in your garden and they will improve the top soil. They can be used for any product that needs protection and weighs more than 15 pounds. You’ll be able to purchase furniture and consumer electronics packaged in EcoCradle this spring.

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INTERVIEW WITH HP SENIOR INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER MARIA TATE

For today’s next segment Joe Hutsko, the author of Green Gadgets for Dummies, will be interviewing Maria Tate, who is a senior industrial designer for HP. She talks about how working with alternative materials is a challenge — HP uses a lot of recycled resins. They can be more expensive than virgin materials and their material properties are inferior, so you have to engineer them in a different way in order to achieve same level of quality.

HP recently integrated a 2-sided printing feature that is easy to select and can reduce paper use by up to 50%. A touch control panel allows people to choose black and white or color printing, making it easy to save on ink. HP also has a global eco solutions program which helps people lower their environmental impact.

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INTERVIEW WITH PANASONIC MANAGER PETER FANNON

Next Joe Hutsko is interviewing Peter Fannon, who manages Panasonic’s corporate environmental, government & public affairs, product safety and regulatory compliance groups. Panasonic has achieved over a 500,000 ton reduction in CO2, and they are now in the process of setting new targets.

Even in the times when Panasonic is losing money, they still invest in r&d. They’re committed to idea of investing now, and recouping those investments in the longterm. The goal is to make Panasonic the leading green innovator in the electronics space.

Panasonic is also developing recycling programs — they already have over 400 drop-off sites, and hope to have 600 by the end of the year. They to be able to have sites where you can take any Panasonic electronics and drop them off for free and recycle it (here, not overseas). Another step they took with Toshiba and sharp 3 years ago was to create a recycling management company that would help other manufacturers to meet their recycling responsibilities—they’re tv makers, computer monitor makers, etc. If everybody works together you can make it simple, easy and cheap.

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KEYNOTE BY FROG DESIGN VP ROBERT FABRICANT

Frog Design‘s Vice President Robert Fabricant is now taking the stage to deliver this afternoon’s keynote. He begins by talking about two points: systems of production (ways that we can make and distribute things more efficiently) and systems of perception (ways people perceive designs). He says that designers have to work fast and hit hard to influence people. As a designer, tools and skills for doing this are very nascent. These are the early days of this kind of design.

He goes on to explain a concept called augmented mindfulness, which is a domain of user experience that applies methods of recording behavior, processing it and feeding that information back to people. It’s simple to do, but could have huge impacts on the way people make decisions: collect data in some way about what people are doing, process it, and and record it back to them. Hopefully, you will have some impact on them.

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He brings up two questions: how do you impact someone’s perception? Based on that change in perception, how do you get people to act differently? One way is by providing people with information so that they can make better decisions – augmenting their perception.

There are a variety of tools that we can use to create feedback to make data relevant. One example is Body Beat: as you’re running, it tracks your heart rate and feeds you music that is in sync with your heartbeat. That’s feedback beyond just data. Another example is FitBit, an accelerometer that you carry around and all day long tracks level of activity, and whenever you pass your PC it syncs in the background. You can see your activity, and it’s physical—not just something that’s invisible.

The air is full of excitement as we gear up for today’s final event: the live judging of this year’s Greener Gadgets Design Competition! We’ve followed this year’s 18 finalists from the get-go, and now it’s up to the audience to decide this year’s top design.

The first item on display is the Go Mechanical Charger, which empowers people to charge their mobile phones. Judge Julian Lwin says its a “Go”, but Sarah Rich says its a “No Go.” She’s not sure it makes a lot of sense for people in rural/developing areas and wonders how long it takes rolling a charger up and down one’s leg to charge a phone – it seems impractical. Andrew Wagner also says “No-Go.” “Do we need more stuff?” he asked, “I’d rather see this developed into an element in your mobile phone instead of a stand-alone device.”

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The next item up was the InCharge Battery Station by Pensa, which brings battery charging out from the workbench, providing a simple, beautiful and an elegant solution. Andrew Wagner says ‘No-Go”- “Are these things ever good looking?” Sarah says “If you’re someone who is going to be recharging batteries, you are already going to be recharging batteries – why do you need to make it beautiful?”

Next up was the Empower, a glider style chair for charging electronics in public spaces using kinetic energy. Andrew Wagner says “Go”. “If we could make everything generate power in this way, that would be really cool. I like this – I think its cool! Actually it makes me think why is this not already being utilized? – and that kinda pisses me off. Personally I don’t want this thing in my home, but lets put it in public places”

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The Corky by Adele Peters was the next contender up for evaluation. This little cork mouse uses no batteries, and instead is entirely powered by the motion of your hand – the shell is also made from recycled cork. Sarah says “I give this a go. I’m a Corky fan. The cork is an added bonus, but since you are already moving your mouse, I think it is a great idea to harvest this energy.” Andrew had reservations about the feasibility of the piezo technology. “I’m not sure there is enough motion there to charge the battery – it would suck to have this thing give out on you and have to shake it violently to make it work. I do like the idea to try to improve the idea of the mouse.”

Next up was the Automan 500 Subwoofer by Bon Eco, a subwoofer made from recycled tires by hand, using “solar powered hand tools”. Andrew Wagner says “No Go”. Julian Lwin wonders how deep the bass would be in this product, and says “No Go”. Sarah Rich says “This isn’t a great example of upcycling”. “Just because something is trash doesn’t mean that it needs to be made into a product. This is too complicated an intervention.”

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The Illumicharger, a grid-less, light-powered charger that makes use of interior lighting, was up next. It’s somewhat like a photovoltaic classroom calculator, to charge small devices like cellphones. Sarah Rich says: “I approve of this device – I think it is a nice use of wasted energy. I don’t know much about the engineering specs of this device, but it is a nice idea.”
(Inhabitat note: we’re pretty sure this would not work, but we like the idea – can any engineers enlighten us?)

Andrew says “This is the one that I want to see merged with the Corky. Most mice spend their lives sitting in horrible interior office light. If this thing sucked up that horrible light, then we’d really be talking. We have to get these two together. Maybe the logo could be different.”

Next was the Orange Solar Tent by Kaleidoscope, a solar-powered tent where you can charge your gadgets and is illuminated at night by the charge that it picks up during the day. Julian Lwin says ‘It looks cool and slick at first glance – but having been to Glastonbury and knowing what goes on at Glastonbury, I can’t see this think lasting more than two seconds. Drunken revellers would be drawn to it like a glowing beacon, and it would get trashed in minutes. I’m also confused about the material itself. What I see in the rendering is a hard photovoltaic structure – how could that be portable as a tent? Sarah Rich says “It seems so impractical – it looks really heavy, so it would be hard to tote around, and most people go camping to get away from all their gadgets, so why would you want to bring this thing with you. It doesn’t seem like a “green” product – it seems more like a weird, unnecessary luxury product.

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The AUG Living Goods program was a bit of a breath of fresh air. It’s a concept of localization of living goods through bar coded product directory that tells you where it came from and if it’s. Andrew said “I think it is great not a big app guy, but if that info could be readily available that would be useful. I really like it and I think it is great.” Julian said “It empowers you to know about where your food comes from. Great concept. Yes.” Sarah said”There are apps that do pieces of this that do not scan bar code but give information. Like two directional thing makes it more complex then just providing info. Go!”

Last, but not least was the Energy Hub Dashboard. Andrew says “No, – why can’t we make this an app? Why do we need another piece of plastic?” Julian and Sarah Rich also say “No – I think this would be better as an app.”

Now that all of the finalists have been presented, the clapometer is about to begin!

And it looks like the top 4 finalists are: The Corky, Empower, Illumicharger, and the AUG Living Goods Program!

To recap the prizes:

1st place winner will receive $3000
2nd place winner will receive $2000
and the 3rd place winner will receive $1000

And after much clapping… we have a winner! This year’s Greener Gadgets Design Competition winner is… the AUG Living Goods Program!

The final score is:

In 3rd place: The Illumicharger
In 2nd place: Empower
In 1st place: The Living Goods Program by John Healy

Congratulations to John Healy for his win of $3000 – and thank you to all of the judges and the people who submitted entries to this competition!!!

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  1. BJB March 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Quote from the blog: “Responsible people who have money to pay for this stuff want to do the right thing.” This is a HUGE problem. If designers want to get serious about sustainability, affordability is key. If its only for those “who have have the money to pay for this stuff,” its just more goods and gadgets for the trash heap as “responsible people who have money to pay for this stuff” make themselves feel better by purchasing more and more of the latest hot new sustainable “thing,” but do nothing about real sustainability. Makes you wonder how much the design community really has to offer. Where is the Majora Carter of the design world?

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