Miniature TVs as light bulbs, giant Segways as cars
Everyone loves consumer tech. So here’s a post about consumer tech. Don’t say we never did anything for you.
First up, light bulbs. Incandescents are on the way out, but their replacements so far suffer from notable flaws. LEDs are expensive and underpowered. CFLs work pretty well, but they also contain mercury and have quality problems that undercut some of their supposed benefits.
Both LEDs and CFLs will get better over time, but Vu1 (“view one”) sees a market opportunity for an entirely different approach. According the New York Times, the company “plans to introduce a fully dimmable, mercury-free, instant-on bulb for recessed ceiling fixtures by the end of this year.”
The technology works in a way that’s similar to old-timey TVs: the inner surface of the bulbs are coated with phosphors which glow when sprayed with electrons. The company’s manufacturing plant in the Czech Republic employs 50 technicians who used to work in the local television display factory.
The bulbs will cost $18 – $22, about the same as a high-end CLF reflector bulb, but still too high for mass consumer adoption. Nevertheless, that’s a pretty good price point for a new technology, and costs should come down as production volumes increase.
Next up, cars. Soon-to-be-bankrupt GM squeezed a surprising amount of press coverage out of its Project PUMA, a partnership with Segway that it claims could represent the future of urban mobility. The PUMA is an electric two-wheeler that can carry two people at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. Like a Segway, it corners well and takes up a tiny fraction of the space required for cars. Also like a Segway, it makes riders look like refugees from Planet Dork.
The City Fix has a good round-up of the mostly-but-not-entirely negative reactions to the concept vehicle. My quick take: there probably is a place for small, medium-range, zero-emissions vehicles in the transportation landscape, but these vehicles are going to have a really hard time finding a niche in cities that are designed around car travel. The hard work is first designing streets to be more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. I can imagine PUMA-like vehicles playing a role in such a scenario — not everyone wants to or can use a bicycle for every trip. But it’s pretty hard to envision these things as a viable option on streets dominated by cars.