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.

puma.jpg

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.

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  1. JCH4K - April 15, 2009

    If lots of people HAD them, the streets wouldn’t be dominated by cars! We have to start somewhere! And I don’t think these people look dorky at all! The writer needs perhaps to travel more and see what vehicles look like in other places!

  2. steve - April 15, 2009

    we already have electric (golf)cars that could handle most of the near home things people do. not hard to enclose them and beef up the safety for a zero emision car tomorrow.

  3. Roger - April 15, 2009

    The general idea of having an urban-friendly personal transportation vehicle is a good one (MIT developed a viable prototype a few years ago), but this should be seen for what it is, a smoke and mirrors PR ploy by GM to make it appear they are actively engaging in addressing the energy/transportation crisis. It’s an even cheaper and more cynical ruse than their Volt project of a few years ago. Their strategy is to keep Washington and the media at bay with these “concepts”, while they frantically work on sustaining their market for trucks and SUVs. I highly doubt we’ll see anything intelligently serious coming from GM, it’s too late and they will soon enter managed bankruptcy proceedings.

  4. Ed Heath - April 15, 2009

    The PUMA’s seem like a fine vehicle. The crucial point will be how expensive they will be. The Segway itself has been around for at least seven years, and you do not see many of them around. You don’t see golf carts in large numbers on most City streets either. The PUMA may only be a toy for the wealthy, like the Smart car.
    You can buy electric bikes for $300 from Walmart online, but they are cheap affairs, heavy and with dicey batteries. You can spend a grand and get a decent electric bike, but then you are on a bike (with it’s relatively limited carrying capacity, and zero passenger capacity). Bikes with electric power may be excellent vehicles for commuting, but not much else. Still, they are the competition for the PUMA.

  5. Paul Thompson - April 15, 2009

    “in cities built for cars” that’s the point…to re-envision what our cities are for.

  6. Ashley - April 15, 2009

    Ummm, while this is cool, it seems to be perfect for people who would probably just be using the subway anyway. When they make a segway that seats a full family and a dog, call me!

  7. Jacque - April 15, 2009

    Would this TV-tube light bulb be more efficient than a CFL or LED?

  8. Chad Nelson - April 15, 2009

    Steve mentioned the golf carts as something to enclose and beef up for a zero emissions car of tomorrow. These are already available today as street legal transportation in most states on roads restricted to 35 mph speed limits. They play fine with cars as long as the speed limit is sufficiently low.

  9. Jim - April 15, 2009

    What about the safety factor? Us older folks with limited mobility might have a hard time with this type of vehicle.

  10. Lorne Craig - April 15, 2009

    Re: The Segway/GM – There are already many electric car alternatives out there. Transportation standards need to be re-addressed first, so that battle-tank crash-worthiness is not a pre-requisite for urban transportation. (Perhaps a surcharge on insurance for larger vehicles that cause more damage)
    Re: The TV light bulb… if you put one in your desk lamp and sit too close to it, will it wreck your eyes? And when you turn it off does it leave a little glowing dot in the middle?

  11. Adam Stein - April 15, 2009

    Not sure on either of those questions, but I do know that the light bulbs are an effective and economical way to communicate with the long-dead souls inhabiting the cemetery that your house has been built on top of.

  12. Carl - April 15, 2009

    Uhh… TV’s don’t “hurt” your eyes by being close to them. Old TV’s emitted radiation that was not good for you but that was LONG LONG ago. Eye strain doesn’t make you blind, it just gives you a headache. So… no.
    I do agree about the battle-tank road standards. Why are we making vehicles with a million different bumper heights and weights? I know a full-size shouldn’t crumple like a mini, but there’s no reason a car makers couldn’t at least “try” to match cars up so a tiny car gets “less” clobbered by other cars.
    Mind you – since it’s a free country – people will still want to buy a Hummer and drive it like it was stolen.

  13. Matt - April 16, 2009

    The PUMA seems like an answer to a question nobody asked. I fail to see the major benifit for it having only two wheels but its easy to see the problems, the major one being added cost. You have to have gyros when you have 2 wheels but you don’t have the cost/complexity/battery drain if you add a third wheel. Makes me think of the saying “to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail” to Segway everything looks like it needs to have a gyro in it.

  14. Roger - April 16, 2009

    I had mentioned earlier the MIT City Car concept, which seems a lot more viable an idea than this Segway kludge. The MIT study came out a couple of years ago, and a description of it can be found at:
    http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/19651/

  15. RH - April 17, 2009

    Agreed. And I would imagine they are a LOT cheaper and more useful (cargo area) than the PUMA. This is a GM marketing ploy nothing more.

  16. Ashley - April 17, 2009

    You know, that movie scared the bejeezus out of me, I didn’t sleep wth my closet door open for ten years! However, that was the funniest thing I have read in a long time!

  17. Adam Stein - April 17, 2009

    Yeah, no kidding. How about the scary clown under the bed? Or the monster tree outside the window? If you want to relive old times, check out the trailer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1l4kWPtazs
    I’m not sure how well the movie ages, but the clip where the little girl says, “They’re heeeeeeere” still gives me a chill.

  18. DeepThink - April 22, 2009

    Imagine emergency braking in a Segway.
    Next idea, please.

  19. BobboMax - May 4, 2009

    With a bit more technology, these “bulbs” can also be adjusted to put out different colors, either pre-set or real-time.