You read about VW’s transparent factory (below); now take a look at Mercedes’s invisible car. Mercedes-Benz’s new zero-emission F-Cell car is being marketed as a vehicle that is virtually invisible to the environment. The reason is because it runs on hydrogen fuel cells that convert compressed hydrogen into electricity to power the motor. The only emission is water vapor. To promote this fact in a memorable way, Mercedes blanketed one side of the car with LEDs and mounted a Canon 5D Mark II camera on the other side. The LEDs displayed whatever the camera filmed, causing passersby to stop and gawk at the “invisible” car.
If this thermostat looks like something that Apple would have designed had it been interested in home heating, there’s a reason. Tony Fadell, who conceived of the iPod and then went on to work on the iPhone while at Apple (he left in 2008), came up with this household device through his own company, Nest Labs. The clean Apple aesthetic and intuitive ease-of-use are evident in the Nest Learning Thermostat. The temperature is displayed in bright, clear numerals, and the rim ring acts as the dial. The LCD-lit center turns red if you are raising the temperature and shows blue if you are lowering it. A green leaf appears under the number to indicate a setting for optimal energy savings. Not only that, the Nest programs itself, using software to analyze and track your usage patterns over time. Once it learns your preferences, it adjusts itself automatically, and even turns itself down to the “Away” mode, if it doesn’t sense any movement in the house. The Nest also comes with a mobile app that lets you change the temperature and schedule remotely by laptop, smartphone or pad.
Programmable thermostats, even ones that can be controlled remotely, are not new to the marketplace. What makes Nest exceptional is that it is designed for the user. You don’t have to squint to read the temperature gauge or gnash your teeth when trying to figure out the instructions to get it to do all the things that the ads promise it can do. It doesn’t try to impress consumers by displaying the complex engineering of the product. That’s more intimidating than impressive. What good design does best is create an interface with the user that makes the complex simple. Given the large number of consumers (including me) who don’t know how to program their existing thermostats, a device that is pleasing to view and as easy to use as an iPod is a welcome advance.
Designed and built by Ethan Frier and Jonathan Ota, two industrial design students at Carnegie Mellon University, Project Aura is an ingenious solution for making bicyclists more visible at night. That’s the time of day when most bicycle fatalities occur. Thirty-six percent of these accidents happen at intersections. One reason is that while many bikes are equipped with headlights, taillights and reflectors, they aren’t very visible from the side – which means they can be clobbered at intersections or nicked from cars changing lanes without seeing them. Frier and Ota addressed that by installing RGB LEDs inside the rim of the wheels, and made them powered by a wheel dynamo that worked through pedaling. Not only are the lights visible from all sides, they respond to speed of motion, making the wheel lights change from white when at cruising speed to red when slowing down. The rim-mounted LEDs are self-powered (no batteries, motor or switches required), and can be seen from passing vehicles – a great safety idea for cyclists and a relief to motorists – plus they looked really sci-fi cool.