HANNOVER, Germany—One of the much-anticipated events at the CeBIT show in Hannover is the presentation of the Code _n awards. Unfortunately, I've never actually seen this presentation because it takes place on the final day of the show—long after I've returned to Washington.
But I'm not sure it matters very much who wins, although the winner does stand to win a quarter of a million euros in crowd-sourced funding. The real question is whether these seemingly prestigious awards are really rewarding innovation. After a visit to the spot at this vast trade show where the finalists show their wares, I have to wonder if the definition of innovation has changed.
Four of the finalists in this global competition are from the U.S. Although it's safe to say that the ideas are interesting, just how innovative they are is another question.
One of the four is the Elf, from Organic Transit in Durham, N.C. The Elf is a delivery or commuting cycle with electric assist. In other words, when the going gets tough, the Elf gets some help with an electric motor and battery. The Elf has solar cells on its roof to help charge the battery. It's marketed as a transit solution that also helps your overall level of fitness.
Another finalist, the PICOwatt from Tenrehte Technologies, is a WiFi-enabled device that plugs into your wall outlet. You then plug other devices, such as computers or television sets into that. The PICOwatt device has its own Web page that lets you examine how much power your devices are consuming, even while they're turned off.
The company points out that even when such devices are off they're still frequently consuming power. With the PICOwatt, you can see how much, and you can set the device to turn off the power completely. Of course, many electronic devices consume power for a reason, such as maintaining their memory, or in the case of computers, so they can be awakened remotely for tasks such as backup.
Third on the alphabetical list of U.S. finalists is Spindrift Energy, from Simi Valley, Calif. Spindrift has developed a vastly simplified means of harnessing wave energy. While the energy available in ocean waves has been known for some time, devices that would turn this motion into electrical energy have been inefficient and trouble-prone.
Worse, more than a few have been built on the theory that ocean waves are actually moving in one direction or another. The thing is, ocean waves don't move. What moves is the energy they contain. Spindrift has developed a device based on a venturi tube and a turbine that takes advantage of how wave action actually works to generate power. In the process, their device has only three moving parts.