This gadget really was too good to be true

7 Nov

November 7, 2011

By Geoff Meeker

It was the talk of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last year. RCA unveiled the Airnergy prototype, a device that could recharge a smartphone by harvesting ambient WiFi signals from the air.

You read that right. The developers claimed that Airnergy can convert WiFi signals into DC power, which are stored in its own lithium battery. When fully charged, you connect it to your handheld device and transfer the power.

The premise was not entirely new. A basic crystal radio draws its power from the radio waves it receives. However, the power it uses is miniscule. The Airnergy, on the other hand, supposedly converts WiFi signals – freely available wherever there is wireless Internet – into enough power to charge a smartphone, which consumes considerable power and produces sound, light and heat.

If it hadn’t been announced by well-known electronics manufacturer RCA, the device might have been met with some incredulity. But tech bloggers immediately went crazy about Airnergy, declaring it the most interesting and important new product at CES. The device, according to RCA, would be released later that year.

That was in January of 2010. Since then, nothing. And I’ve concluded that the Airnergy was a sham, an elaborate hoax, perpetrated perhaps to give some buzz to the stale RCA brand.

The clues are many. First, there is the lack of follow-up. The product was announced, then nothing. Most tellingly, after the initial rush of media during the show, there have been no articles or reviews at the key technology sites, who often receive advance units for testing purposes.

Second, there has been no word from RCA either. Their web site makes no reference at all to Airnergy – it’s as if they’ve disowned it.

Finally, one of the RCA reps at CES claimed they were able to charge a BlackBerry, from 30 percent to full charge in 90 minutes, using the Airnergy. But clarification is needed here. Had the Airnergy been charging for weeks in advance, before transferring its charge to the BlackBerry (in 90 minutes, presumably)? Or were they claiming, as many assumed, that the charge was actually drawn down in 90 minutes, using only WiFi signals? I seriously doubt it’s the latter. Ninety minutes is about how long it takes to charge up from a wall outlet. I don’t believe for a second that ambient WiFi signals could charge a BlackBerry that quickly. It’s just not on.

This one really was too good to be true. I think the Airnergy will never be mentioned again, at least not by the embarrassed technorati who so eagerly swallowed the bait in 2010.

The Thunderhead is nine inches wide and has 90 water jets for even water distribution. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Shower Power  

Does a showerhead qualify as a “gadget”? If it’s a new innovation, yes. And the Thunderhead showerhead is just that.

I first saw the Thunderhead at a trade show in Fort McMurray, earlier this year. It was an impressive sight, running in full demo mode (into a rain barrel, with a recirculating pump). The showerhead is larger than most – with a diameter of nine inches, as wide as a small dinner plate – and contains 90 water jets. Running my hand under the spray, it was obvious that this was an improvement over the conventional showerhead back home, which directs water in a rough cone shape, much like a garden hose.

I’ve been back to the site several times – it’s a Canadian company – and finally made the purchase last month. Installation was simple. Within minutes, I was stepping into a new shower experience.

The Thunderhead swivels on four different joints, allowing easy adjustment of the height and angle of shower spray. But the real advantage is the wide head, with its evenly-spaced water jets. Coverage is strong and even, with no annoying gaps in the spray. Stepping into the shower feels like walking into a warm, gentle waterfall.

My only complaint involves the water pressure at my house, which is acceptable but not great. If the pressure was higher, this shower head would be truly amazing. However, that’s a minor quibble – the Thunderhead comes highly recommended.

It’s priced at $89 USD, and is available at www.etindustries.com.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.


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