Hydrogen bikes and electric 'delivery dogs': The best green innovations of CES 2019
From big-name corporates to tiny startups, this week saw more than 4,500 firms showcase their newest tech-based innovations to a crowd of thousands at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Here, edie rounds some of the displays that could have the biggest sustainability impacts.
For four days each January, the US city of sin becomes that global city of sim, as nearly 200,000 delegates flock to CES. This year’s event was no different, with some of the biggest businesses in the world showcasing new virtual assistants, smart televisions and robots.
Some of the latest gadgets appear a bit material regarding the purpose that they deliver – from self-heating razors to a machine that lets users make yoghurt in their kitchens by combining milk and enzymes. Nonetheless, others genuinely have the potential to deliver huge environmental and societal benefits.
With this in mind, and with the show coming to a close today (11 January), this week’s roundup highlights six products and systems from CES 2019 that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.
IoT-based food storage
Around one-third of all food produced globally is wasted, and in the UK, this translates to around £700 of wasted food per family annually. Various supermarkets have signed voluntary commitments to tackle the issue, but the thick end of the food waste mountain comes from homes and does not occur at a shop or supply-chain level.
One potential solution to the problem comes from Chicago-based startup Ovie, which has developed a line of ‘smart tags’ that pre-warn customers of when their food is about to expire. The tags, which come embedded in either Tupperware-style containers or bag clips, use Internet of Things (IoT) technology to determine whether food is still suitable for human consumption. This information is then relayed to users via a colour-coding system: green for items which are fresh, orange for those which will expire soon and red for those which are likely to have expired.
In a bid to encourage users to eat products which fall into the orange category before they become waste, the tags are connected to a third-party app which suggests recipes using these ingredients. Users can access these recipes via their smartphones, tablets or virtual assistant devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa.
Hydrogen has proven something of a hot topic in the transport sphere over the past 12 months, with Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), ordering 800 hydrogen-electric semi-trucks last May, private hire firm Green Tomato Cars taking up 50 new Toyota Mirai hydrogen electric saloons and Nikola Motor unveiling plans for its first hydrogen-powered lorry.
Continuing this trend, French fuel cell firm Pragma Industries has used CES as a springboard to launch its new hydrogen-powered pedal bicycle. The device, called the Alpha Bike, has a range of 150km per charge and can be switched between pedal power and hydrogen power modes. According to Pragma Industries, this range is around double that of an average bike powered by a lithium-ion battery.
The bike works by feeding compressed hydrogen gas into a hydrogen fuel cell, where it is combined with oxygen from the air in a process that produces water as well as electricity. It has been certified as a zero-emission vehicle, with Pragma Industries claiming it is the world’s first commercially-available hydrogen-electric pedal cycle.
Electric delivery ‘dogs’
As the fruits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution continue to alter how business operates within society, retailers are increasingly looking for solutions which can help them carry out more last-mile parcel, food and drink deliveries within urban areas.
UPS is using a power-assisted trailer to make last-mile deliveries in central London, for example, while the likes of the City of London Corporation and Sainsbury’s have begun incorporating electric cargo bikes into their delivery fleets.
A more imaginative solution to the challenge comes from manufacturing giant Continental Corporation, which unveiled a system that uses driverless delivery vehicles and automated delivery ‘dog’ robots to complete last-mile journeys. The system consists of one driverless electric vehicle (EV), which is about the size of a saloon car, and a fleet of smaller delivery robots designed to look like dogs. The robots are transported within the EV, then dropped off in order to make the journey to customers’ homes and offices.
Continental Corporation’s head of systems and technology Ralph Lauxmann said the combination of automated EVs and electric delivery robots was a “natural” move for the company, and that it would work to scale the concept up over the coming months.
Portable solar chargers
No CES show would be complete without the launch of several solar-powered gadgets, with one of last year’s best offerings in terms of green tech being a solar-powered infrared communications channel that claims to be 300 times more energy-efficient than Wi-Fi.
Several of this year’s best solar-powered gadget launches come from cleantech startup Goal Zero, which creates devices aimed at bringing power to off-grid homes in developing nations and providing power security to those in developed areas. One such device is the Nomad 5 – a small, portable solar panel connected to a USB charging port. The product, which will launch commercially in May and retail at $60 (£47), consists of a photovoltaic panel, a kickstand for support and an outlet which can be used to charge USB power banks.
With the UN estimating that 1.2 billion people are without access to electricity in their homes worldwide, the potential benefits of devices like the Nomad 5 are huge. Such items could help reduce developing nations’ reliance on carbon-intensive diesel generation and kerosene gas.
The UN estimates that 1.2 billion people, or one-fifth of the world’s population, are currently living in water-stressed areas, with this number set to skyrocket in line with the global temperature increase over the next 12 years. And it’s not just developing nations which are affected, with London and Cape Town ranking among some of the most water-stressed cities in the world.
In a bid to help homes and offices to minimise their water footprint, green tech startup Heatworks has developed a countertop dishwasher that uses just four litres of water per wash. In contrast, a typical dishwasher uses around 27 litres per cycle, while hand-washing dishes under a continually running tap uses up to 40 litres.
The innovative dishwasher, called Tetra, does not need to be connected to a plumbing system. Instead, the user pours tap water into a reservoir before plugging it into an electric socket. Heatworks claims that the average two-person household using a Tetra dishwasher can expect to save around 5,600 litres of water per year. The device, which reportedly cleans dishes in ten minutes or less, will be brought to the market in the US by the end of March.
Blockchain for biodiversity protection
Blockchain has proven to be a hot technology topic in the media over the past 12 months, as our physical world continues to blur with the virtual. It can be implemented – and in some cases, is already used – across numerous environmental projects, from forestry and fisheries to carbon accounting and energy.
Thai startup Last of Ours, meanwhile, is using the digital audit trail to help engage the general public with biodiversity preservation projects. The company used CES 2019 as a platform to launch a new digital tool called “Nature Needs Half”, which allows users to connect with animals that are classed as endangered through a blockchain interface.
The tool allows users to complete surveys and games in order to earn a cryptocurrency called LAST, which stands for Living Animal Social Tokens. Each token represents an individual member of an endangered energy species, and can be spent on a variety of habitat protection, reforestation and anti-poaching projects. Users can trade and display their LAST points on social media, and use their credit card or PayPal account to purchase extra points.