Written by Michael Boxwell
It was bound to happen with solar gadgets. As soon as solar power started to became affordable, the era of useless gadgets would be with us.
After all - solar power is cool. Energy for nothing, right? And gadgets are cool. So it stands to reason that solar gadgets must be doubly cool - at least in the minds of marketing executives.
Of course, sometimes they're right. Solar powered mobile phones, torches, battery chargers, camping lights are all useful and practical tools, whilst solar powered calculators have been part of our lives for over 30 years.
Unfortunately, sometimes the results are less than the sum of their parts. Some of these gadgets are simply too weird, too impractical, or just completely pointless. Honestly, the sanity of the designers who came up with some of these solar gadgets should be questioned.
So without any further ado, here is my list of the most pointless solar gadgets available today:
The solar powered straw hat
How many times have you put on your straw hat and thought, "my head's hot"?
The answer, of course, is to take your hat off again, but not according to the makers of the solar powered straw hat. Made of natural linen straw, this gem includes a tiny photovoltaic panel mounted in the top of the hat, powering an electric fan to blow air at your forehead keeping you nice and cool.
Unfortunately, the designers forgot to put a big enough photovoltaic panel onto the hat to keep you cool all day long, which means it doesn't take too long before the batteries go flat. So not only do you look ridiculous, it doesn't work particularly well either. Ah well, what did you expect for $40?
The solar purse
Here's a clever idea. Let's cover a purse with photovoltaic panels so that you can generate power on the move. Ideal for powering your mobile phone and your iPod. Lovely.
Leaving aside the rather hefty price tag of $300, the biggest problem is security. Instead of keeping your purse in an inside pocket, hidden away in a handbag, or locked in the trunk of your car, you have to leave your purse on view, in a sunny location where it can generate power. Useful. Just don't expect to see it again - or the phone and iPod you were charging up with it.
The solar powered bird house
Call yourself eco friendly? Sorry, but unless you've got a solar powered bird house, you're not even trying.
The solar bird house consists of a normal bird house with a small photovoltaic panel built into the lid of the box. When night comes, a small light switches on outside the birdhouse to scare the poor bird silly.
The idea is insects will be attracted to the light at night. If the bird happens to get hungry during the night, she can pop her head out of the nest and enjoy a tasty snack. Just how you are supposed to communicate that information to the birds in the first place is beyond me.
Solar powered keychain
Where do you put your keys when you're not using them? In your pocket? Hidden away in a drawer or on a keyhook? Well, now you can leave them out in plain view in a window and can forget them when you leave.
This most pointless of solar gadgets incorporates a tiny LED keyhole light so you can illuminate your lock in the dark. Useful, but smaller and better battery powered devices with a battery life of five years or more have existed for decades.
So whilst the idea may sound almost useful, its not so useful that it makes up for forgetting to take your keys with you wherever you go.
Solar Electric Swimsuit
In an attempt to persuade more ladies to become eco-friendly, Triumph lingerie have announced a solar powered swimsuit. Wearers can charge up their mobile phone and listen to their iPod whilst topping up their tan.
A concept that might make a little more sense if it were not for the fact that it cannot be used near water. No wonder the Triumph model looks fed up, she knows she's just cornered the market in eco-geek pin-ups.
Not to be outdone, a New York based independent designer has produced a solar bikini that does a similar job. Like the Triumph design, it cannot be used near water. Unlike the Triumph design, this solar designer wasn't able to find a real woman prepared to actually wear the outfit and has had to resort to plastic manikins instead. Shame.
Solar Wind Turbine
One of the more confusing gadgets on the market has to be the solar powered wind turbine. Standing about one foot high, it looks like a eco-friendly miniature wind turbine. It's dubbed as an educational toy - to teach children how wind energy works. Ah good, you might think - a wind powered battery charger, perhaps? Not so.
In the base of the wind turbine is a photovoltaic panel. When the sun shines on the cell, the blades of the wind turbine turn round. Only they're not fast enough to work as a fan - its purpose is purely ornamental.
So rather than generating electricity itself, the wind turbine consumes the electricity generated by the solar cell. For what purpose? It doesn't seem to have one. It certainly isn't educational - it confuses everyone who sees it.
From downtown New York, the designers of the solar bikini have announced their new product: the iDrink - gents solar powered
boxer shorts with a built in refrigerated pocket for keeping beer cool.
Sadly - or perhaps that should be fortunately - the designers are keeping photographs of their new wonder product under wraps, and prices and availability are closely guarded secrets.
Don't expect it to be cheap when it comes on sale in 2010 though: their solar bikini sells for $600.
How has the human race survived without gadgets like this?
Solar Nodding Penguin
More annoying than an annoying thing and even more pointless than a solar wind turbine, Ladies and Gentlemen - its the solar nodding penguin. Place one of these gadgets in a window and as soon as the sun shines, it nods its head. Cute? Not really. Here is a toy that will make it to landfill only days after being purchased.
Pointless portable solar battery charger
Solar battery chargers are wonderful products. Charge up some AA batteries purely using the power of the sun and at the same time charge up a mobile phone or a sat nav or an iPod. I use them myself and they're fantastic: a set of batteries can be charged in just a few hours.
Except some are better than others. The new Kodak KS100-C solar charger, or the equally useless Scotty Personal Charger, are both cases in point. These two chargers incorporate such tiny photovoltaic panels they take several days - and sometimes weeks - to generate enough power to charge up a set of batteries.
In the case of the Kodak charger, it takes up to 28 hours of direct sunlight to charge up the batteries. That means that in the sunny season in the middle of Africa it will take four days to charge up your batteries, whilst in the winter in the United Kingdom or in Canada, it could take as long as six weeks to charge up a set of AA batteries. Useful? Not really. It takes so long you'd have to have several sets of disposable batteries available to keep you going whilst your waiting for your eco-batteries to charge up.
The solar powered bra and panties collection
And finally, in the ultimate triumph of technology over common sense, one for the eco-girl who has to have all the solar gadgets. Lingerie maker Triumph invite us to bask in their magnificence with the announcement of a collection of lingerie that incorporates a solar panel suitable for charging up mobile phones and MP3 players.
Except it doesn't work through clothing - so in order for it to work, the wearer has to strip off and walk around in her undies.
Let me guess - the designers were all male, right?