Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sustainable Toys for Girls and Boys

In 1509 Leonardo Da Vinci constructed one of the first wind-up toys in recoded history, a moving lion made as a greeting muse for Louis XII. Taking an old idea and placing it in a newly appreciated context has helped Sprig, a toy company, launch a craze for their particular brand of children's toys. The toys light up and play back audio, but only when they are powered by the user through the action of the wheels. The little faceless people that come with the sets have little USB ports so they can "tell their story" when plugged in to any of the vehicles. The electricity is stored in capacitors to the delight of Dr. Faraday.

My question is; when will we see large scale toys that utilize capacitors for adults. I know that the pump action flashlight and other small scale hand crank electronic goods are out there, but I am talking about the stationary bikes that power whole cafés. Like the retro 80's Pepsi bar we were promised by Steven Spielberg in Back to the Future II. Where is all the human powered technology? While we are on the topic of human powered things, I want to describe a simple science experiment that had a big impact on how I look at compact fluorescent bulbs. I saw this on "little shop of physics" a show on public access cable here in Fort Collins with host Brian Jones, a physics professor at CSU. He was using a dual hand crank (think bike pedals) to charge a capacitor that then provided electricity to bulbs with decreasing Watt requirements. Beginning with the 150 watt bulb it took 30-45 seconds of rigorous cranking to get the bulb to flicker. As he moved down the line the 100W bulb took about 20 seconds and the 50W took 15. Then he switched the electrodes to a fluorescent bulb and ONE crank lit the bulb at full brightness for about 5 seconds. When you walk through your living room aglow in the middle of a long winter's night then think about all the people cranking it would take to power the old bulbs compared to the fluorescent, it makes the switch to CFL's mean something. Since I switched to these I have had a few stop working. This is not good as each bulb contains some mercury. The concern over mercury in these bulbs is a valid one, but if you live near a participating ACE hardware store you can recycle them there.

Disclosure statement:
I am not selling toys, I have no affiliation with Sprig Toys other than living in Fort Collins, CO where they are headquartered.

Read more about Sprig toys here, here, and here.

Different Drummer Workshop is another manufacturer of lead-free alternative toys beautiful in their simplicity.

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