Tag Archives: snake-oil

Airnergy! Snake-oil gadget recharger debuts at CES, gulls Gizmodo blogger

Oops, looks like someone slipped up here. SlashDot points us to a Gizmodo report from the Consumer Electronics Show about a device called the RCA Airnergy, which purportedly soaks up wi-fi signals into an internal battery, which you can then use to recharge your iPod, phone, satnav or whatever. Read the following excerpt from the report carefully; there’ll be a test afterwards. 😉

It’s not exactly new tech, as ohGizmo notes, but it’s the first application that’s of any real use to consumers. Put simply, Airnergy takes the energy created by wi-fi signals and stores it in a rechargeable battery. At CES, the device’s battery, which I believe was precharged with Wi-Fi power, was able to charge a BlackBerry from 30% power to full power in about 90 minutes.

Now, anyone with the most basic of engineering or physics educations probably found their brows furrowing before the quote, but the excerpt couldn’t have portrayed its writer as any more gullible. The comments thread after the post is a litany of people explaining exactly why the Airnergy is (at best) the subject of exagerrated claims or (at worst) an out-right scam or spoof. This is the sort of reportage that hands ammunition to the “online reporting is inferior to dead-tree journalism” lobby… even though the dead-tree outfits are getting pretty shabby at fact-checking themselves in these times of shrinking budgets and receivership.*

What interests me most about this story, though, is that it shows we’re still suckers for snake-oil, even in this technology-saturated age, and that seems weird to me – some part of my brain wants to believe that, because we’re more dependent on technology, we should be more clued-up as to the basics of the science behind it. That’s obviously a fallacy – just typing it out is enough to make me snort in self-derision – but it’s a remarkably persistent one, leaving outfits like RCA (or rather whoever has current ownership of that particular defunct brand name) able to fool gadget geeks with the eternally-gilded promise of something for nothing.

But you have to wonder how much of it is self-delusion – what about Steorn, the Irish company that still insist they’ve built a perpetual motion machine? You’d think that, after being so thoroughly debunked, a charlatan on the make would just pack their bags and head for the hills of obscurity. What keeps them coming back? Are they so cynical that they plan around monetising that small percentage of the desperate-to-believe, or have they just drunk too deeply of their own kool-aid? [image by stallio]

[ * And before anyone beats me to it, yeah, I’ll hold my hands up – I’ve been spoofed before, and reported things here inaccurately, sensationally or uncritically. In my defence, however, I’m not paid to blog, and hence my research time is fitted around the stuff I do to pay the bills… and I’ve always ‘fessed up to my goofs when they’ve been brought ot my attention. ]

Solar power from space: here in ten years?

One of the most visually striking science fictional solutions to our hunger for energy has to be SBSP – solar power beamed from space. Nothing says ‘awesome’ quite so much as a lance of coherent energy zapping through the atmosphere and into a collection station before powering your toaster or charging your pod-car…. but how soon might it turn up?

According to the not-so-imaginatively named start-up company called Space Energy, Inc, it could be soon. Space Energy says “it plans to develop SBSP satellites to generate and transmit electricity to receivers on the Earth’s surface […] The hitch: this concept is based on as yet unproven technology.”

For ‘unproven’ there, you might want to swap in ‘sketchy’:

… the actual test results conducted for a Discovery channel documentary proved a total failure. The former NASA executive and physicist who organized the experiment, a John Mankins, admitted in a press conference that the $1 Million budget spent of the experiment resulted in less than 1/1000th of 1% of the power transmitted being received on the other island.

Ouch. I wonder if SE, Inc are sincere but a little deluded, or whether they’re another snake-oil energy company? There’s been a few of those cropping up recently, and I can’t help but suspect there’ll be more to come… especially when the price of oil starts rising again.

Still, maybe two decades will do it for space-based solar – apparently the Japanese are on the case:

Researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have begun to develop the hardware for a SBSP satellite they hope to launch by 2030. They will begin testing this month of a microwave power transmission system designed to beam the power from the satellites to Earth.

All very well, but will no one think of the birds?

MummyWraps – tinfoil hats for the unborn

Purpoted sources of 'electrical smog' No matter how far we advance technologically, there’s one product that has always sold to the easily alarmed …. and snake-oil still shifts units to this day. Point in case: MummyWraps, a garment designed for pregnant women made from a special fabric that purportedly shields the developing baby from those possibly-lethal-and-cancer-causing-depending-on-who-you-ask cell-phone signals. It’s not clear whether or not the company intends to make a matching bonnet for the expectant mother … perhaps it’s too late for her, and the Illuminati have already rewired her thoughts with microwaves. But then surely they’d tell her not to buy shielding for her unborn kids? Sounds like a job for Occam’s Razor[Via Engadget] [Image from MummyWraps website]

[tags]electro-smog, paranoia, snake-oil, technology[/tags]