Friday, August 17, 2007

Hackable Products Better For Planet

Several years ago, I bought a front loading washer; it was expensive, but the sales rep convinced me that it would save water and soap over the long run. What he didn't tell me is that there was a circuit board that controlled how the washer worked - a $300 circuit board, that sometimes breaks and needs to be replaced. It broke. Grrrrrrrr.

But it set the wheels in motion; wouldn't it be great if a programmer could alter the code that runs the washer? One could experiment, even improve on the factory settings to minimize the amount of water and soap used. The new program could be distributed via Internet, folks could upload it into their machines, and billions of gallons of water could be saved worldwide. Turns out, some products have already implemented the concept.

The Roomba is one. It has a fully documented Open Inferface that explains what is going on inside its, er, head. Developers can write code against this interface, and make their Roomba do all sorts of crazy things - respond to cell phone controls, sing Christmas Carols. The Roomba Community has dozens more; couldn't find the 'cleaner floor' code in a quick search, but it could be there.

The other very exciting product is the Zero X motorcycle from Zero Motorcycles. It comes equipped with a programmable ZBrain, a configurable on-board computer. According to ecoGeek, you can tweak the max speed, throttle response, max output current, etc. Similarly to the Roomba, the hacks don't need to be more geared towards efficiency, but they could! The bike connects directly to any Microsoft Windows computer via USB 2.0 cable. :: iRobot :: ecoGeek

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