PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — From the hybrid drivetrain that keeps it moving to the solar ventilation system that keeps it cool, the Toyota Prius is packed with cool technology. And there’s nothing that says it has to stay in the car.
Toyota invited inventors to repurpose and repackage the hardware in the Prius beyond the automotive arena. The contest, Toyota for Good, drew more than 4,000 entries that were reviewed by a panel of judges (including Keith Grossman, associate publisher of Wired).
The judges selected five finalists in five categories; the winners were selected by popular vote. They were flown to Pittsburgh last weekend to develop prototypes alongside engineers from Deeplocal and Carnegie Mellon University. It was an impressive array of gadgetry that ranged from better bike helmets to self-guiding ladders.
Building a Better Bicycle Helmet
Stu S. is a bike commuter, which means he’s always looking out for cars. That got him thinking about what happens to cyclists when they get in accidents and what sort of protection their helmets offer. He soon discovered that standards used to certify helmets don’t realistically model the human head and brain, and therefore aren’t comprehensive. So he tapped Toyota’s THUMS (Total HUman Model for Safety) crash simulation system to make more realistic models that could lead to more protective helmets.
Tim W. was stunned to learn how many people — 3 billion worldwide — cook and heat their homes using open fires fueled by biomass. Anyone who’s ever seen a campfire knows they emit lots of smoke, which can be harmful. It’s an issue many NGOs have attempted to address with electric stoves, but of course that doesn’t do you much good if you can’t afford or don’t have electricity. Tim’s solution to the problem is remarkably elegant and affordable — he adapted the solar ventilation system used in the Prius to draw smoke out of a home.
Power Plant Gym
Birken S. loves sports. He’s an avid skier who has since he was 12 years old been convinced that we could generate electricity while working out. It isn’t terribly practical on the slopes, but why wouldn’t it work on, say, an stationary bike or a treadmill? He drew inspiration from the Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the Prius to come up with a system of resistance cords and turbines to harness the energy expended while working out.
Automated Firefighting Extension Ladder Guidance System
Fran O. really likes the Advanced Parking Assistance Technology that Toyota uses to make parallel parking a snap. It’s a big convenience for motorists, and he thought it might be used to save lives. He proposes adapting the system’s ultrasonic sensors, camera and computer to more quickly and safely guide ladders when smoke, water mist and poor visibility might hamper firefighters’ ability to do so manually.
Editor’s note: oddly, Toyota did not provide a video of Fran explaining the idea, but that’s a photo of the prototype at the top of the page.
Touch Tracer Computer Mouse, Keyboard & Monitor
David C. was intrigued by the idea of creating a better keyboard. After all, they haven’t changed much since the arrival of the typewriter. He decided to hack Toyota’s Touch Tracer Display to create an ergonomic dome-shaped QWERTY keyboard with touch-pad mouse with a heads-up display. No more looking down at your keyboard.
Photo and videos: Toyota