Sometimes the key to creativity is a fresh perspective. That seems to have been General Electric’s motivation when it opened its patent vault to the crowdsourcing company Quirky in April. On Monday, the fruits of that partnership were apparent as the first four products under the joint Wink brand were unveiled.
The usual image of patents is a lock box of secrets that companies never want to loosen their iron grip on. However, though patents can be abused, their actual function is to encourage innovation. With this in mind, GE made thousands of its patents available to Quirky, a design shop specializing in creating consumer products through crowdsourcing.
“For years patents have become widely misunderstood and misused," says Ben Kaufman, Quirky founder and CEO. "We are going to return patents to their original purpose to act as a blueprint for technological and societal progress while protecting inventors and becoming a source of inspiration for future creators.”
The aim of the partnership is to produce a co-branded line called Wink: Instantly Connected, by combining Quirky’s crowdsourcing flexibility and creativity with GE’s marketing, manufacturing, and commercial expertise.
“We admire Quirky’s speed, collaboration and inventiveness and by opening up lab-proven technology and patents to everyday inventors we can help inspire new ideas and accelerate advanced manufacturing innovation,” says Beth Comstock, GE’s chief marketing officer.
The first Wink products concentrate on connecting consumer goods in what GE calls the “Industrial internet.” According to Kaufman, “Our future will be driven by access to things via our smartphones there is a ton of invention to be done in this area and no one owns this category.”
The first of the Wink products is the Nimbus desktop dashboard. Invented by Ryan Pendleton, it consists of four LED dial faces in a polycarbonate shell that you can configure via your mobile device to display information, such as the number of emails you have unread, tweets, Facebook likes, or something as prosaic as what time it is. It’s constantly updated in real time and has an alarm function. It sells for US$129.99
The Egg Minder is an oddity in our multifunction digital age. It does one thing, and that’s to mind your eggs. Invented by Rafael I Hwang, it has enough room to hold 14 eggs, and tracks their freshness in the fridge by monitoring when an egg is added or removed and thus how long it's been kept.
If you’re the sort of person who likes to keep an eye on egg status, the Egg Minder sends info to your smartphone or other device and warns you when an egg is likely to go bad or if you’re just running out of them. At a price of $69.99, you'd best be keen on eggs.
Pivot Power Genius
From the mind of Jake Zien, Pivot Power Genius is a bendy power strip that twists and bends to accommodate bulky adapters. It uses an app to independently control each outlet from a mobile device, allowing users to switch on or off two outlets either manually or by means of a timer.
The Pivot Power Genius is constructed of plastic with nickel prongs and features four outlets and one high-power USB outlet. Price: $79.99
The fourth Wink product was invented by Denny Fong and is called the Spotter. It’s a sensor pack that measures temperature, humidity, vibration, light or sound. Powered by two AA batteries, it can be programmed to send scheduled updates on the status of whatever room you've left it in, to your mobile device. It sells for $49.99
As of Monday, the first Wink products were made available at Home Depot, Best Buy, ThinkGeek, Fab, and Grand Street.
The video below teases the Nimbus device.