Posted by: fastforward on Sep 06, 2011
What if your milk bottle turned green when the milk inside had expired? Imagine your plate could calculate the amount of calories it was holding. Or that your clothing recognised the temperature and adapted accordingly, to keep you cool when it was hot and warm when it was cold.
You may recognise these ideas from a series of TV adverts by Sasol, which were aired in 2004. At the time, Sasol’s aim was to show their company philosophy and tendency to think “why not?” by suggesting how ideas could be combined with science to produce innovative products. Since it’s been seven years since the adverts were aired, I thought to myself: has anyone tried to make any of these futuristic, intelligent products?
In the case of the thermo-regulating clothing, that would be a ‘yes’. The Sasol ad suggested that the clothing could vary the amount of air it allows through the fabric in order to warm or cool the wearer. Gore-tex’s Airvantage Insulation Technology attempts to do this – but wearer inflates or deflates the clothing depending on the temperature. The fabric itself doesn’t adjust automatically.
Companies like Nike and Adidas have also developed clothing with thermo-regulating capabilities. Nike has developed a fabric which has indentations to trap the air needed, while Adidas has clothing with microfibers which draw the heat away from the body. There’s even a British company which has developed an entire clothing line for children, designed with microcapsules in the fabric that will sense temperature and store or release body heat accordingly. Not to mention the military-grade gear available.
The calorie-counting plate has not been developed to the same extent. The advert suggests combining a plate with a scale and a calculator, so that it can calculate the number of calories based on the weight of the food on the plate. There are some flaws with this idea though – the main one is 500 grams of celery and 500 grams of chocolate may weigh the same, but will have a very different amount of calories. Nevertheless, there is a scale which can calculate calories – the user simply enters a code for the type of food they’ve placed on the scale, and the scale calculates how many calories it is currently holding. But although the scale and calculator are combined in this device, the plate isn’t featured, and it still requires a fair amount of human involvement.
The green milk bottle advert was my favourite. It suggested combining a milk bottle with something that changed colour depending on the chemical composition of its content – like a home pregnancy test kit. Despite debates about the safety of this (“I don’t want colour-changing chemicals floating around in my milk”, etc), the advert clearly states that it was the bottle which changed colour, not the milk. So has anyone developed colour-changing glass?
Well, there are Transition lenses freely available which change colour depending on the strength of the sun, turning your reading glasses into sunglasses when you step outdoors. There is also chromatic electric glass, which can transition from clear to opaque at the flick of a switch. This glass uses an electric current, which powers the LCD layer embedded in the glass and changes the crystals from the LCD’s ‘natural’ light white colour to the transparent shade that mimics clear glass. But I doubt your milk bottle would be electrified.
In addition to this, these products don’t include the other aspect mentioned in the Sasol ad – the colour change in reaction to the chemical composition. As cool as it would be to walk past a fridge and spot the green bottle of milk, the fact remains that, for most people, it’s sufficient to check the expiry date. The majority of milk produced commercially isn’t even stored in glass – the packaging ranges from plastic to a cardboard carton.