Monday, February 7, 2011

GeoClock: Ambient World Clock (Physical Device)

Here's an idea for a physical device that's "on the shelf". From January 2007.

Back in 1999 I worked for Bertelsmann Ventures (now BV Capital) in Santa Barbara, California. The office was in a really cool location (just off State Street), on the second floor of a really great building (above the Wine Cask restaurant). Lot's of dark wood and character.

One of the partners had a really neat looking world map hanging on the wall of his office. Later, I found out it was a GeoChron, a special kind of world map that displays the time, anywhere in the world, at a glance. It also shows you where it's dark and where it's light (the declination of the sun)

The GeoChron is a really interesting device. It's completely mechanical (not digital), hand made, and is rather expensive (prices range from $1,700 to $3,000). Here's more information, directly from the manufacturer:
The Geochron is the only instrument of its kind to simultaneously exhibit the current time anywhere in the world as well as displaying where the sun is rising, and when it will set. Each gear is individually hand-cut to ensure optimum synchronization. Each world map is made using state of the art lithography printing which uses specially formulated inks designed to make the map resistant to ultraviolet light.
Fast forward to January 2007. Digital picture frames were a big consumer craze. These were $100 to $200 devices that would sit on your desk and show you a slideshow of photos.

I thought there might be an opportunity to create modern version of a GeoChron, one that would be perfect as an executive gift or desktop accessory. I called it GeoClock.
My "GeoClock" design. It says "ambient" in the top-right corner because I pitched the device to David Rose, CEO of Ambient Devices. David had experience designing, manufacturing, and distributing hardware devices at retail stores. I sent him a "prototype" which was an off-the-shelf digital picture frame with a number of still images in sequence, "faking" what the real product would look like.

I figured I could sell this thing for $200 to $300 dollars. I didn't know much about the hardware costs, but I assumed that the components were very similar to the digital picture frames: a display, some kind of processor, some memory. And of course, some custom-developed software that would render a picture of the earth, draw the declination of the sun, refresh the display every x seconds, etc.

Here are some additional thoughts that I captured in a short presentation:
GeoClock Overview

Has the time for a product like this passed?  It seems like digital picture frames came and went. I assume it's because 1) they're rather wasteful (always on, drawing power) and 2) the image they produce fades and degrades over time.

Clearly this would make a great app for Android, iPhone, iPad.  A quick search in the Apple App Store lists a number of them with similar features.


jm said...

Yikes, the GeoChron is expensive. I wonder how much of the appeal of the GeoChron is about making a statement (as opposed to actually needing to know the time elsewhere).

Yarone said...

@jm I'm sure it's more about making a statement. Or, like an art piece. Something beautiful to hang on the wall, that happens to be really interesting and functional.