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Innovations grow at Greener Gadgets confab

New York conference aimed at sharing ideas for environmentally friendly gadgets proves fertile ground for green innovation.

With the Empower device-charging rocking chair, I can juice up my iPhone while telling kids to get off my lawn. Ryan Klinger

I recently saw the film "2012," where Earth appears to finally tire of the human race and decides to get rid of us. That, coupled with what seems to be an increasing number of natural disasters, makes me think that maybe it's time we take this green-tech thing seriously.

Apparently I'm not alone. Last week in New York, eco-minded thinkers gathered for Greener Gadgets, a conference aimed at sharing ideas for environmentally friendly gizmos. One stand-out event was the Green Gadgets Design Competition, where concepts from around the world were voted on by the public, then assessed by a panel of judges, as well as audience members.

First place went to a concept app using an iPhone as a demo. The Augmented Living Goods project, invented by a student in the U.S., uses your smartphone's camera to scan the bar code on produce. It then consults a database and, after fixing your position with GPS, tells you how far your potential food has traveled and if it's currently in season locally, as well as historical pricing among other data that's useful for helping consumers make more informed, sustainable choices in what they purchase and eat.

Second place went to something I'd actually like to see in every apartment in the near future. It's a solar panel with two integrated USB chargers. As more and more gadgets (cell phones, iPods, digital cameras, etc.) start adopting USB "trickle" charging, the demand for USB power goes up. This Illumi-Charger by U.S.-based stores power when it's not charging your devices in integrated batteries. That way the bottleneck is in the USB interface, not the amount of light it's absorbing. Pretty smart.

And third place went to the Empower, a concept for an electricity-generating rocking chair (no, really) by Ryan Klinger also of the U.S. It's simple, but smart. The power is sent through USB ports to trickle-charge your phone or iPod, or even to a regular 110 plug for a laptop or other standard-powered device.

There were lots more great ideas, too. Click through our gallery to see other finalists, including an energy-generating rocking toy that teaches kids about conservation and power generation; a unit that sorts through batteries and only sends power to those in need of juice; and a lamp that doubles as a charging station for small electrical devices.

Then let us know which ones you, the reader, think are not just the most innovative concepts, but also the ones most likely to make it to market. Let's have at it in the comments.