South by Southwest is known for its convergence of hipsters and geeks, and the hosts of the Quirky+GE Night of Invention event were emblematic of that odd couple vibe.
The event was a sort of “Shark Tank” for new product ideas, and the panel of judges included Bill Nye, host of StarTalk Live (and of Science Guy fame), actor and comedian Andy Samberg and Quirky founder Ben Kaufman.
“The challenge is to do more with less,” Nye declared while judging Saturday’s event in Austin, Texas.
The event was simultaneously hosted in front of a live audience and live-streamed to more than 1 million people who tuned in from home to watch and vote on their favorites.
Judges offered their initial thoughts on each product before the greater audience voted on whether it should be created, or further explored for creation, by Quirky, a platform that allows users to pitch products for invention and mass production.
Quirky’s partnership with GE – through which both companies will collaborate to release a series of products over a couple of years — could potentially mean that products being pitched in a forum like Night of Invention may reach a mass market.
Among the products pitched were a self-flushing toilet, a snow-shoveling robot and a sensor that vibrates to encourage skiers to lean farther forward and have better control of their skis. Feedback ranged in tone from humor to poignancy.
Samberg, for instance, seemed to have a bias for the snow-shoveling robot because it looked “like Wall-E.” He didn’t love the idea of the ski sensor for fear it would chip away from our ability to develop the type of instincts we need to ski better on our own.
As pitches came to a close, Nye encouraged the audience to never stop thinking of new problem-solving ideas, mentioning his own unlikely patent for more comfortable ballet slippers as an example of an idea he has yet to put to use.