It seems hard to believe, but it has been almost a year since season 4 of Everyday Edisons finished filming. It was a great season with a diverse line of products, and we have been hard at work since the wrap of the show to get these great ideas into production. The product that I was most intimately involved with was the Germ Master, and I want to reveal what has been going on since we unveiled the prototype to inventor Eric Huber at the end of that episode.
The idea behind the Germ Master was to create a steam cleaning system that would harness the power of a microwave oven to create steam and help kill germs in the kitchen. The original prototype that Eric sent to us at the start of the development was largely stylistic as opposed to functional. It was a sponge cut into the shape of a boat with a balloon for onboard water storage and some holes in the sponge to allow steam to exhaust onto the cleaning surface.
After the initial rounds of testing, I found that just heating a water vessel in the microwave was not effective at getting steam to the countertop and it was not very dramatic in its steam delivery like most commercially available plug-in steam cleaners. I knew we needed a way to store the microwave energy to allow for on-demand steam generation while cleaning. What I came up with was a silicon carbide bowl, with a plant mister head to deliver the water.
Early Germ Master prototype
The silicon carbide absorbs the microwaves and heats up to about 350 degrees after 50-60 seconds in the microwave. The plant mister particulizes the water to increase its surface area, and the result is a unit that could be charged in the microwave and provide about 10-15 good steam blasts to clean with.The prototype worked great and was a hit on the show and with Eric Huber, the inventor. However, it needed plenty of work before being deemed production-worthy.
Prototype presented on Everyday Edisons
The main problem with the prototype, as shown on the show, was that it was too big. The hand grip of the prototype was about the size of a softball and many on the team felt that it was a bit too uncomfortable to hold. The other big problem was that, despite its big size, the onboard water tank was too small. Water and silicon carbide are both great at absorbing microwave energy and turning it into heat, but when they are in the microwave together they compete for the available microwaves and steal energy from each other. In the prototype, the water would boil before the silicon carbide would get hot enough for good steam production, and the water would be boiled out by the time the silicon carbide was hot enough.
In the summer and fall of last year, I designed a beta version of the Germ Master and got the new prototype built. The dome was reduced to the size of a baseball, the onboard water storage was doubled, and a production version of the silicon carbide was installed and was reduced in size by about 50%.
CAD of the alpha and the beta with size reduction comparison
However, the initial testing was disappointing. The steam production was not as dramatic as it was in the show version. After some head scratching, it turned out that our production sample silicon carbide was not coarse enough, and there was far less surface area for the water to boil on. I installed the original version of the silicon carbide and it came back to life again. It had great steam production, the extra water allowed the stone to get hot enough for good steam production, and it still only took 60 seconds of microwave time. In the testing process I melted a few components and learned a little bit more about material selection for production too.
The beta prototype was then handed over to model-making guru, Chris Gabriel (that is his title on his business card too, believe it or not). He gave it a great looking paint job based on the renderings from the design team, and we made a series of regular foam cleaning pads as well as a set of scouring pads.
The latest Germ Master prototype
Then we handed it off to our direct response production team to start work on the infomercial.
The DRTV production crew filming the Germ Master TV spot
While filming of the show has to end at some point, the development continues after the cameras get boxed up. The development of the Germ Master was fast and great gains were made to get a working alpha for the ending of the show. However, it takes time and further refinement to get a design that is production ready. There are still some more challenges ahead, but I am confident we can get the Germ Master into production.