Now that I have a selection of potentially marketable ideas, I conducted an online survey to see what people thought of the ideas. I asked people to rank each idea from a scale of 1 to 5 to state their interest in purchasing the product.
Overall, 18 people responded to the survey.
The results are as follows:
1. Vibrating Snow Shovel - 3.44
2. Car Window Covers - 3.39
3. Solar Heated Sidewalk - 3.33
4. Heated Driveway Apron - 3.22
5. Snow Fort Shovel - 3.17
6. Inflatable Igloo Mold - 3.11
7. Variable Thickness Jacket - 2.94
8. Ice Rake - 2.78
9. Snow-Whacker - 2.67
For the purposes of this assignment, I am combining the 3rd and 4th place ideas into a single idea, since they both involve melting snow via a modular heated panel. They were also rated nearly identically, so I can essentially consider them to be the same idea.
This leaves the 5 ideas with which I will be proceeding:
Vibrating Snow Shovel
Car Window Covers
Solar Heating Panels
Snow Fort Shovel
The next step was to see what was already out there. I did some searching online for each of my products. I had a bit of a hard time coming up with anything similar for a few of them, which, I suppose, is fortunate! I compiled my images into five 2x2 charts for further analysis.
1. Vibrating Snow Shovel
I could not find any existing products which totally matched this idea, so I expanded my search to "electric snow shovel", which yielded a large number of extremely similar products, all resembling miniature snow-blowers. There is a large amount of room for improvement in the "simple and lightweight" area here.
3. Solar Sidewalk Heating Panels
I was somewhat surprised to find that this idea had also been done a number of different ways. However, I was unable to find anything relating to solar power or any other form of renewable energy, so all of these devices are likely to rack up a large electricity bill.
4. Snow Block Shovel
I found quite a few ideas which were similar in their mechanics, in that they compacted snow into blocks for fort building. I didn't really find anything that did so in the form factor of a shovel, however. I feel as though such a device could fill the large gap in the "simple / grown-ups" quadrant.
5. Igloo Mold
I was glad to see this idea survive the weeding out, even if just barely. I could not find anything appreciably similar to this idea on a large scale, however, many small scale igloo molds exist for cakes / jell-o / ice sculpting, etc. I also found a few specially built structures / scaffolds for constructing igloos, but it appears as though these structures take almost as much time to construct as the igloo itself, so the "simple/realistic" quadrant is still very much lacking.
I did a Google Patents search to see which of my ideas had already been patented.
Vibrating Snow Shovel: Vibrating Snow Shoveling Device
Car Window Covers: A vehicle snow & ice removal system/cover
Heated Sidewalk Panels: Pre-fabricated sidewalk block having a heating wire
Snow block shovel: Snow Mold
Igloo Mold: Igloo Building Block Mold
Most of the ideas had already been patented almost exactly as I had described them, with the exception of the last two. I found nothing that was appreciably similar to my ideas for either the snow block shovel or the igloo mold, only other means for molding snow into blocks.
I performed rough estimates for how much the materials would cost to manufacture at this point.
VIBRATING SNOW SHOVEL
approximately 5 pounds of plastic/metal, plus motor/battery ~= $10 in raw materials, $20 in manufacturing.
Can vibration actually dislodge thick snow?
CAR SNOW COVERS
about 1 pound of plastic, if that, should adequately cover a car windshield, making for a $2 manufacturing cost.
Can it adhere to the car and be easily removable? Theft?
HEATED SIDEWALK PANELS
About 10 pounds of metal/plastic, plus the necessary circuitry and the solar panel, approximately $50 in raw materials, $100 manufacturing cost.
Can a solar panel generate enough current to heat a sidewalk?
SNOW FORT BLOCK SHOVEL
About 3 pounds of plastic would make for a $3 raw material cost and a $6 manufacturing cost.
Can a shovel compact snow tightly enough to produce a block suitable for construction?
about 5 pound of plastic should be enough to make an inflatable igloo shape, making for $10 in manufacturing costs. If an electric pump were included, it would probably add about $20 to the final price.
Can an inflatable structure withstand the weight of snow piled on top of it? Would snow freeze to the structure and make it unable to deflate? Would it pop?
None of these ideas have a particularly outlandish manufacturing cost, with the possible exception of the sidewalk panels. They all have some feasibility concerns which would warrant further testing (with the possible exception of the car window covers as they have been done so many times before).