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How Common Consumer Products Work

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

What are consumer products? How do they work? In this lesson, we will learn about some popular consumer products including cars, smart phones and stoves. Test your knowledge after the lesson with a quiz.

Consumer Products Defined

Capitalist societies work through the production and purchase of goods and services. A consumer is an individual who purchases goods or services for personal use. For example, you might buy a television for entertainment or a plane ticket to travel to another country. It's these purchases that drive capitalist economies.

A consumer product is a physical thing that is sold to consumers. Some of the best selling consumer products of all time include the video game console PlayStation, the Toyota Corolla car and the Rubik's Cube puzzle. Other highly popular products are consumables such as the carbonated soft drink Coca-Cola. If you include all brands and models of the same basic products, perhaps the best-selling of all would be common home products such as furniture or stoves.

Let's learn more about these products.

How Popular Products Work

Let's start with one of the most ubiquitous products in the modern world: cars. A car (originally called automobile) is a method of transportation, a passenger vehicle that moves people from place to place. Cars work by burning the energy stored in the fuel gasoline (also known as petrol) and turning it into mechanical energy. The basic steps involved in making cars work are: intake, compression, power and exhaust. First a piston is pulled down and a valve opens, allowing fuel and air into a cylinder. Next the valve closes and the piston moves up to compress the mixture of fuel and air. A spark plug then creates a spark igniting the mixture to cause a small explosion. That explosion pushes the piston back down, turning a crank which causes the car wheels to turn. The next time the piston moves up, it pushes the leftover exhaust gases out of the exhaust pipe. This cycle repeats itself over and over to make the car move.

One of the best-selling cars in the world is the Toyota Corolla.
Cars are everywhere, and none have sold more than the Toyota Corolla

Smart phones have become a very popular consumer product over the last decade. But how do they work? Well, a modern smart phone is really just a small computer which has telephone capabilities. (Technology has improved to the point where we can fit computers into very small spaces!) Connected to the computer is an LCD screen. ('LCD' stands for 'liquid crystal display.') The screen contains a series of pixels which are turned on or off using polarized light (light waves that vibrate only one direction). The screen has capacitors underneath which hold electrical charge. When you touch the screen it changes the amount of charge where you touched it, which is how the computer knows that you touched it there. The computer then responds in the appropriate way.

iPhones and iPads are basically small computers with interactive LCD screens. An iPhone is one type of smart phone.
iPhones and iPads have touch screens

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