Nine Inventions Whose Time Has Come | Innovation | Smithsonian
Current Issue
October 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Nine Inventions Whose Time Has Come

Some are ingenious, some long overdue and some a bit strange. But all provide a glimpse of a different future

smithsonian.com

Hand gestures could replace your house keys. Image courtesy of Flickr user Smeerch

Over the past few months I’ve talked about the potential of crowdsourcing, whether technology is dumbing us down and why creative people don’t feel the love. Sometimes, though, you just need to cut to the chase and talk about cool things.

Here are nine recent inventions that have caught my imagination. Some are ingenious, some long overdue and some a bit strange. What do you think?

1) The bend is near: I’ve never had a strong desire to bend my phone, but maybe that’s just me.  Anyhow, researchers at the Queens University Human Media Lab in Ontario have created a prototype of a device that would allow us to do just that. In fact, that’s how you operate it. You bend corners or sides of the paper-thin computer into itself to go online, make calls, play music. It’s interactive paper that works like an iPhone. They actually describe it as a “paperphone.” It definitely would make carrying a phone in your pocket more convenient, although if my son is any indication, we’ll also see a spike in phones going through the wash.

2) Good  vibrations: No one weeps for a dead battery. In anything, we resent them for failing us. But now, finally, there are batteries that won’t fade to dead. Instead, they charge themselves. MicroGen is developing small batteries that are able to create energy from the slightest vibration. They don’t generate much energy, but then again they don’t need much.

3) Get inside your head: Don’t you sometimes wonder what’s really going on inside that brain of yours? Is anything happening up there while you’re watching a Powerpoint presentation? Do sparks fly when you see time left on a parking meter? Soon you may be able to watch all the action on a smart phone. Scientists in Denmark have connected an Emotiv EEG brain scanning headset to a Nokia phone, allowing a person to follow how his brain is going about its day.

4) You’re looking quite Pepsi today: In the long, uneasy relationship between man and vending machines, the balance appears to be shifting. Time was, a person could shake one with impunity. But in Japan the machines are taking over; they’re telling people what to drink. One called the Acure Beverage Dispenser scans your face to determine your age and gender, then checks out the weather and time of day. Based on all that intelligence, it suggests a drink. It would be wise to take the advice. Vending machines are big and they have scores to settle.

5) A cane that’s able: And now canes have brains. By using mobile apps such as Foursquare, a GPS navigator in the handle and a Bluetooth earpiece, a cane called Blindspot helps blind people locate their friends. Then, through a rolling ball in the handle, it leads them in the right direction.

6) Giving new meaning to close-ups: It’s also time to have new respect for contact lenses. Researchers at the University of Washington have implanted red and blue LED lights into them. It may make you look possessed, but it’s so images and video can be directly projected on to your eyeballs. And we lived without this for how long?

7) What took so long? An Israeli inventor has pushed the lowly pooper scooper into the 21st century. Oded Shoseyov, of the Hebrew University, has created the AshPoopie. It may sound silly, but it takes care of business and, within seconds, turns waste into odorless, sterile ashes.

8) You can run, but you can’t hide: At last we’re catching up with Superman. Scientists at MIT have developed a radar system that will allow soldiers to see through walls. By using an amplifier device, they’re able to push radar waves through walls up to eight inches thick. A receiver would pick up movement on the other side  and then display it as a bright spot on a screen.

9) Magic fingers: Right next to that ridiculously powerful phone in your purse or pocket is a ring of keys not much different from what people carried around 50 years ago? Now, thanks to a Taiwanese inventor, we have reached a watershed moment in the cozy lock-and-key relationship. With the use of sensors, Tsai Yao-pin has made it possible to open a lock with only a gesture. Like a Nintendo Wii, Tsai Yao-pin’s system can track the movement of a hand. Once you record your secret gesture, all you have to do is repeat it in front of the lock’s sensor and you’re in.

Today’s bonus: For a different type of creative thinking, consider the work of Nathalie Miebach who converts weather data to sculpture and music.

Which one of the nine inventions above do you think is the most impressive? And is there a cutting-edge product you know about that you have would made #10 on the list?

Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus