THE world has a lot of problems. The oceans are a soup of plastic waste. We need to reduce our carbon footprint, but we’re using ever more energy. The threat of a major pandemic is ever present.
But in labs, universities and even living rooms around the globe, scientists and inventors are working hard to find anwers to many of these major questions – and more than a few trivial ones too.
To celebrate World Creativity And Innovation week, we look at some of the most exciting inventions that may be about to change our worlds. Plus, a few, that are simply, just plain fun.
The plastic-gobbling boat
The Blue Planet II drew our attention to the way we humans have turned our oceans into a toxic soup of plastic waste. It has been estimated that 8 million tonnes of the stuff are released each year into the sea, and sailor and adventurer Yvan Bourgnon saw plenty of it in 2013 when he did a round-the-world trip in a six-metre catamaran with no cabin or GPS. Bourgnon was so shocked that he resolved to do something about it. The result is the Manta, a 70-metre-long vessel which gobbles floating plastic. A factory in the belly of its hull collects, sorts, compacts and stores the waste, and an on-board lab geolocates and identifies it. The Manta, which was one of the star attractions at this year’s International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, is expected to be in action by 2021.
A robot that climbs
A robot that can deal with any terrain, including some very steep stairs, is the kind of thing that might be useful if you wanted a butler for a house with multiple floors. But, actually, the ROVéo, which looks like an armadillo and is capable of getting over objects bigger than the size of its wheels, has uses far more important uses than that. It was designed with disaster relief, or dismantling nuclear plants, in mind.
A loony balloon project
Giant balloons floating on the very edge of space, bringing internet access to incredibly remote areas. For some years that’s one of the plans worked on by the brains at Google X, the semi-secret lab dedicated to thinking up “moonshots” (ideas that live in “the grey area between audacious technology and pure science fiction”). In November last year it was reported that Google had launched several balloons from Nevada and positioned them over Puerto Rico as part of an effort to get 100,000 people online.
One of the problems with solar energy is it’s not there when the sun isn’t shining, so for some time one of the holy grails of science has been a mechanism to turn sunlight into liquid fuel. In February, scientists at Caltech announced that development might be just years away. Professor Nathan Lewis explained: “Photosynthesis takes sunlight and stores solar energy in chemical bonds. We should do the same thing just better, faster and cheaper than nature ever figured out how to do, in order to make a sustainable solar-driven energy system.”
Bill Gates recently, in a Time article, tipped this as being one of six “innovations that could change the world”. Writing in Time magazine, he said: “We’re still a long way off from the day you can fill up your car with solar fuel, but Caltech’s creative approach gives me hope that we’ll achieve an energy miracle in the near future.”
The flying taxi
Some day, not so very far in the future, we could be ordering a flying taxi with an app in much the same way as we might an Uber car. Only a year ago Kitty Hawk, the flying car company backed by Larry Page, Google co-founder, released the first footage of a prototype vehicle in action, and recently it was reported that “stealth test flights” were taking place in New Zealand. A launch video was released last month, with the subtitle, “Meet Cora, Kitty Hawk’s prototype air taxi that was designed and built to bring the freedom of flight to our everyday lives”. But Cora is not the only such autonomous flying vehicle in the pipeline. There is also Intel’s Volocopter launched at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, and the Vahana multicopter.
Fuel from food waste
In the near future you could be cooking your meals on gas produced by your last meal’s food scraps. The Home Biogas system, a digester, that sits out in the yard near the kitchen, contains bacteria which produce gas which is then fed to a stove in the kitchen. It can also create fertiliser that goes back into soil.
New drug delivery methods
The problem with oral drugs is that people often forget to take them, or stop all together. With HIV prevention in particular one of the big issues is that many people give up on their medications. So, Intarcia Therapeutics has been developing a miniature pump, implanted beneath a person’s skill, to release the drug regularly.
When a disease epidemic breaks out, one of the problems is producing a vaccine quickly enough. In a Time article earlier this year Bill Gates highlighted the production of mRNA vaccines as one of his six innovations that could change the world. “Most vaccines use weakened or inactivated forms of a virus to help your body create immunity and prevent disease. Scientists are studying how to use genetic material instead, which would make it quicker and less expensive to develop new vaccines.” Last year researchers at the University of Munich announced that they had created such an mRNA vaccine and deemed it “generally safe with a reasonable tolerability profile.”
Packaging from food waste
One way of dealing with our shocking plastic waste problem, is to create packaging that is fully compostable. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation has put money behind projects developing such products, and among them is a cellulose wrapper created by the VTT Research Centre in Finland that can be made from wood, rice straw or sugar cane tops, and a coating from the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research made from fruit residues and other waste materials.
The energy kite
Sometimes you have a bit of wind but it’s just not possible or practical to put up a wind turbine. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has been developing a solution in its X lab, in the form of the Makani “energy kite”. Such a generator looks rather like a plane and is tethered to the ground as it generates electricity by flying against the wind in acrobatic loops.The latest prototype can generate enough energy to power up to 300 homes.
Four inventions that will make life more fun
We all know that planking is good for our core, but frankly it’s not all that much fun. But imagine having to do similar exercises within a gym machine that offers you, through virtual reality, the feeling that you are actually flying. With the Icaros gym you are in a plank position and tense your core to change direction. The team behind it say you’ll burn almost a third more calories and activate the muscles 100 per cent more than if you were just planking on the floor.
Haptic body suit
When, in Stephen Spielberg’s recently released Ready Player One, Wade Watts dons a suit in which he can feel every punch, blow, shot and touch he experiences in the Oasis game, it looks futuristic, but actually it’s very now. The Teslasuit, a high-tech haptic suit which can make virtual games and experiences feel reality, was exhibited by the UK start-up that created it at the Future Tech Now show earlier this month. From hugs to the sting of a weapon, or the change of weather, the wearer is able to feel what’s going on in virtual world. And the Teslasuit isn’t just about the fun – it is also being looked at as a possible means to provide therapy to paraplegics.
We love to photograph our babies. In fact, from the moment they are born, they are hyper-documented, repeatedly filmed and captured digitally. But what about when they are in the womb? Most parents have little more than a single scrappy picture from there. There are only a few times they get to see their babies through the marvels of ultrasound and other scanning systems. Marvoto has created a portable home foetus camera that will change all that, and presented it last week at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva.
A mind-reading device that can translate your thoughts into instructions might sound like fantastic sci-fi, but in fact it’s already here. MIT has created a headset, called AlterEgo, which allows a person to control a computer without saying a word. When the person thinks of a word the device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face and transmits those to a computer. The question that drove the MIT team was, said Arnav Kapur, who led it: “Could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?”
Source : HeraldScotland