Revisited: New ideas from 2008

The New York Times recently ran a feature in their Sunday magazine profiling what they called the “Year in Ideas.” They examined several dozen new concepts floated in 2008 that “helped make the previous 12 months, for better or worse, what they were” – an introduction that belied their alleged astonishment at the unlimited nature of the inventive mind.

I’ll admit that all the ideas are extremely imaginative, but that doesn’t mean that some of them can’t also be extremely bizarre. Today and tomorrow, we’ll look at a few examples:

Air Bags for the Elderly – In light of the fact that falls are the leading cause of death among people 65 and older, a Japanese company has begun selling a wearable set of airbags. Describing the device as looking “something like a fishing vest with a fanny pack attached,” it contains motion sensors that will inflate two airbags – one around the hips and the other around the neck – when a fall is detected. “Instant Michelin Man,” notes the Times. This innovation updates an earlier attempt to reduce injuries, the foam hip pads. Both the low-tech hip pads and the high-tech air bags could be a success from a bioengineering and cost standpoint and yet still fall victim to the elderly’s penchant for wanting to be fashionable. “One of the reasons people shy away from these is that they don’t want to make their hips look larger,” said one independent researcher. “These air bags look kind of parachute-y.”

The Biomechanical Energy Harvester – A knee-brace-like contraption has been developed by a Canadian scientist that reportedly can harness the power of your walk and turn it into something your cell phone and other small electronics can run on. Strapped to the back of your leg, the device taps the power of your muscles with each stride without making walking feel any more difficult. At less than three pounds, it’s small enough to fit under your pants (or, less subtly, just below the hemline of your skirt), which is a significant improvement on version 1.0 – a backpack that made its own electricity from the subtle bouncing of your walk but, unfortunately, weighed in at 80 pounds.

Bubble Wrap that Never Ends – Again it’s the Japanese leading the way to a better future. They’ve created a battery-powered keychain with a panel of eight buttons that simulate the tactile joy of bubble-package destruction. Roughly translated as “Infinite Pop Pop,” the company has already sold a million of the gadgets in its first two months of release, and it’s reportedly now available at American outlets such as Target and Wal-Mart. Makers of the real thing, the Sealed Air Corporation of New Jersey, acknowledge the tension-relieving properties inherent in ruining their product, yet they won’t admit to feeling the stress of potential competition from the Far East. (Probably the same way GM felt when that first Toyota rolled onto the docks of California.) No word yet on whether the Biomechanical Energy Harvester could be used to power the “Pop Pop” keychain.

Carbon Penance – To assuage the guilt many of us feel about our contributions to climate change, a Swiss-born inventor (again with the foreigners) has built a leg band that monitors how much power you’re consuming. When levels have exceeded a certain threshold, the techno-garter slowly drives six steel thorns into the meat of your leg. The concept came to the inventor, who not surprisingly also refers to herself as an artist, while designing a device that punishes the wearer who doesn’t spend enough time talking to their houseplants. The leg band is apparently not quite ready for full-scale development and distribution because of a slight flaw: when the spikes dig in, they don’t hurt that much.

The Cloth Car – This is a concept car developed in Germany that substitutes fabric for the more conventional (and you’d think safer) hardened plastic and aluminum auto body. The shell, made of polyurethane-coated Lycra, is stretched over a car’s frame in four separate pieces. It creases when the door opens, can be unsealed if work needs to be done on the engine, and contains eye-shaped slits so the headlights can shine through. The interior is similarly flexible, featuring a steering wheel and dashboard that collapse to lie flat and create more interior space. Perhaps the seatbelt and upholstery will be made of steel.

Tomorrow: eatings kangaroos and a vending machine for crows

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One Response to “Revisited: New ideas from 2008”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    Biomechanical Energy Harvester…this reminds me of an item on this year’s Dave Barry Holiday Gift Guide. It’s a pack that straps onto your leg and turns a special sandal to which it’s attached into a metal detector. Perfect for long walks on the beach when you don’t want to carry those bulky hand-held metal detectors. Those are so uncool and senior-citizen-ish. You, meanwhile, will be looking sharp with that battery strapped to your leg. (Every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.)

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