Inventions Of The Year
Time magazine released the Inventions of the Year.
These included everything from Strapless Goggles for swimmers to Mirror TVs.
I highly suggest checking the list out at: http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/...ons/tech2.html
Yoffy lifts a finger...
Hmmm, strapless goggles, I'm intrigued.
Off to check the list.
Yoffy lifts a finger...
Damn, you can only read if you're a subscriber.
That's a shame.
Whops! Sorry about that. If you have AOL it should work.
I will try to get around to posting the pictures with discriptions.
The Invention Of the Year
The Sky's the Limit
Ingenious design. Entrepreneurial moxie. A world-changing vision of the future. The amazing SpaceShipOne has it all
When the first American flew into space in 1961, Burt Rutan was a 17-year-old college freshman. Listening to news of Alan Shepard's groundbreaking suborbital flight on the radio, Rutan was euphoric. He too hoped to go into space one day—and was disappointed that a cautious NASA had allowed the Soviets to beat the U.S. to the prize. "We could have had the first man in space," Rutan recalls, "and we sent a monkey instead."
The possibilities back then seemed limitless, and it was easy for Rutan's generation to imagine they would all get to taste zero-gravity one day. It didn't work out that way. After NASA reached the moon in 1969, its focus shifted to unmanned probes, orbital experiments and a costly low-orbit shuttle system. The imagined future of Everyman as astronaut evaporated. This year, more than four decades after Shepard's flight, only two Americans have made the jump into space from U.S. soil—both launched not by NASA but by Rutan's tiny company, known for build-your-own-airplane kits.
Rutan personally designed their craft, SpaceShipOne, a vehicle as improbable as it is revolutionary. The size of a small biplane, SpaceShipOne is a shell of woven graphite glued onto a rocket motor that runs on laughing gas and rubber. The nose is punctuated by portholes, like an ocean liner. Inside, the critical instrument is a Ping-Pong ball decorated with a smiley face and attached to the cabin with a piece of string, which goes slack when the pilot reaches the zero-gravity of suborbital space.
Despite its Flash Gordon looks and unorthodox design, SpaceShipOne was able to more than match Shepard's trailblazing journey. In June it became the first privately funded spacecraft. In October it clinched the $10 million Ansari X Prize as the first such craft to travel to space twice in two weeks. Thanks to the backing of two starry-eyed billionaires, SpaceShipOne is set to become the first in a new line of space-tourism craft coming in 2007. "It's a spaceship that fits in your two-car garage, and you can take it to space every other day," says X Prize founder Peter Diamandis. "That's pretty cool."
We agree. For solving the problems of suborbital flight and re-entry with ingenious design, for boldly going where NASA now fears to tread and returning without a scratch, but most of all for reigniting the moon-shot-era dream of zero-gravity for everyone, SpaceShipOne is TIME's Coolest Invention of 2004.
Success for Rutan's maverick creation was by no means assured. There were 24 teams competing for the X Prize purse, which was set to expire at the end of this year. Modeled on the Orteig Prize—which motivated Charles Lindbergh's celebrated transatlantic flight in 1927—the X Prize was created to fuel a competition in space liners, just as its predecessor inspired the early airlines. Imaginations ran wild. The Canadian Da Vinci Project wanted to launch its rocket from 80,000 ft. after lifting it there with a reusable helium balloon. John Carmack, creator of the Doom video games, intended to blast his wife into suborbital space with a new kind of engine that runs on alcohol. (Carmack's prototype crashed; Da Vinci's effort was hampered by missing parts.)
And getting a human into space is the easy part; it's getting them back that causes the real trouble. The friction of the atmosphere, combined with Earth's gravitational pull, creates an intense and deadly heat. The space shuttle solved this problem with millions of dollars' worth of tiles on its underbelly (although, as a shocked world saw last year, that system is not foolproof).
Rutan woke up one morning six years ago at his desert home in Mojave, Calif., with a heat-beating idea no one had considered before: Why not build a space plane with wings that hinge up at its highest altitude, creating a feathering effect so it floats gently back to Earth like a shuttlecock in a game of badminton? Rutan quickly sketched out his idea and started showing it around.
The reception was muted. Rutan was widely respected in the experimental-plane-building industry, having designed Voyager, the first aircraft to make it around the world nonstop without refueling, which his brother Dick helped fly into the record books in 1986. But the design for SpaceShipOne inspired near universal derision. "When I first saw it, I thought he'd lost his mind," says Mike Melvill, Rutan's oldest employee, longtime friend and faithful test pilot.
To Rutan, the raised eyebrows proved he was on the right track. "If you don't have a consensus that it's nonsense," says Rutan, "you don't have a breakthrough." He showed the design to Paul Allen, the reclusive, science-fiction-loving co-founder of Microsoft. "After a few minutes with Burt," says Allen, "you realize just how innovative he is." Allen, the fifth richest guy on the planet, agreed to fund Rutan's X Prize venture.
SpaceShipOne's lift-off is inventive too. The vehicle is carried aloft tethered to the belly of a futuristic cargo plane dubbed White Knight, which takes off effortlessly and then climbs in circles of ever increasing altitude for an hour. Just when you think White Knight has disappeared from sight, SpaceShipOne separates and ignites its engine, which is fueled by nitrous oxide and rubber, and a plume of white smoke shoots straight up into the sky. Unlike the computer-driven shuttle, SpaceShipOne is controlled by an old-fashioned mechanical stick and rudder. That makes the altitude climb hair-raising for the pilot. "It's going faster than a speeding bullet," says Melvill, who piloted the vehicle's first flight, "and you're trying to control it by hand."
But beginning around 158,000 ft., well before SpaceShipOne's apogee, where the sky goes black and you can see the curvature of the earth, Melvill and fellow test pilot Brian Binnie each had a good four minutes of weightlessness with nothing to do. Both took digital-camera snapshots through the portholes. Melvill scattered a handful of M&M's and watched them float. Binnie took out a tiny model of SpaceShipOne and flew it around the cabin. Then that crazy hinge raises the wings, Earth's gravity kicks in, and SpaceShipOne becomes a glider. "It's like falling into a feather bed," says Melvill.
Rutan—who took to calling NASA "the other space agency" during the X Prize competition—firmly believes the future belongs to commercial space flight. Concerned that SpaceShipOne was destined for nothing more than the National Air and Space Museum, he and Allen enlisted another aeronautics enthusiast and billionaire, Virgin's Richard Branson. Over dinner in Mojave, they sketched out a vision of suborbital and orbital space tourism over the next 75 years. Branson was instantly won over. He ordered five larger versions of SpaceShipOne with seats for five passengers and a pilot.
If Rutan's firm, Scaled Composites, delivers on time, Virgin Galactic will be up and running in 2007. Rutan knows that to sell tickets, he must make flights "at least a hundred times" safer than space travel has been so far. After all, 18 of the 430 humans who have flown into space died there. "You can't have an airline that kills 4% of its passengers," says Rutan.
Not that prospective passengers seem worried. Via the Virgin Galactic website, Branson already has a waiting list of more than 7,000 people who are apparently willing to pay the $190,000 price for a suborbital flight—more than enough to cover Virgin's investment. Among the pledged passengers are former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro and actor William Shatner. As more people sign on, says Branson, Virgin will be able to lower the price: "This isn't just a pipe dream. We will get this to the point where thousands of people can go into space." He and Rutan plan to be aboard the first Virgin Galactic flight. A mere 46 years after Alan Shepard, if all goes according to plan, Rutan will finally, personally, get to experience his zero-gravity dream.
Inventor: GoCar Rentals
Availability: Now, $40 for one hour
To Learn More: gocarsf.com
Forgot the map? Left the guidebook at the hotel? No problem. The GoCar is a three-wheel tour guide equipped with a GPS system that not only tells you where to go but also describes the sights once you reach them. The brainchild of Nathan Withrington, a pilot and engineer from Britain, the GoCar speaks directions out loud. Currently available only in San Francisco, it goes up to 35 m.p.h. and travels a 12- to 17-mile loop.
A BOAT THAT ICE SKATES
Inventor: Harry Haney
Availability: Prototype only
To Learn More: snow-boat.com
Harry Haney has been ice fishing on Michigan lakes ever since his dad took him when he was a kid. But when a friend and fellow ice fisherman died after falling through the ice a few years ago, Haney, a state-park maintenance worker in Rhodes, Mich., decided to create a vehicle that would prevent similar tragedies. His Snow Boat is a 14-ft. custom-made aluminum craft welded onto a standard snowmobile. If the ice breaks, the boat stays afloat so passengers won't fall into the freezing cold water.
Availability: Prototype only
To Learn More: segway.com/centaur
Take a Segway scooter, add a second pair of wheels and a banana seat, and you've got the Centaur, a concept vehicle that can take on any terrain—rocks, grass, sand, you name it. Like the original Human Transporter, the Centaur uses dynamic-stabilization technology (you shift your weight to steer) but adds a thumb throttle for extra oomph. Steering sensors and a computer conspire to make sure you don't topple over when you pop a wheelie.
Adidas 1 Sneaker
Availability: March 2005, $250
To Learn More: adidas.com
Computers in your shoes? Believe it. A sensor in the new adidas 1 sneakers measures with each step how much compression you put on the heels of the shoes. Microprocessor-controlled cushioning then adjusts the heels' stiffness so they become more rigid on dirt trails, for example, and softer on pavement or when you're walking. In addition, you can set comfort levels with buttons on the shoes. The lithium-ion battery that fuels the system lasts about 100 hours.
Nike Strapless Swim Goggles
Inventors: Rob Bruce, Dylan Van Atta
Availability: Spring 2005, $25 a pair
These Nike swim goggles use disposable adhesive strips to stay in place and keep water out, even after a dive. An extra angled pane maximizes your field of vision without distorting the view, and—serious swimmers take note—they produce zero drag, so they're even faster than the naked eye. The medical-grade glue on the strips is engineered to bond comfortably with your flesh on one side and the polycarbonate lenses on the other. Still, putting the goggles on and taking them off can be a chore.
Wet & Wild
SURF 'N' SURF
Wireless Technology Surfboard
Availability: Prototype only
To Learn More: intel.com
Last spring Intel commissioned a surfboard shaper in North Devon, England, to design a board with an embedded tablet PC. Why? So Intel could tout its Centrino processor at beach festivals around the globe. Equipped with wi-fi, the Wireless Technology Surfboard enables the surfer to send e-mail, shoot videos (using the built-in webcam) and, yes, surf the Web.
Solo Personal Ski Machine
Inventor: Solo Watersports
Availability: Now, $10,995
To Learn More: solowatersports.com
If you love water skiing but hate waiting your turn or finding someone to drive the boat, the Solo may be just what you need. This unmanned, 8-ft.-long fiber-glass boat lets you ski by yourself. All controls are on the tow handle, including acceleration, turning and a stop-start button. For added safety, the kill switch is activated when you drop the handle. Legal in 40 states (see website for information), the Solo goes up to 40 m.p.h.
Mari-Cha IV Yacht
Inventors: Mari-Cha IV design team
Availability: Now, $12.6 million
To Learn More: mari-chaIV.com
The world's fastest yacht with a single hull is a 140-ft. carbon-fiber wonder. With two 148-ft. masts and five sails, the silver-colored Mari-Cha IV, owned by billionaire Robert Miller, can travel at speeds of up to 36 knots, about twice what other boats its size can do. It holds four world records, including the West Marine Pacific Cup, a race from San Francisco to Hawaii, which it won this past July.
JVC J4 Robot
Availability: Prototype only
One of the hardest things to get a robot to do is walk on two legs, but nowadays bipedal is practically banal. The real trick is to give your humanoid a smooth, natural gait. The J4, above, JVC's 8-in. showpiece at a recent Tokyo trade show, proved it could walk a nice walk and kick a soccer ball to boot. It's controlled via Bluetooth.
Inventor: Tomotaka Takahashi, Robo-Garage, Kyoto University
Availability: Prototype Only
The Chroino, above—if we didn't know any better, we'd think it was Playmobil's tribute to Marvin the Martian—also boasts a more graceful stride, thanks to new SHIN-Walk technology that allows the 14-in. robot to maintain an even center of gravity and avoid the awkward bent-knee technique common to other walking bots.
Sword Unmanned Vehicle
Inventor: U.S. Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and Massachusetts defense firm Foster-Miller
Availability: 2005, $230,000 (military only)
To Learn More: pica.army.mil, foster-miller.com
Insurgents, be afraid. An armed, unmanned ground vehicle that never gets tired, hungry or scared is headed your way. The Sword has night and thermal vision, four cameras and a 7.62-mm machine gun. It can climb stairs and is utterly silent—until it opens fire. A live video feed enables its "driver" to operate the vehicle from up to 1 mile away. The U.S. Army has ordered 18 to deploy in Iraq.
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