We take another look at some of the far-out ideas that make life in the 21st century so interesting. Technological wizardry flourishes in some unlikely places, and some of its applications probably border on the loony, but other breakthroughs could have global consequences. You decide…
Go on, take a swing
We’ve encountered robots that help golfers improve their swing, golf balls that broadcast their location, naked lady golf tees, and even a compressed gas-powered putter (try to get that one past the PGA). But how about the SensoGlove? It’s the first and only golf glove with a built-in computer that constantly reads your grip pressure using four small, highly responsive sensors, providing both audio and visual feedback.
Why is this important? Because, as the glove’s designers point out, every golfer’s natural instinct is to swing harder and faster. The problem is, trying to swing with more power often leads to the so-called “death grip”, creating tension in the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. The result is a less-than-smooth swing and, even worse, tightened muscles. Tight muscles result in slower – not faster – club head speed.
Using the SensoGlove is a piece of cake. You simply dial in your ideal pressure on a scale of 1 to 18 and take a swing. The glove displays your pressure and warns you if you exceed your target level. It even shows you which finger is gripping too tightly, so you can adjust your grip accordingly. Watch yourself, Tiger.
I believe I can fly
A team of post-grad students and academics at the University of Toronto made aviation history a few weeks ago when their human-powered aircraft with flapping wings became the first of its kind to fly continuously. The ornithopter, dubbed “Snowbird”, performed its recordbreaking flight before an official representing the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), governing body for air sports and aeronautical world records.
Piloted and powered by Todd Reichert, an Engineering PhD candidate at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies), the wing-flapping device sustained both altitude and airspeed for 19,3 seconds, covering a distance of 145 metres at an average speed of 25,6 km/h. Said Reichert after his flight: “The Snowbird represents the completion of an age-old aeronautical dream… one of the last of the aviation firsts.” The Snowbird has a wingspan of 32 m – comparable with that of a Boeing 737 – but weighs less than the pillows on board the airliner.
Cool. Green. Mildly annoying.
It’s time for the marketing gurus to abandon those damn lower-case names for automotive products with “green” credentials: the idea is old, tired and silly, not to mention grammatically unsound. Take Daimler’s battery-driven smart escooter, a perfectly nice machine with a very annoying name. So annoying, in fact, that we’ll insist on spelling it with capital letters from now on.
Launched at the recent Paris Motor Show, this environmentally clean two-wheeler features a slew of appealing safety features, including a custom-designed anti-lock braking system (ABS), an airbag integrated in the panelling beneath the handlebars, and a system called Blind Spot Assist, which draws the rider’s attention to following vehicles that are not visible in the rider’s “blind spot” – extremely useful when changing lanes, for example.
Fed by a 48-volt lithium-ion battery pack and driven by a brushless hub motor producing 4 kW, the Smart scooter has a top speed of 45 km/h and a range of up to 100 km. It can be charged at any standard household power socket within three to five hours, with top-ups courtesy of solar panels mounted at the front.
Here’s where it gets really interesting: your smartphone serves as the scooter’s control and communication centre. Before starting the electric scooter, you place the smartphone in a specially designed cradle, immediately deactivating the immobiliser and anti-theft protection systems. On the road, the phone functions as the scooter’s speedometer and navigation systen, also displaying the range and battery charge level. Smart. Clever, too.
Non-lethal light weaponry
South African company Megaray prides itself on producing “the world’s brightest tactical solution”. In essence, we’re talking about hand-held and mounted devices that produce astonishingly powerful light strobes – so powerful that they can subdue a crowd of rioters or disorient an enemy within seconds. The “flagship” 4300 model generates enough light to read a newspaper 5 km away.
Invited to evaluate Megaray’s products, an unnamed army unit directed the flashing beam at an oncoming vehicle with devastating results; the driver rolled the vehicle and emerged seconds later, violently ill. On another occasion, a fugitive fleeing from the police was “strobed” and immediately collapsed.
A new product, described as a “machine gun light”, is designed to target and disorientate an enemy as far as 1 km away, preventing him from returning fire. The company is currently working on a system that couples its Megaray with a noise generator – again, in non-lethal form – to fight piracy on the high seas.
Here’s how a company spokesman explains the effect: “The aroused human brain oscillates at 8 cycles/second; the Megaray strobes at 8 Hz. If you take a wave curve intersecting the X axis at 8 times per second, this will graphically show the aroused brain’s function.
“When light in sympathy with this waveform enters the cortex via the eye, it boosts the peaks and decreases the troughs. The resulting energy courses over the cortex and interferes with ‘smooth’ brain function. The result: nausea and disorientation