Five Ideas to Watch
1. A Smoke Detector for the Whole Neighborhood
A new window-mounted device can detect brushfires up to a mile away. Inventor R. J. Smith, an electro-optical engineer cum volunteer firefighter, says the Fire Scout X3 remains functional during power outages and can be programmed to automatically dial the fire department when the alarm sounds. Allen Saville of the Boulder Mountain Fire Authority in Boulder, Colo. (where Smith's Fire Scout Inc. is based), says he is "very positive about this product," adding, "If we can get to these fires before they get to be big, we can lessen the impact, lessen the damages, the injuries." One X3 unit starts at $199.
2. New Dog Tags for G.I.'s
The government recently contracted with four private companies to reinvent the dog tag, which has changed little since the armed forces made wearing them mandatory in 1913. The new version is likely to be the same size as the old one, but it will contain a wireless chip that carries medical and other key information that can be retrieved by a medic using a handheld device. CEO Andrew Girson of InHand Electronics, based in Rockville, Md., says his company and its partners are also looking for ways to make the chips attractive to nonmilitary markets, such as hospitals and nursing homes.
3. Bionic Biceps
A start-up in Menlo Park, Calif., is designing pumps and motors that respond to electrical impulses just like human muscle responds to nerve impulses. The small plastic tubes dotted with electrodes create a lightweight, flexible structure suitable for applications ranging from laptop cooling systems to the pumps in portable IVs. Even better, claims Alex Beavers, CEO of Artificial Muscle, is that artificial muscle technology is cheap because its building blocks "are available today in large quantities."
4. Shop Off the Weight
The British supermarket chain Tesco is rolling out shopping carts that double as exercise equipment. Much like your standard treadmill, the carts come equipped with a handlebar console that displays distance walked, calories burned, and heart rate. The system can be adjusted to increase resistance. The carts accent a broader repositioning of the Tesco chain around healthful foods and lifestyle. "On a high setting, you can burn as much as 280 calories in 40 minutes," says prototype designer Wayne Asher.
5. This Milk Shake Brings All the Boys to the Yard
The Indianapolis-based Steak n Shake chain reports that its new "side by side" milk shake helped drive a 17% jump in sales in the first quarter. Customers can order any two of the chain's eight shake flavors -- thanks to a special pouring technique, the two vertical columns never quite mix. "We've focused more on our milk shakes than in the past," says marketing director Shannon White, "which obviously has a significant impact on our sales."