1 High-tech guitar
A 26-year-old Australian designer has invented a brand-new way to be a rock star. The Misa Digital Guitar’s fret board looks like a traditional six-string’s, but with no strings attached. There’s a touch pad where the sound hole normally is, and instead of plucking or strumming strings, you tap, drag or brush the pad to “play” the instrument electronically. (As a bonus, bursts of funky blue light accompany each touch.) The guitar plugs into a synthesiser, which produces the music – kind of an electronica version of Jimi Hendrix. What remains in question: will Misa go on the road with real musicians or become part of the living room?
2 Digital cooking
Three-dimensional computer “printers” may one day cook our meals. The innovation comes from US design students Marcelo Coelho and Amit Zoran, who are creating a personal “food factory” using the tools of industrial design. By layering ingredients in the same way that a printhead layers drops of ink, the Cornucopia “offers a new way to think about cooking”, says Coelho. How it works: you fill the canisters on top with the ingredients of a recipe, then enter directions digitally. The device draws down the correct combinations of ingredients and attached nozzles that cool, heat and mix the flavours accordingly. If tests succeed, the kitchen aid could be available by 2013 – with the intended audience chefs for whom cooking is always an experiment.
3 Sex boost for women
More than a decade after a little blue pill to enhance the male libido became available, women may now get their turn. A German company studied Flibanserin as an antidepressant, but it failed to perform better than a placebo. When tested later on premenopausal women with reduced sex drives and sex-related distress, however, it showed real promise. Flibanserin would be the first treatment for female sexual dysfunction that works on neurotransmitters in the brain, not hormones in the body. “There are no concerns about serious side effects like blood clots or potential risks like cancer, as there are with hormone therapies,” says trial coordinator Dr Anita Clayton.
Now, if they could just find a sexier name for it.
4 Safer helmets
Place a finger to your scalp and move it to and fro and you’ll feel the skin slide gently over the skull. Scientists took a tip from this bit of human physiology to develop a more protective motorcycle helmet. The secret is SuperSkin, a thin gelatinous layer covered with a tough plastic coating. When a biker falls and scrapes his or her helmet across the ground, the motion rotates the head, often causing brain and neck damage. With SuperSkin, the helmet behaves as the scalp does – it stretches a bit before breaking. “It took us 14 years to find a plastic that would work,” says Dr Ken Phillips, the helmet’s inventor. “Now we’ve got one that stretches 800%. The helmet’s skin will break if it stretches too far, but you can actually save someone in the meantime.”
Currently, only helmets for motorcyclists are available, but other helmets may not be far behind.
5 Four-day working week
You can thank the GFC for kick-starting the conversation about better ways to work, says Rex Facer, a management professor at Brigham Young University. After Utah became the first US state to mandate a four-day week for most of its employees, Facer found that workers who received the same salary either way preferred four longer days to five shorter ones, and called in sick less often. The state also saw some of its bills slashed. Fewer kilometres on state vehicles provided US$1.4 million ($1.6 million) in savings, while less overtime and sick leave cut another US$4.1 million ($4.8 million). Although four days don’t work for everyone, the trend is expected to grow. “It’s a way to attract and retain talented employees,” says Facer.
6 Germ-fighting fabrics
The next miracle fabric may truly be a miracle. iFyber cofounder Aaron Strickland has helped develop a technology that allows fabric to repel water and oil, fight germs, detect dangerous chemicals and explosives – and conduct enough energy to power an iPod. The company uses a special process to bind multifunctional nano-particles to natural and synthetic fibres. Expect to see practical applications soon.