This article is from the In-Depth Report World Changing Ideas 2013

7 Additional Compelling Breakthroughs

Air bags for cyclists, paper without trees, robot lifeguards, and more


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The December 2012 edition of Scientific American describes in detail 10 radical breakthroughs that are poised to change the world. In the process of choosing them, the editors decided to highlight seven other compelling innovations and trends that also have great promise. Here they are.

An Air Bag for Your Bike
At $600, the Hövding bicycle "helmet" is pricey. But the design is so ingenious it could change the nature of the traditional hard-shell helmets that cyclists and motorcyclists wear.

The helmet is actually a collar that a rider wears around his or her neck. The collar contains a decompressed air bag that deploys instantly during a crash, enveloping the rider's head. Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin began to design the collar when they were students at Lund University in Sweden, and they are now part of the 16-person start-up company in Malmö, Sweden, that makes the commercial version of it. The collar is equipped with accelerometers and gyroscopes that detect the cyclist's movements and cause the helmet to deploy. The air bag inflates fully in about a tenth of a second. Some critics note that the collar can only be used once, but traditional helmets are supposed to be replaced following crashes as well.
This "invisible" helmet currently comes with two different designer covers. Hövding staged crashes to demonstrate the product at the Mercedes–Benz fashion week in Stockholm in August 2012. After a helmet has been deployed, the customer can return it to Hövding for recycling.

Image: Hydronalix

Robot Life Guards
On July 15 two boys off the Oregon coast found themselves struggling against a riptide, being dragged from shore. No lifeguard was near the remote area. Their father called 911 and jumped in to help. One son made it back, but the father and the other child were in trouble. The Depoe Bay Fire Department arrived, threw what looked like a large, horizontal buoy into the water, and used a remote control to steer the contraption to the father and son, saving them.

That "buoy" was actually the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, or E.M.I.L.Y. Created by Hydronalix, a maritime robotics company in Green Valley, Ariz., the 11-kilogram, 1.4-meter-long robotic lifeguard is powered by a small motor that runs on rechargeable batteries. Hydronalix envisions the $10,000 robot sitting idle at a beach or marina. On seeing a swimmer in distress, a rescuer or any passerby would throw E.M.I.L.Y. into the water and steer it by remote control to the swimmer, who would grab on and wait safely for other help to arrive. E.M.I.L.Y. cannot replace lifeguards but can reach swimmers quickly, even in areas that would be too dangerous for a human rescuer.

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