Inventors & Remarkable People

High tech supersleuth Dick Tracy turns 75

September 21, 2006 It’s time to pay homage to super sleuth Dick Tracy who turns 75 next week, or more specifically, it’s 75 years since Dick first appeared in the Detroit Mirror in 1931. The creation of cartoonist, indeed futurist, Chester Gould, Detective Tracy used forensics, futuristic methodology and wireless technology way ahead of its time. Gould’s imagination gave us the Closed Circuit TV Police villains line-up in 1953 - real suspect lineups were introduced the following year. Dick was using Electronic Telephone Number Pickup in 1954, 28 years before Caller ID was patented. One we’ve still to see was the Magnetic Space Coupe which took Tracy to the moon in 1962, seven years before the first actual moon landing, with the prospects of the magnetic car still realistic, having been used in the Lexus Concept from "Minority Report". The most iconic of Dick Tracy’s kit though, was his wrist communicator, a device that started countless millions of technological dreams in a young American technology community which went on to create ubiquitous wireless communication. There would not have been one leader in the communications revolution who wasn’t touched by Dick Tracy’s videoconferencing wrist watch. The device arrived in 1946 with two-way audio, became video in 1964, and a wireless wrist-worn computer in 1987. Gould’s imagination deserves credit for helping to fuel the communications boom of the late 20th Century.Read More

The Farnsworth Invention to become a stage play

September 18, 2006 In May of this year, Elma G. "Pem" Farnsworth passed away and we were staggered to think that someone who witnessed and played such a major role in one of the key inventions of the 20th century could have still been alive. Pem was the wife of television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, one of the last “lone inventors” who worked it all out from scratch and his quest to finally transmit pictures through the air was reached for the first time on September 7, 1927. Now Farnsworth’s story is to be told in a new stage production "The Farnsworth Invention" written by well known writer Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the television series “West Wing” which won him an Emmy for outstanding writing in a drama series for his fast-paced and intricate dialog. Sorkin’s play “A Few Good Men” also became a major film. Originally written as a screenplay, and now rewritten as a play, "The Farnsworth Invention" will run from February 20 to March 25, 2007 at the La Jolla Playhouse Potiker Theatre in California. One of the backers of the production is none other than Steven Spielberg so don’t be surprised to see it as a feature film sooner or later. Read More

The interactive Codex Atlanticus - digital working models of Leonardo Da Vinci's inventions

September 5, 2006 The term “renaissance man” implies an extraordinary breadth of expertise and capability and no person epitomises the well-rounded concept than painter, inventor, sculptor, architect, anatomist, engineer, geometer and musician Leonardo da Vinci. That he was a master of several of these disciplines and hundreds of years ahead of his time in some makes him without equal. All of which makes this announcement incredibly exciting as there’s now a compelling new way to engage with Leonardo’s remarkable work, at least in the area of invention. Innovative Italian media company Leonardo3 has created a digital version of the Codex Atlanticus – an interactive book containing more than 100 of Da Vinci’s most fascinating manuscript pages. The pages can be “turned” and it’s possible to zoom in on Leonardo’s sketches, and the inventor’s secret messages and notes, many of which can’t be deciphered with the naked eye. For example, zooming in on Leonardo’s design for a military fortress shows his secret plan for a subterranean tunnel that allowed for escape if the fortress walls were breached. Enigmatic notes and sketches can also be discovered by “flipping” the pages over and looking at them from the back. More than 50 3-D machine models spring from the images on the pages as well, allowing the viewer to interact with the machines and understand how the designs work. Guests can view Leonardo’s design for a naval cannon from all sides and actually fire this artillery, seeing how its opposing cannons were designed to absorb the force of firing and keep the boat on course. Ideal as a gift for the gifted and special people in your life, the price is as remarkable as the contents – you can buy it on-line for just UER25.90 (US$33).Read More

Company claims to have developed new technology that provides unlimited free energy

Steorn, an Irish company, claims to have produced a groundbreaking (we do not use this word lightly) technology which is based on the interaction of magnetic fields and produces free, clean and constant energy. If the claims are true, the new technology will enable a significant range of benefits, from the convenience of never having to refuel your car or recharge your mobile phone, to a genuine solution to the need for zero emission energy production. It will also provide a secure supply of energy, since the components of the technology are readily available. Steorn’s technology appears to violate the ‘Principle of the Conservation of Energy’, (energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only change form) considered by many to be the most fundamental principle in our current understanding of the universe. Fully aware that its claims will be considered bunkum by anyone who has graduated kindergarten, Steorn today issued a challenge to the global scientific community to test its free energy technology. Steorn has placed an advertisement in The Economist to attract the attention of the world’s leading scientists working in the field of experimental physics. From all the scientists who accept the challenge, twelve will be invited to take part in a rigorous testing exercise to prove that Steorn’s technology creates free energy. The results will be published worldwide. That's Steorn's Richard Walshe with the George Bernard Shaw quote on the placard - all great truths begin as blasphemies.Read More

Optical breakthrough makes “Lab-on-a-Chip” possible

August 8, 2006 Georgia Tech researchers have found a way to shrink all the sensing power of sophisticated biosensors — such as sensors that can detect trace amounts of a chemical in a water supply or a substance in your blood — onto a single microchip. In compact communication, signal processing and sensing optics technologies, multiple wavelengths of light are combined as a space-saving measure as they carry information. The wavelengths must then be separated again when they reach their destinations. Wavelengths used for these sophisticated applications have very high spectral resolution, meaning the distance between wavelengths is very small. The device that sorts out these crowded wavelengths is called a wavelength-demultiplexer (WD).Read More

Hulme SuperCar - the name behind the badge

July 26, 2006 The Hulme Supercar proudly takes the name of the former World F1 Champion, international racing driver and one of New Zealand’s favourite sons, Denny Hulme. In doing so it also takes the name of Hulme’s equally famous father, Clive Hulme. Denny Hulme won eight F1 Grands Prix, two Can-Am titles, and the World Formula One Drivers Championship in 1967. His father Clive achieved war hero status during World War II for his exploits as a sniper-killer operating just behind enemy lines and his Rambo-esque, one-man forays behind enemy lines saw him kill 33 snipers before he was seriously wounded - he remains a living legend to the folks at home. For his “outstanding and inspiring qualities of leadership, initiative, skill, endurance and most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty,” Clive was awarded the highest medal of military valour, the Victoria Cross. The parallels between father and son make interesting reading.Read More

Aldrin Gemini XII / Apollo XI flight suit under the hammer

July 6, 2006 If you’re at all interested in science fiction memorabilia, the upcoming Hollywood Memorabilia auction on eBay might well be worth a look. First up, the star of the show is indeed not scifi but a genuine Buzz Aldrin Gemini XII / Apollo XI flight suit with original rank insignia and mission patches, which was worn during training for both missions by the second person to walk on the moon. It’s the only flight suit of Aldrin’s in private hands and is expected to fetch between US$120,000 and US$150,000. The movie memorabilia which will also go during the auction is quite breathtaking in its breadth and depth, and includes a complete T.I.E fighter pilot outfit from Star Wars, Liam Neeson’s Light Saber from Star Wars - The Phantom Menace, the Proton Pack used by Bill Murray in GhostBusters II, an array of guns, bugs and clothing from StarShip Troopers, and dozens of futuristic gadgets and outfits used in Star Trek. Plus Arnie’s leather jacket from Terminator III and a futurist police helmet from The Fifth Element and … follow the links. Read More

The Talking Camera - new handheld electronic reader will change the lives of millions

June 27, 2006 There are 174 million visually impaired people in the world, and we can hardly imagine how overjoyed these people will be to hear of a groundbreaking new device that has been announced by the United States National Federation of the Blind (NFB) - the Kurzweil-NFB Reader. The handheld machine was developed by NFB and renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil, and enables users to take pictures of and read most printed materials. Users hold the device over any print document (such as a letter, bill, restaurant menu, airline ticket, business card, or office memo) and in seconds they hear the contents of the printed document read to them in a clear synthetic voice. Readers go on sale July 1 for US$3,495. Download a brochure here. The invention will once again focus public attention on the inventive mind of Ray Kurzweil which has made significant contributions to human knowledge in the areas of optical character recognition, music synthesis, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence – read about his remarkable career inside.Read More

Shuji Nakamura wins the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize

June 18, 2006 The world’s most lucrative technology award, the Millennium Technology Prize, has been awarded to Professor Shuji Nakamura. Nakamura was awarded the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize, including a cash component of one million euros, for his work in developing new sources of light – bright-blue, green and white LEDs and blue lasers. Professor Nakamura’s work has launched a totally-new sector in light-producing semiconductor research, made possible the widescale industrial production of efficient, energy-saving LED lights and created the conditions for applications that improve the quality of human life. His blue lasers have enabled the next generation of optical storage (BluRay and HD-DVD), his LED work has enabled highly efficient lighting systems suitable for significantly reducing consumption of the world’s resources, and his work with ultraviolet LEDs could enable far cheaper and more efficient water purification processes to provide the third world with its most needed commodity (sadly, safe water). Nakamura’s win is also significant in that a significant body of his work related to a high profile patent dispute that challenged the Japanese tradition of selfless devotion to employers.Read More

The Pedal Radio

June 10, 2006 The population density of the world’s continents says it all: North America (32 people/sq mile), South America (73), Europe (134), Asia (203), Africa (65) and Australia with just 6.4 people per square mile. Given that 90% of Australia’s population live in large cities in the South Eastern corner, the immense interior known as “the Outback” is one of Australia’s defining features. Eighty years ago, with almost no telecommunication infrastructure beyond the seaboard, the tyranny of distance loomed much larger in the Outback as the nearest doctor could be several thousand miles away, with no method of contacting them in an emergency. Hearing that German WW1 soldiers had used hand-cranked radios for battlefield communications, Alf Traeger set about creating a radio powered by bicycle pedals. The invention of the pedal radio in the late 1920s enabled the famous Flying Doctor service, and offered remote settlements access to telecommunications for th first time, Read More


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