Giving it some welly

Tom Rowe takes a look at some of the wackier prototpe gadgets out there

CabBoots are the brainchild of young Bavarian inventor Martin Frey, who designs “novel concepts for computer-human interaction”, according to his website. He describes the CabBoots as an interface for a “pedestrian navagiation system”. Basically, you can programme the boots to walk you somewhere. Other personal navigation devices communicate with the user on an aural or visual level, but the CabBoots interact with kinetic perception in the foot and ankle. A virtual path can be mapped out on a computer, PDA or mobile, to which they are connected wirelessly via Bluetooth. The boots can then be programmed to take the wearer in a certain direction. There could be benefits for the visually impaired, for guided tours, or even for those whose beer compass has gone astray. They may not look like much at the moment, but Frey has already built a new and improved second prototype which is fully self-contained and can be strapped on to shoes of a certain size range.


Trojan Troy

Canadian inventor Troy Hurtubise came to the world's attention several years ago when he constructed a suit of armour known as a ‘bear suit', which he planned on using for scientific research on grizzly bears (you can see Troy's Project Grizzly go into action on YouTube).

Continuing his research, Troy has created what he calls the “first ballistic, full exoskeleton body suit of armour”. The suit is made from a homemade material called 1313 paste which hardens on kevlar to a point where it can withstand bullets, explosions and fire, yet is light and inexpensive. One of its ingredients is Diet Coke. Named the ‘Trojan' by Hurbubise and the ‘Halo suit' by others (due to its resemblance to the suit worn in the computer game Halo), it comes with gun holsters, emergency morphine and salt, a knife, pepper spray, a recording device for a soldier's last words, a detachable transponder that can be swallowed in case of trouble, and a solar powered, air-conditioned helmet. A laser pointer is incorporated into the helmet, ready to point at snipers. It weighs 18kg and could be mass produced for $2,000, according to the inventor.

Having spent years and his life savings developing the materials, Troy received huge media attention, but no military contracts as he had hoped. The suit is for sale on eBay – there were 31 bids at time of press, but the reserve price had still not been met by the highest of these, $15,000.


The second coming

It may be cheeky to call the new Apple iPhone a prototype, but while it has been launched to great fanfare, it still has a few hurdles to jump: one is gaining the approval of the US Federal Communications Commission. The other is convincing the public that it is a good product. This may not seem too great a problem, but the general public in the US will not get its hands on the gadget until June, and hands may be the problem. Current Apple products like the iPod have glossy screens that attract grease from fingers when touched. The iPhone has only one on/off button; all other functions are touchscreen. When the iPod was first released, the company had to deal with a large amount of faulty machines. Critics envision a similar situation with the iPhone. Plus, the iPhone will be only available with a contract through Cingular Wireless, it has at most eight gigabytes of storage space, no 3G and it is very expensive. Still, maybe the fact that it incorporates a mobile phone, a video iPod, a camera and wide-ranging internet access into a compact package with Apple's trademark design features will ensure the success of what some now call the ‘Jesus phone' (ie the second coming of Apple).