Best Of The Rest

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Jacques Cousteau, Eat Your Heart Out
With its ballooned-out arms and legs, it looks like moon gear for the Michelin Man, but this 1,100-lb. diving suit is strictly for deep-sea adventures. Unlike standard diving equipment, which can't take you much deeper than 1,000 ft., the Atmospheric Diving System by Oceanworks International stabilizes air pressure around the body so that divers working as deep as 2,000 ft. below sea level feel as if they're still on the beach. Powered by twin thrusters mounted on either side of the oxygen tank, the suit lets you steer in any direction, using built-in foot pedals. But the suits are so heavy that divers have to be lowered in a metal cage before they can step out and look around. The U.S. Navy, which plans to use the suit for submarine rescue and salvage missions, bought the first four units. Eventually, the Michelin Man look may also be available for scientific researchers and deep-sea explorers.

--INVENTOR Hardsuits International
--AVAILABILITY Now, for $2.7 million
--TO LEARN MORE Call 604-986-5600

Arches in the Sky
Drawbridges are quaint, but they are so medieval. So when city planners in the industrial town of Gateshead, in northeast England, picked a design for a new pedestrian and bike bridge to connect Gateshead with the historic city of Newcastle across the winding river Tyne, they decided that a break from tradition was in order. For most of the day, a single steel arch vaults high above the water, fixed by 18 harplike suspension cables to a 413-ft.-long, curved pathway below. When a boat approaches, however, the entire bridge pivots to one side. As the lower deck rises into the air, the upper arch descends on the other side until both halves are suspended opposite each other some 90 ft. in the air. Powered by hydraulics, the $25 million Millennium Bridge can tilt back and forth in four minutes. The bridge is the centerpiece of a multimillion-dollar urban-renewal plan that will eventually connect a new arts center to hotels and restaurants on either shore.

--INVENTORS Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Gifford and Partners, civil engineers
--AVAILABILITY Opened Sept. 2001

Hit the Brakes
In her hit movie Speed, Sandra Bullock drove a bus with a mind of its own, programmed to explode if it went below 50 m.p.h. Now buses on real-life autopilot are coming to Las Vegas. A camera mounted on the dashboard of the electric-powered Civis reads stripes painted on the road. If a bus strays even slightly from the markings, a motor on the steering wheel nudges the bus back in line. Human drivers, who control the brakes and accelerator, play only a bit part in this action flick.

--INVENTOR Irisbus
--AVAILABILITY October 2003

Electric bikes have never been cool. After all, what self-respecting rider would let a battery do all the work? But fuel-cell technology, which uses pollution-free hydrogen gas to generate an electric current, could ignite electric-bike sales. The first prototype, from Italian bikemaker Aprilia, stores compressed hydrogen in a 2-liter metal canister housed in the frame. With a top speed of 20 m.p.h., the bike won't win the Tour de France. But it weighs 20% less than regular electrics and travels twice as far, about 43 miles, before it needs more gas. Now that's cool.

--INVENTOR Aprilia
--AVAILABILITY In 2003, for approximately $2,300

Hop, Hop...Splat!
Savvy marketers know that before you can sell a new toy for kids you have to seduce the parents too. Since the world is full of folks over 30 with fond memories of pogoing till they dropped, it's about time someone reinvented this retro favorite. The new Airgo replaces the metal springs of classic pogo sticks with an air pump for a smoother, quieter ride. Of course, kids--and grownups too--may have to land on their fanny a few times before they get the hang of it.

--INVENTOR Carlton Calvin, Razor USA
--AVAILABILITY Now, for $80

Actually, It Is Rocket Science
Senator John Glenn is not the only civilian who would enjoy rocketing into space, but chances are the rest of us won't be hitching a ride on a space shuttle anytime soon. We'll have to wait until private companies can take us there. Jeff Greason of Mojave, Calif., has done his part by creating the first low-cost, reusable rocket engines. Greason's EZ-Rocket prototype, which took flight this fall, is powered by twin engines that burn isopropyl alcohol and liquid oxygen to generate 400 lbs. of thrust. Greason's engines should be able to carry passengers 65 miles above the earth--too low to go into orbit but high enough to give space tourists a spectacular view of the planet. Greason estimates that planes powered by his engines could someday cost as little as $900 per flight to operate. The planes would cost as much as a Lear jet ($10 million), but Greason figures that's a bargain considering that Lear jets can't fly high enough and the cheapest boosters start at $100 million.

--INVENTOR Jeff Greason, Xcor Aerospace
--AVAILABILITY In 2003, for $10 million

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