Go Gadget: the power of invention

Often weird and wonderful, inventions have the ability to capture the imagination of people the world over. Ben East takes a look at the latest creations from this year’s International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, including the life-changing Robotic hand

A hands-free umbrella or a teddy bear with wi-fi connectivity might sound like the work of a wacky inventor, but the International Exhibition of Inventions, held in Geneva every April, is serious business. With 789 exhibitors from 46 countries across the world, it attracts over 60,000 visitors intrigued by the latest output of the globe’s gadget gurus. And, of course, whether humanity has advanced sufficiently for its businessmen to be able to remain dry in a rainstorm... and still make a call on their mobiles.

In fact, the organisers don’t like people calling the exhibition quirky - they prefer to see invention as necessary progress. So if tying shoelaces is just a little too bothersome, then a South Korean invention will do it for you with a single touch. More dramatically, Yu Gao of China brought to Geneva her solution for aeroplanes struggling with emergency landings: see-through parachutes.

If Gao’s demonstration looked somewhat like a cutting edge art installation, then Kuwaiti inventor Adel Jumaa Abdine’s similar solution to landing difficulties was much more prosaic - and therefore likely to make it into production. His new system provides better communications between plane, control and rescue rooms in event of an emergency. Abdine went home with a silver medal.

Saudi Arabian physicist Maha bint Muhammad Khayyat went one better, winning gold for her work with silicon nanowires - tiny wires that may be used in next-gen computing devices. Saudi Arabia actually won 11 awards in Geneva, including three for Abdulrahman Alsultan, who presented his method of identifying diabetics suffering from higher risk of infection due to the presence of pathogenic bacteria in their bodies.

So amid the inventors promoting a children’s football game played in a mini-stadium, there were exhibitors here making a real difference - underlined by the Grand Prix winner. The best invention of the exhibition award was bestowed upon a company from Hong Kong, China, which has designed a robotic, glove-like contraption allowing people who have suffered a stroke to regain use of their hands - using the same thought processes as they would have done before.

Rehab-Robotics’ invention is already used in two hospitals in Hong Kong. All of which goes to show that the basis of the International Exhibition of Inventions is in the here and now. Although, judging by the complicated array of straps required by the hands-free umbrella, it may just have been easier to invent something to prevent clouds.