Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Nanoclusters break superconductivity record

Al nanoclusters

Wow! Every now and again a paper on the arxiv leaps out at you and today there’s work from Indiana University in Bloomington that has got my eyeballs on stalks.

Get this: a team led by Martin Jarrold is claiming to have found evidence of superconductivity in aluminium nanoclusters at 200 K .

Yep, 200 K. The current world record for high temperature superconductivity is 138 K for a cuprate perovskite so that’s a massive jump.

The background to this is that two years ago Yuri Ovchinnikov at the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in Moscow and Vladimir Kresin at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California predicted that metal nanoclusters with exactly the right number of delocalised electrons (a few hundred or so) could become strong superconductors.

Now Jarrold and his buddies (Kresin and Ovchinnikov among them) have found the first evidence that this prediction is correct in individual aluminium nanoclusters containing 45 or 47 atoms . And they found it at 200 K.

A few caveats. Before a claim of superconductivity can be made, physicists require three unambiguous and repeatable lines of evidence. The first is obviously zero electrical resistance. The second is the Meisner effect in which the superconductor reflects an external magnetic field. And finally there must be evidence of a superconducting phase transition, such as a jump in the material’s heat capacity when superconductivity occurs.

What Jarrold’s team have measured is the last effect–a massive change in an individual nanocluster’s heat capacity at 200 K. That’s an important pillar of evidence which is consistent with superconductivity but it is not yet a slam dunk.

Jarrold and his team are simply time-stamping their efforts by publishing on the arxiv and you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re looking for other evidence right now.

Even with that proviso, this looks to be an important breakthrough which should be straightforward for other groups to replicate. The group’s work is not yet peer-reviewed. That’ll be an important step too.

Jarrold will be only too mindful that the field of high temperature superconductivity is littered with the corpses of physicists who have made premature claims.

But for the moment, sit back and admire. 200K…wow! That’s room temperature in Siberia at certain times of the year.

Ref: Evidence for High Tc Superconducting Transitions in Isolated Al45 and Al47 Nanoclusters

Earlier ref: Shell Structure and Strengthening of Superconducting Pair Correlation in Nanoclusters

Bluetooth surveillance secretly tested in the city of Bath

Bath according to bluetooth

In 2001 Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras was jailed in a Spanish prison for drug related offences. Whilst imprisoned, Trashorras established regular contact with Jamal Ahmidan who was serving time for a petty crime. Both individuals embraced radical Islamic fundamentalist ideas within the prison and were recruited in the Takfir wa al-Hijra group, a Moroccan terrorist groups linked with al-Qaida . Following their release, Ahmidan became the leader of the terrorist cell that conducted the Madrid bombing. In a drugs-for-bombs exchange with a third party, Trashorras provided the explosives for the 13 backpack bombs that killed 191 people and injured hundreds.

So write Vassilis and Panos Kostakos in the department of computer science and the University of Bath in the UK, who have come up with a system that they say could spot and monitor these kinds of interactions in prisons.

Their idea? Fit inmates with RFID tags that allow their positions to be monitored, and then number crunch the resulting data sets to see who spends the most time with whom.

Not exactly rocket science but the Kostakos’s have an even more frightening idea. Why not test the idea by anonymously monitoring the movements of students, residents and workers of the city of Bath by listening out for their bluetooth-enabled devices as they move around the city. And that’s what they’ve done.

What the Kostakos found is that it is straightforward to capture data on people’s encounters using bluetooth. In fact they captured data on 10,000 unique devices during the 6 month study. Yep, that’s 10,000.

Exactly how much you can tell about these encounters isn’t clear. But hey, this is only a demonstration (either that or they’re keeping schtum about the juicy details).

Of course, it’s already possible to make inferences about encounters between individuals using the location information from cellphone networks. But that isn’t easily accessible to ordinary folk and in any case has a blunt resolution of a mile or so. Bluetooth, on the other hand, gives your location to within 10 metres or so.

The moral? Turn off your bluetooth enabled devices when in the city of Bath (and anywhere else). In other hands, this kind of data could be dangerous.

Ref: Intelligence Gathering by Capturing the Social Processes Within Prisons

The puzzling discovery of a motor made from liquid film

Liquid film motor

Here’s an interesting effect discovered by a group of Iranian physicists at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran (it’s not often we hear from these guys).

They placed a thin film of water in a square cell and applied two perpendicular electric fields. One was an external electric field. For the other, they used two copper electrodes to generate a voltage across the cell like an electrolysing cell (although no chemical reaction took place).

So they had a pair of electric fields at right angles acting on this thin film.

The unexpected result is that the film of water begins to rotate. The team has a number of movies of the effect on its website. They call it a liquid film motor and it’s a quite extraordinary effect. At one point they divide their cell into nine smaller ones and the liquid in each cell rotates in exactly the same way.

The question is: what’s causing the rotation? The team can easily control the direction and speed of rotation by varying the relative angle and direction of the electric fields, which rules out the possibility that convection is causing the rotation (something that is seen when a field is applied to some thin films of liquid crystals). Neither does adding salt to water change the effect, ruling out the possibility that ion movement directs the flow.

The rotation occurs in polar liquids but not in non-polar ones so the intrinsic dipole moment of the molecules seems to be crucial. People have been observing the electrohydrodynamics of various types of thin films for a good few years but nobody has seen anything like this. Just what’s going on remains a mystery.

But the puzzle shouldn’t overshadow what looks like an important discovery that could have widespread industrial application in microfluidic devices for mixing.

Ref: A Liquid Film Motor

Why the smaller helicopters are hard to fly ??


Tiny remote control helicopters have become all the rage in the last few years as lightweight motors and materials have plummeted in price. But if you’ve ever played with one, you’ll know how hard they are to control.

That’s not the result of poor construction. Small helicopters are harder to control than big ones because of the laws of physics: moments of inertia drop in proportion to the fifth power of vehicle size. This gives small helicopters quicker response times, making them more agile. But the real killer is that the main rotor tip speed in a small helicopter is the about the same as it is for a large helicopter. So the ratio of the rotor moments to the moments of inertia can become huge and unmanageable.

That’s when you need to develop a model of helicopter dynamics so you can design remote control systems or an autonomous flight control system that can manage this agility, say Hardian Reza Dharmayanda and pals at Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea.

And that’s what they’ve done in this paper: built and tested a control system for a Yamaha R-50 helicopter, which uses a two-bladed main rotor with a Bell-Hiller stabilizer bar. The next step, they say, is to make the helicopter fully autonomous using their model.

These guys may be re-inventing the wheel but it’s interesting to see how they’re doing it.

Ref: Analysis of Stability, Response and LQR Controller Design of a Small-Scale Helicopter Dynamics

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 5 Hi-Fi Speakers

However, amazing your regular, rectangular, boxy speakers may sound, they definitely miss out on the funk factor. For a pair of great-sounding speakers that don’t need to scream for attention, lay your hands on these Bang & Olufsen delights, called BeoLab 5. They look like UFOs docked to big cones, and sound like audiophile heaven. With each speaker running on 2,500 watts of power, they can go loud – very loud – while retaining a clean, crisp sound. B&O also boasts that the speakers sounds great no matter where you stand, bringing you stereo sound even if you’re standing right out in the lawn.

Additional information is available at the Bang & Olufsen site

Cells With USB Connector

Fed up of carrying rechargeable AA batteries and their chunky charger? Well, UK’s Moxia Energy has a solution. Their latest USB cells, which look and work like normal AA batteries, hide a little USB connector under the lid. So the next time you are running out of juice, all you have to do is pop this baby into a USB port and recharge. Then again, with the number of USB ports available around the place, chances are you will

Welcome to The Generative Thinking Era

The business world moves in cycles and I am wondering if we are entering a new era. With the US perhaps in a recession in seems to me that business leaders have pulled their horns in and are cutting back. Here we go again. Short term it makes the numbers look good. But where are the leaders with vision? The leaders that want to take a risk and invest in the future? Perhaps they no longer work in large businesses anymore.

This made me think. What is the next phase after innovation? Does anyone know? I would like to hear from anyone what they think the next era is? We have had customer centric, quality, six-sigma, or innovation. What is next? Are these all a fad or just passing ships in the night?

Perhaps we are entering a new age–one in which people have to learn to think better and faster. By this I mean generative not process thinking. The second type of thinking can be done better by computers. But the first, Generative Thinking (at Speed) is the way of the future. Any employee should be judged on what value they generate for a customer, supplier, partner, employee or shareholder.

But here is the rub. Most people do not know how to do generative thinking. Most managers love precedent; to follow what has been done before; to avoid mistakes. But this is the opposite of generating original insights and ideas. Thus most leaders are caught in a bind of their own making. Value is created more and more by generative thinking which is the very type of approach they are not comfortable with nor encourage.

Generative thinking creates exceptions rather than conformity, experiments rather than follows procedures and asks new uncomfortable questions and does all this at lightning speed.

This is an uncomfortable reality for most leaders. So if you are a generative person go and form your own business or at the very least, go and find a leader that appreciates you. You are entering the generative thinking era so don’t waste your talents on managers who have never generated a thing in their life.

Ken Hudson, Founder IdeaSpace

Driving for Pregnant Women Becomes Safer

Becoming a first time mother is full of new experiences and worries, starting from the moment you discover you’ve conceived. Everyday activities such as driving can become worrisome, especially when you find that everything from your favorite jeans to your seatbelt no longer fit the way they used to!

The Tummy Shield is an Australian-based product designed to protect your little one in utero whenever you are driving. With a combination as simple as a cushion and safety strap, expectant moms are able to guard their most precious cargo without a lot of hassle.

It was created by an Australian inventor over many years of testing and hard work. He became commited to creating a safer seat belt after his 7 month pregnant wife was involved in a minor car accident that he believed caused brain damage to their first child.

To use, simply place the Tummy Shield cushion and fasten with buckle. You may need to use an extension piece if you are bigger or further along in your pregnancy. Put on your seat belt as you normally would, and then pull it away so you can fasten it securely to the provided hook.

With your seatbelt now safely away from the tummy area, you have just successfully beaten the odds of fetal death that often occur in even moderate automobile accidents.

You can watch a video of the product here or below.

You can purchase the Tummy Shield through their official website , or by visiting other fine online retailers.

Hat tip to Make World Better.

Solar Powered Plane Lands Once Every Five Years?

U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the U.S. Department of Defense will see to the development of an aircraft that will need to land but once every five years. Yes, only once every 5 years! The project is called Project Vulture!

The idea is to create a plane that can operate under its own power, in low altitudes, (still in the stratosphere). In addition during those five years the aircraft is in flight it is expected to perform intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and communication missions. It’s a big project.

As of now DARPA has taken on only 3 contractors to do the job. These 3 contractors are: Boeing, Lockheed, and Aurora Flight Sciences. Their mission is to create this unmanned aerial vehicle the DARPA wants. So far, Aurora Flight Sciences is the only company to unveil an actual unmanned aerial vehicle concept. It is called the Odysseus and is a lean machine.

The Odysseus, still only a concept, will have the ability to use solar energy to power the aircraft during daylight, and store solar energy to power the aircraft at night. In addition the aircraft will adjust its wings into a Z configuration. This configuration will help maximize the amount of solar energy collected on the surface of the Odysseus. The aircraft must also have the ability to split into three separate planes and is required to be able to carry a 1,000-pound payload.

When split in 3, the planes have a wingspan of approximately 50 meters, or 164 feet, but when connected the wingspan measures “longer than that of three Boeing 767s”.

On Aurora’s team are: BAE Systems, C.S. Draper Laboratories, and Sierra Nevada Corporation to help out. Each teammate will focus on different aspect of the plane. For example, “BAE will focus on payloads, sensors, and concept of operations and employment.”

What can be the Potential use for a plane like the Odysseus? Aurora foresees, “global climate change research, weather monitoring, and regional-scale telecommunications”.

Via Ecogeek and Cleantech.

Handsfree Bluetooth Flying Saucer Device

Bluetooth headsets and other devices allowing handsfree operation of your cellular device are rising in popularity, and usefulness. Why conform to the masses with their over-the-ear ear pieces? Why not stand out and communicate in style via bluetooth technology? If you're the type who would love to make a statement, then the Flying Saucer Car Bluetooth Handsfree may be for you.

The flying saucer-like device operates on the Bluetooth 1.2 spec meaning you'll get an approximate range of 30 feet. The device includes support for voice recognition dialing included on most modern cell phones, call received technology, and echo and noise suppression to help improve call quality while on the road. Despite the fact that talk and standby times are very important for such devices, the company's website does not get into specifics for each, instead, choosing to simply state: "...long talk and standby time." Fantastic! I'm sold, aren't you?

The device has a standard lithium ion battery and comes with a 12/24 volt car charger. Also included in the package is a user manual and a car mounting bracket. The device starts at $55 each for purchases of one to five units. Further "incentive" exists to buy more, however, as the price drops by one whole dollar for bigger purchases.

Via Gadget Venue

Brilliant Invention! Vanguard System For Better Breast Cancer Detection

If you have breast cancer or other breast disease, the sooner it's found and treated the better. For a patient, the time between diagnostic test appointments and treatment intervention can seem interminable. This new MRI table and accompanying breast detection software not only take better pictures, but they allow immediate medical intervention, if needed. That's why the Vanguard System inventor, Cameron Piron, President of Sentinelle Medical Inc. just received a Best Innovator 2008 Award from the Ontario Premier.

The Sentinelle Vanguard Breast MR Auxiliary Table® (Vanguard) is made for the General Electric (GE) Signa® HDx 1.5T Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine. MRI is a non-invasive procedure using a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. An MRI can be ordered for any part of the body, but in the case of the breast, a physician would order an MRI if a mammogram or other procedure suggested that further investigation of the breast is needed for an accurate diagnosis.

Additionally, there are many women for whom neither palpation nor mammography are reliable diagnostic tools. Small breasted and large breasted women are two of these groups, but all women under 40 have typically more fibrocystic breasts than older women, and fibrocysts, though generally healthy breast tissue, can mask breast lesions. For women with fibrocystics breast who are at high risk for breast cancer, it is very possible that MRI might be recommended as a breast screening exam.

The Vanguard table is detachable from the MRI machine. It can be customized for each patient, making her more comfortable and her breasts more accessible to the diagnostic tools. The coils that cup the breasts are adjustable on the Vanguard table to fit each patient, whether she has large or small breasts. The adjustable coils enable enhanced imagery in areas that may not clearly be seen in most MRI's, especially when breast lesions are very close to the chest wall.

Offering a multi-plane view of breast tissue, the Vanguard System depends on AEGIS software coupled with Sentinelle's proprietary software, called BReast Imaging and Guidance Help Tool (BRIGHT®) to make very high resolution, real-time, three-dimensional images of breast tissue, so that accurate detection of lesions, biopsy procedures, and lesion removal will be accurate and complete. (Note: Not all breast lesions can be removed through this method, but it seems that small, contained lesions may be removed using the Vanguard System.)

What Mr. Piron and his team of electrical, mechanical, systems, space, and industrial engineers have created is a state of the art system that can detect breast cancer at very early stages. It may be recommended for women who are at high risk for breast cancer (see: American Cancer Society's 2007 high risk guidelines), including those with close family history or mammography or other diagnostic results that indicate need for further exploration.

via Exchange Morning Post , sources: Sentinelle Medical Inc., Hybrid Imaging Guidance System For Biopsy Of The Breast , and GE Healthcare.

Keeping you posted...

6 Revolving Door Ads to Get Your Head Spinning

Theophilus Van Kannel of Philadelphia was granted a patent on August 7, 1888 on the revolving door. It took eleven years for the first actual revolving door to be installed, at Rector's, a restaurant on Times Square in Manhattan. Since then, revolving doors have adorned the entrances to large offices and hotels around the world. Now, for the past year, they have become focal points with the addition of advertising.

Below are six examples of both successful and unsuccessful recent ad campaigns using revolving doors:

Revolving Door Ad 1. The Blender, Canada

Taxi Canada cooked up this creative campaign for McCain Foods in Spring 2007 to publicize its new Smooth-eez blended drinks. The revolving doors in Toronto and Calgary were designed to give the sense of being inside a blender. According to Irfan Kahn, associate creative director at Taxi Canada, kids were immediately drawn to them. Overall, the campaign was so successful, they are thinking of repeating this Spring.

Source: Media Life Magazine

Revolving Door Ad 2. Child Labor, Netherlands

March 26, 2008, one hundred children demonstrated and visited embassies and the Dutch House of Parliament to raise awareness the child labor issue. In support of their efforts, World Vision pasted life-sized adhesives of children on automatic revolving doors in Amsterdam. Above the child, the copy reads: "You can't ignore child labour."

Source: Trendhunter

I would agree. It's impossible to ignore the imploring faces of the children.

The remainder of revolving door ads were released in Spring 2007. The fact that there have been so few repeated makes me wonder at their effectiveness.

Revolving Door Ad 3. Keeps Going and Going, Turkey

From Healthy People, we get these revolving door adhesives which impart the image of a man appearing to run around and around. The focus was on Pharmaton's "everlasting energy" and the goal was to direct consumers to the "End Fatigue" website. Frankly, running endless circles seems quite fatiguing to me.

Source: Ads of the World

Revolving Door Ad 4. Front and Back, Phillipines

BBDO Guerrero Ortega strategically placed these Mitsubishi stickers on automatically revolving doors, allowing consumers to interact with the front and back of their vehicle. The consensus seems to be that the ads make it look like the people are being forced to push the car, as though it had broken down. My opinion, this doesn't make for a great message.

Source: Ads of the World

Revolving Door Ad 5. Perfectly Poised, New York

This revolving door ad was strategically placed to give a sense of a ballerina twirling. The promotion, designed by Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, promoted the Jeffery Ballet School. .

Source: Got Ads

Revolving Door Ad 6. Catch Me If you Can, Hong Kong

The Grey Agency came up with this movie promotion for "Catch Me If You Can," starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. Adhesives of the men running round and round chasing each other were placed on these revolving doors in Hong Kong.

Source: Ads of the World

What do you think of these spinning ads? Are they memorable? Know of any other creative advertising uses of revolving doors? Any of these you consider a flop?

Sources: Wikipedia. Many thanks to Amy Gifford for the significant amound of work she did on this piece.

Solar Powered Outdoor Workspace

Believe it or not, many people love their jobs, but it's the location of where they must do their job that can make the job unpleasant. Cubicles, claustrophobic offices, dark libraries, rooms with no windows and dull lighting, next to dried up plants, or surrounded by stale air can drive the sanest worker insane. A little daylight, fresh air, and greenery would do wonders to a workers mentality and perhaps even increase work productivity. What if there was a way to combine work, fresh air and sunshine?

You could grab a laptop, step outside, find a wide tree, sit down and place your laptop on your lap. It will work. It's uncomfortable, but it will work, unless of course you run out of batteries and then you're uncomfortable and out of power. Or you can take a seat at this solar powered outdoor workspace created by Mathias Schnyder.

The solar powered outdoor workspace is basically a chair with solar roof that retains and converts solar energy. The energy is then delivered to an outlet in the middle of a round table in front of the chair.

The seat has circular segment, allowing people to sit across from each other or right next to each other without funky edges or corners getting in the way. This also helps to reduce wind and sun exposure. In other words, a group of these chairs can be placed around one of these tables.

I found no information on whether the table is expandable or if it has more than one outlet available for everyone that uses it at one time. There is also no information on the price or the availability of this solar powered outdoor workspace.

The solar powered outdoor workspace can be placed just about anywhere outside: university campus, patio, deck, terrace, backyard, or on office landscape. The idea is, you choose where you want to go, place your chair there and then get to work in a more relaxing, refreshing and brighter environment.

I feel better just thinking about it. What do you think of this solar invention? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Via Cool Green Gadgets

Europe Honors Its Best: European Inventor of the Year Awards For 2008

The 2008 European Inventors of the Year were awarded yesterday in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Even if you don't recognize the names of the inventors, you will certainly know their inventions and the contributions those inventions have made to the world during the last 10 to 15 years.

The European Commission and the European Patent Office (EPO) honor inventors that have had a significant impact on people's lives and whose inventions have been patented by the EPO. This year's winners were chosen by a "high-profile" independent jury -- mostly CEO's of major European corporations.

The four categories of awards were: Industry, Small-Medium research institutes, Non-European Inventors, and Lifetime Achievement inventor awards.

The envelope please....

1. Industry Award For Best European Inventor of The Year, 2008: Audi engineer, Germany's Norbert Enning and engineering team.
2008 Audi r82008 Audi r8

In 1993, Norbert Enning, and his team of engineers at German car manufacturer Audi Corporation, designed and engineered the first aluminum frame on the Audi R8 sports car, making it the sturdiest, yet lightest and most fuel-efficient petroleum-based car. Everyone in the car industry said it couldn't be done.

2. Small - Medium Research Institute Award For Best European Inventor of the Year, 2008: Optos Corporation founder, Scottland's Douglas Anderson and Team

In 1992, Douglas Anderson's son became blind in one eye after routine eye examination failed to identify that the boy had a detached retina. Mr. Anderson vowed to create a non-invasive, patient friendly, laser examination that would reveal a compete image of the retina in just a few seconds. Since 2000, what is now called the Optos scanning laser ophthalmoscope, that has the capacity to diagnose a host of retinal diseases and abnormalities, has been made available to more that 13 million people in Europe, the UK, Canada, and the U.S.

3. Award for Best Non-European Inventor of the Year, 2008: U.S. bio-engineer Philip S Green.

da Vinci® Surgical Systemda Vinci® Surgical System

Phillip S. Green may be called the father of the da Vinci Surgical Robot, a system that allows surgeons to perform microsurgery, using tiny cameras, and miniature robots carrying microtools into the body through small incisions. The surgeon commands the tools, that perform highly accurate movements, while the surgeon observes each movement on an imaging screen. Mr. Green's efforts began in the early 1980's, but it was not until 1999 that Intuitive Surgical introduced the da Vinci Surgical System to the medical community for their use.

4. Lifetime Achievement Award For Best European Inventor: Erik De Clercq, University of Leuven, Belgium

Erik De Clercq made many contributions to modern medicine through discoveries of antiviral treatments, but he is best known for his work in HIV/AIDS. As the developer of the "drug cocktail" that has been assisting millions of AIDS sufferers to lead longer, more fulfilling lives, Dr. De Clercq was honored as "single-handedly help[ing to] overturn the belief that HIV is an incurable plague."

You have to take a deep breath when you review the contributions of these great inventors. They're hard to beat!

Readers may also enjoy:

10 Most Brilliant Inventions of 2007 - R&D Magazine
Amazing Inventions For The Year 2020 by Philips
Audi: A Super-Clean Super Car

ZensTech ZTc-10 Wristwatch Cell Phone

Cellular phones and mobile internet devices of all kinds have been released over the past few years. As time has progressed, more features and gadgets have been packed into these devices. Paradoxically, they've gotten smaller, not larger. The ZTc-10 Watch Phone by ZensTech is a perfect example of this paradigm. The tiny cellular device fits around your wrist for the ultimate in convenience.

The ZTc-10 is a GSM-based, unlocked cell phone. The device packs a 1.3" TFT LCD capable of 260,000 pixels and 128x160 resolution. The watch phone is capable of displaying JPG and GIF image types and even packs a 1.3 mega pixel camera under its tiny hood. Play your MP3s or watch MP4 full-screen format videos. Play games and store all your information on a MicroSD card up to 1GB in size.

With a call time of approximately three hours and standby time clocking in around 120 hours, the ZTc-10 is competitive in the battery life arena with many other popular handset models. With bluetooth technology, handsfree capability, USB connectivity, and voice recognition, the ZTc-10 is an intriguing option for replacing your main handset. Those who are averse to a bluetooth ear piece may find that having their phone around their wrist is just the alternative they were looking for. (Buy here.)

Via ZensTech

The Vending Machine's History - Firewood Now, Holy Water Then

Recently, a resident of Lacombe, Alberta was honoured with an award for his invention: a vending machine that dispenses firewood. James West, who sells firewood seasonally, invented this machine so that campers won't have to rely on wood lot hours. West's creation is another innovation in the history of vending machines, which have dispensed treats such as candy, coffee, toys - even holy water.

An early vending machineAn early vending machineHistory's first vending machine is thought to have been invented in the first century by Hero of Alexandria, a mathematician and engineer known for his innovative spirit. Hero's invention dispensed holy water with the payment of one coin. The holy water's buyer put this coin into the machine, where it landed on a tray. This tray was attached to a lever, which opened a valve, releasing the water. To ensure that the buyer didn't get too much holy water, the tray was designed to move with the weight of the coin. It would tip continuously until the coin fell off, and a counterweight would then close the valve.

It wasn't until over a thousand years later that Hero's invention became popular again. In the 1880s, vending machines in London dispensed postcards. These were the first coin-operated vending machines as we recognize them today. America's first vending machines sold gum to train travellers in 1888. In 1897, innovation struck again when motion was added to the machines. A manufacturing company thought that the addition of figures in the machines, which would move around after each purchase, would attract more customers. Proving that one invention can create another, this new kind of mechanical motion became the basis for slot machines and pinball.

Today, there seems to be no limit to what this this invention can dispense. Many of us grew up saving our change to buy gumballs from vending machines, or, as adults, buy sandwiches and coffee from them. But In Australia, you can buy gemstones from vending machines, or a potted plant in Japan. Innovations are happening quickly for the vending machine, an invention with a humble - and almost holy - history!

Lacombe Globe

Image: stock.xchng