Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=226491
Story Retrieval Date: 12/21/2014 10:58:01 PM CST
Inventors across the United States are rolling out innovations for everything from robotic lawn mowers, to creating biofuel pellets at home to new-gen slow cookers. And how about foldable wheels for wheelchairs? Reporter Theresa Chong travels the country to show you some of the best inventions and startups of 2013.
SAN FRANCISCO STARTUP NOMIKU HEATS UP THE WORLD OF SOUS VIDE COOKING
You can take your chances trying to boil a perfectly cooked egg - so that the egg white is firm and the yolk is runny, or, you can press a button and have it magically made for you.
In the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, cooking startup Nomiku is well on its way to heating up the world of sous vide, a low temperature cooking technique where food is stuffed in plastic bags and submerged in a warm water bath.
At just under $300, Nomiku is trying to bring immersion cooking to home cooks with a simple, sleek and portable design. Nomiku's immersion circulator latches onto the side of pots, unlike other water ovens that could be boxy and expensive.
“The circulators in the past came from a scientific lab and they have over 10 buttons,” said Bam Suppipat, Nomiku co-founder and chief design officer. “But all you really need is a good temperature control – so all we need is one button and one knob.”
“Sous vide” is a French term for “under vacuum,” But, according to Suppipat, “the heart of sous vide cooking is actually not being under vacuum inside of a bag – it’s actually the precise and stable temperature control.”
He says this type of cooking technology emerged in the 1960s when hospitals in Switzerland pasteurized food at high temperatures above 80 degrees Celsius. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when chefs started experimenting and lowered cooking temperatures to around 52.2 degrees Celsius, or 126 degrees Fahrenheit, and above.
Consider that “52.2 degrees Celsius is when bacteria starts to die,” Suppipat said. “So, we get the best of both worlds by cooking at lower temperatures. One, we get to pasteurize our food. Two, we don’t over cook them.”
CHICAGO PARALYMPIC ATHLETE TALKS ABOUT FOLDABLE WHEELS FOR WHEELCHAIRS
Although the designers of Morph Wheels aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they’re certainly trying to fold it. An innovative wheel for wheelchairs would give more mobility to those who are restricted to wheelchairs.
“If your chair or wheels break and you’re traveling internationally then you’re kind of in trouble because your mobility is impacted,” said Linda Mastandrea, Morph Wheels brand ambassador and an athlete who uses a wheelchair herself.
New Jersey-based Maddak Inc. is trying to solve that problem with Morph Wheels. The 24-inch-diameter wheel weighs 7.5 pounds and folds in four easy steps: pull the axle out, release the locking pin, rotate the metal spoke, and push both sides of the wheel together.
The wheel is made of glass filled nylon with a polypropylene hand rim with a solid tire and according to Morph Wheel’s website, the wheel can fit any wheelchair designed for a quick release axle. A set of two wheels will set you back $950.
Although Mastandrea was diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy when she was 3-years-old, that didn’t stop her from winning 20 gold and silver medals as a wheelchair track athlete in the 1990’s. She also represented the United States in two Paralympic Games. Over the past 20 years, Mastandrea said her wheelchair frame and wheel have broken at least fives times, each, just traveling on airplanes.
The new wheel could help wheelchair users closer to home as well where a seemingly simple task such as hailing a cab is often a challenge because cab drivers don’t know how to dismantle wheelchairs – or simply, just don’t want to.
“Oh sure, it’s illegal but it still happens,” says Mastandrea, who’s also a disability law attorney. “If they just drive by and don’t stop, it’s kind of impossible to prove that it’s because you use a wheelchair, but you know just in the experience that I and many others have had – it’s pretty typical.”
Foldable wheels could also open up the possibilities of what types of cars wheelchair users can purchase now. Mastandrea said that she’s not in the market to replace her car just yet but, “when I’m ready to replace it – yes, I will get a convertible.”
E-MOW: BUILDING A SELF-FUELED LAWN MOWER NEAR D.C.
Mowing your lawn is often an arduous task that makes you huff and puff as you groom nature’s irreverent surface – it keeps growing back.
Electrical engineer Jason Force, founder of E-Mow, is planning to revolutionize the way we mow our lawn while turning grass into cash. His start-up near Washington, D.C., is developing a self-fueled mower that cuts grass and converts it into energy pellets. This energy source can be used to fuel stoves, furnaces and boilers that run on the excess pellets.
“All biomass has energy in it,” Force said. “The difference between growing grass is that it has a lot of water.” The key is to cut the grass, extract the moisture, press it into a pellet shape, and convert it into a useable fuel using a reaction chamber inside the mower.
Force was struck by the idea to invent his harvester when he saw the grassy prairies of the Midwest, which often combusted into wild fires in the dry, parched autumn months. “I can actually create energy and solve a real life problem at the same time,” Force said.
He’s trying to target three market segments: consumer, light commercial mowing and bioenergy production, which would produce energy pellets from tall field grasses.
This year, E-Mow was named one of the top 14 semi-finalists of nearly 200 contestants of the Ballston LaunchPad Challenge. So far, Force has raised approximately $12,000 of the $750,000 that he needs to sustain the company. Although there is still a long way to go, Force is powering through and is planning on producing a self-guided prototype by the summer of 2014.