— A device that uses light to send hair follicles to sleep, making skin smooth for weeks at a time, without shaving or waxing, is being patented by Philips.
Laser light can be used to kill hair follicles by making them so hot that they literally explode. But such destructive "photoepilation" is painful and can also cause skin irritation.
Researchers at Philips Lab in Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, have found that short, weak pulses of near infrared light causes follicles to change from their natural growing state to a dormant state, known as the "telogen phase".
The Philips device uses light from a halogen lamp. Pulses lasting 15 milliseconds each are filtered so that only 600-950 nanometre wavelengths reach the follicles below. Moving the device slowly over the skin spreads about 15 joules of light energy onto each square centimetre.
A sensor can also be used to automatically adjust treatment intensity to suit different skin and hair types. Three treatment sessions, over the course of two weeks, reduces hair growth by 90%, Philips claims.
Read the full razor light patent application.
A Californian company called Outland Research hopes to put high-tech intelligence into sports shoes. This is because feet often need different kinds of support, depending on whether they are walking, running or playing sport. Conventional shoes that are ideal for some activities are unsuited to others.
Inventor and company founder Louis Rosenberg hopes to change all this with reconfigurable footwear. The soles of his new shoes have several hollow bladders, connected via narrow tubes, and filled with a deformable and electrically-activated liquid such as an ester or amide of phosphorous acid.
Normally, the liquid flows freely through the tubes, letting the bladders self-adjust as the foot rocks from heel to toe and rolls from side to side. But, when current from a battery or a piezo-electric generator is fed through the tubes, the liquid hardens restricting flow and making the bladders firmer.
The level of cushioning could be controlled using a knob on the shoe, or via a Bluetooth link to a cellphone or PDA. The shoe could even have a shock sensor that detects pressure and judges what kind of support is needed for itself.
As the liquid only takes a few milliseconds to react, the sole could stiffen or soften between steps. The same shoe could then be as good for jogging or sports as it is for walking or hiking.
Read the full smart soles patent application.
Boats could so go faster and use less fuel thanks to nanotechnology research being done for the US Department of Energy by researchers at UT-Battelle in Tennessee, US.
The hull of a boat is first covered with a smooth, tough material such as borosilicate glass. A cutter made of diamond is then used to machine a pattern of grooves and sharp ridges, a few millimetres deep, across the material. Finally, the walls of these grooves are etched with nanometre-sized pits using acid, and then coated with a protective coating of hydrophobic trichlorosilane.
As the patterned hull moves through the water, small bubbles of air become trapped in the nanoscale grooves, providing a low friction cushion, akin to a hovercraft effect. For extra cushioning, pipes from inside the boat can continually feed gas into the grooves. The technique reduces friction on any size craft, and the UT-Battelle team claim it could even help submarines move through the water more efficiently. The researchers report that just a few percent reduction in drag provides a "significant" increase in water speed and fuel efficiency.
Read the full hull bubbles patent application.
For more than 30 years, Barry Fox has trawled through the world's weird and wonderful patent applications, uncovering the most exciting, bizarre or even terrifying new ideas. Read previous Invention columns, including:
Wing-mirror cameras, body-wired headphones, rocket-repelling parachutes, tooth decay probe, laser healing, throwable game controllers, Microwave oven gun, Smart-card DVDs, Smart night scope, laser microphone, triple-standard DVD, ultimate body armour, Long-range stunner, tongue-o-vision, jellyfish injections, Flesh-burn sensor, fire-escape tubes, VoIP mangling, in-flight rearming, sense that fat, Designer speakers, throw-away parachutes, password-protected bullets, spinning touchdown, palmtop Feng Shui, Origami gadgets, mile-high showers, Hydrogen fuel balls, human cannonballs, the riot slimer, the bomb jammer, Apple's all-seeing screen, the TV-advert enforcer, the wing-sprouting drone, the drink-driver arm scanner, laser spark plugs, remote-controlled implants,the "I've been shot" gun, the snore zapper, the guitar phone, explosive-eating fungus, viper vision, exploding ink, the moody media player, the spy-diver killer, preventing in-flight interference, the inkjet-printer pen, sonic watermarks, the McDownload, hot-air plane, landmine arrows, soldiers obeying odours, coffee beer, wall-beating bugging, eyeball electronics, phone jolts, personal crash alarm, talking tooth, shark shocker, midnight call-foiler, burning bullets, a music lover's dream, magic wand for gamers, the phantom car, phone-bomb hijacking, shocking airport scans, old tyres to printer ink and eye-tracking displays.