We'd like to say that the gear, toys, and tools we can create are limited only by our imagination, but unfortunately, that's just not true. Pesky realities like physics, engineering, and economics get in the way. But although they haven't been built, these nine design concepts, realized in 3-D models but not (yet) in real life, show a little bit of what might someday be possible. Some are more feasible than others, but all of them are interesting in their own way, and all have something to teach us about what could be.
Daniel Orbach, a design student at the University of Cincinnati, read Brian Mockenhaupt's story in Outside about combat veterans using climbing as therapy and was inspired to design TOG, a prosthetic for hiking and climbing that he calls "The Everest Leg."
Made of carbon fiber and aluminum, the lightweight leg can change its height by up to 38 percent. Shorten it and use a hex wrench to lock the knee, and it'll help you lever up a rock face. The foot rotates 180 degrees and locks in so the climber uses the heel, reducing torque on the long toe. Lengthen the leg, turn the foot back around, and it's set to hike.
Wearable Wheeled Exoskeleton
The military is experimenting with exoskeletons to help soldiers lift and carry heavy loads. The health industry is developing hydraulic walkers for paraplegics. And while those are practical, they can't compare with Bimal Rajappan's XOR (exoskeleton rider) for fun potential. He calls it a "true personal mobility vehicle," one that integrates with the user, rather than just carrying them.
Rajappan designed the XOR as a personal mobility solution. "The vehicle is part of the person," he says. "You actually sit on it like a chair, strap the vehicle around you, and stand up." Then, the independently dampened wheels and artificial pneumatic muscles work with active stability assist systems to keep the rider upright, kind of like a Segway. And though it's limited to 10 km/hour, if it's ever built, someone will undoubtedly hack his or her way around the governor.
The 36-inch bicycle is niche, to say the least. But so were 29ers, just a few years ago. Paolo De Giusti didn't include any high-tech features in his XXXVI DG – 36" concept bike — just a mind-bending Penrosian design that allows the giant wheels to slot into the frame. Although De Giusti hasn't built the actual bike, it's not just an exercise in design: this way, the rider doesn't have to be unusually tall, but the large wheels still offer a smooth, sturdy ride — and incredible rollover.
"The bike is a cruiser, but don't image a long straight road, the environment is the city, the chaotic labyrinth, where is necessary to be fast and safe, with the big 36 wheels the big holes on the road, manholes, tram rails, are smoother," says De Giusti, who plans to build a version of the bicycle once he's able to source all the parts.
As far as concepts go, Helios turn-signal handlebars are well on their way to becoming reality. Initiated as a Kickstarter, the brainchild of Kenny Gibbs raised more than $100,000 and is now entering the production phase.
The bars, either drop or bullhorn style, include a lot more than just turn signals. The front-facing LED is a headlight, but the rear LEDs, on the bar ends, can act as a visual speedometer, changing color with your speed, or as finger-triggered turn signals. And of course, color, light intensity, GPS tracking, and other features are all controlled through a smartphone app. That GPS also sync to Google Maps, so the bars can direct the rider, turn-by-turn, via the rear-facing lights.
In-Curb Bike Pump
Jongbuem Kim and Woon kyeong Kim designed the Air Station as part of a student project. The premise is simple: how do you make an unobtrusive, durable, bike pump that can be left outside, stationed along popular bicycle paths and routes? Set into the curb, the Air Station features an extendable hose and a foot pump, along with a lit signpost to make it visible at night. Whether you need to fix a flat, or you're just running low, it beats carrying your bike to a shop.
Flexible Wrist Guards
Navik Lal's flexible wrist guards were inspired by the tail of a crayfish. Designed to make wrist protection for snowboarders more comfortable, the Morph Armour flexes with the wearer's arm — up to a point. The lightweight polyethylene splint is segmented, flexing up to 48 degrees (up or down) but stiffening beyond that. The six individual sections, each with 8 degrees of range, are connected by a "living hinge," and a thermoplastic layer conforms to the shape of the wearer's arms.Navik Lal's flexible wrist guards were inspired by the tail of a crayfish.
Designed to make wrist protection for snowboarders more comfortable, the Morph Armour flexes with the wearer's arm — up to a point. The lightweight polyethylene splint is segmented, flexing up to 48 degrees (up or down) but stiffening beyond that. The six individual sections, each with 8 degrees of range, are connected by a "living hinge," and a thermoplastic layer conforms to the shape of the wearer's arms.
Camp Cutlery Set
Camp silverware might not be the most glorified product, but that doesn't mean there's not a lot of thought and design behind it. James Skeggs designed and prototyped "Stacked", a stainless steel knife/spoon/fork combo where the knife is firmly held blade down. Frustrated with cutlery that dulled or broke, Skeggs made Stacked so he could carry a sharp knife without worrying that it would cut his pack — or himself.
Like the Morph Armour, the snowshoes by Think Think Design feature notched material to make them flexible. Designed for a French snowshoe company, the thin plastic frame is reinforced with stiff carbon to replicate a natural stride. "Most of existing snow shoes are long, rigid and force you to exaggerate the walk," says Didier Epain, Symbiose's designer. "I choose to accentuate this flexibility with side edge cuts, a solution Nike adopted too with the Free running shoes." TSL, the company that commissioned the snowshoes, is currently producing them.
Interlocking Ski Helmet/Goggle
Hsuan-Tsun Wang chose classic minimalist features for this interlocking ski helmet/goggle concept. Designed for a visual communications course, the idea offers seamless integration where traditional combinations can leave bare patches of skin or uncomfortable overlaps. Inspired by products like from record players to juicers to Bluetooth speakers, Wang balanced form and function, trying to develop a sleek, matte aesthetic, compared to the flashy, logo-heavy industry standards.