SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal argues that inventions don't really happen before their time. For example, he says to think about the invention of putting wheels on luggage: "Bernard Sadow applied for a patent on wheeled baggage in 1970, after a eureka moment when he was lugging his heavy bags through an airport while a local worker effortlessly pushed a large cart past. You might conclude that Mr. Sadow was decades late. There was little to stop his father or grandfather from putting wheels on bags. Seventeen years later a Northwest Airlines pilot, Robert Plath, invented the idea of (instead of four wheels like Sadow's invention, use) two wheels on a suitcase held vertically, plus a telescopic handle to pull it with. This also feels as if it could have been invented much earlier."
And why not earlier? Wasn't putting wheels on a suitcase obvious? Not so fast. Ridley explains: "(I)f you consider the abundance of luggage porters with carts in the 1960s, the ease of curbside drop-offs at much smaller airports and the heavy iron casters then available, 1970 seems about the right date for the first invention of rolling luggage."
So is 2012 the right date for, say, the invisible bike helmet?
Two women in Sweden, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, designed an invisible bike helmet, and $10 million in venture capital says it is the right time for it. A video posted on Vimeo (hat tip to Good.is) shows the women riding their bikes wearing the invisible helmet.
At first, a person may look at one of the women and think, "Ha! It is just a helmet that looks like a knitted hat." But the other woman has nothing on her head at all — and she is also wearing the invisible helmet.
Only by the end of the video do you see their secret, the invention that you'll wish you came up with. The helmet is in a collar around the neck and deploys like an airbag when people crash on their bike. But without the invention of the air bag, their pop-open helmet invention would never have taken place. The time was right.
The Daily Mail has an article about a cheap new bicycle: "A bicycle made of cardboard may seem an unlikely form of transport — but one inventor claims to have developed one that costs just £10 (about $16.25) to make. By folding over sheets to double their strength, he claims the machine is durable, waterproof and costs very little to produce. Everything apart from the brakes and chain is cardboard — including the seat."
A video on YouTube shows the inventor Izhar Gafni proudly making and then tooling around his town in Israel on a bulky baby blue cardboard bike.
But maybe it is a bit early for another invention featured on storify.com that shows the Bio Robot refrigerator. A video on YouTube.com shows a thin framed panel that can hang on a wall. Food, such as a carrot, is stuck into green gel in the frame where it is kept cool. To get the food, you reach into the goo and pull out the food. A brilliant idea that looks like a giant green Jell-O mold.
But the refrigerator is only an idea at this stage and still a little bit before its time. Look for it when flying cars become available.