Published: October 2008
The Best of What's Next
Big thinkers, innovative ideas, and game-changing products—consider this your guide to an ever shifting world.
Text by Greg Melville
1. Clean Machine
Memo to Ed Begley: hope you look good with helmet hair. Brammo’s Enertia rechargeable motorcycle, which hits the pavement early next year, is 90 percent cleaner to drive than a sedan and can go from zero to its top speed of 50 in 3.8 seconds. It kills the electric car too, since it’s twice as energy efficient as a Tesla Roadster and four times more so than a Toyota Prius. The Enertia’s six small lithium phosphate batteries take three hours to charge in a regular wall socket and last some 40 miles, costing about one cent a mile to run. It ekes out such high performance because it weighs only 280 pounds, thanks largely to the forged aluminum chassis. Too bad the Enertia doesn’t come in the color green—or would that be overkill? ($12,000; enertiabike.com).

2. High Times
First there was skydiving, then BASE jumping, then, in the late 1990s, wingsuiting—using a wingsuit to fly forward through the air while dropping more slowly. Now there’s a new sport: proximity flying. Instead of moving away from objects, as before, proximity fliers head toward them. Recently, they’ve buzzed the Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro, flown a high-five away from gawkers on an alpine outcropping, and even docked onto moving sailplanes. (Don’t just take our word for it: Search for Loïc Jean-Albert on YouTube.) You could hardly get more birdlike, save for one thing . . . flapping.—Michael Abrams
3. Out of Darkness
Giving sight to the blind. That’s the goal of BrainPort, a new device that bypasses the eyes in favor of, yes, the tongue. To function, a head-mounted camera captures images of its surroundings and relays the information via electric impulses to a postage-stamp-size tongue stimulator. (The tongue is packed with more sensory nerve endings than almost anywhere on the body.) If a ball is rolling toward you, you’ll feel a round shape traveling across your tongue, getting larger as it approaches. If you’re holding a poker hand, BrainPort will draw the cards. The developers at Wisconsin-based Wicab (wicab.com) say that getting the hang of the device takes a few hours, but using it in everyday situations takes much longer. To aid research, the company enlisted Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to summit Everest. Though he won’t be lugging it on an expedition anytime soon, he’s used BrainPort to achieve another first: playing rock-paper-scissors with his daughter.
How it works: Images from a forehead-mounted cam (1) are translated into electrical impulses, which are then "drawn" on the tongue. The brain creates a 3-D image (2) from these impulses.

4. User-Generated Science
Take NASA software, a clever Web platform, and an ever growing army of camera-toting tourists and you get one of the smartest developments in animal science. The ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library, created by marine scientist Brad Norman, aims to decipher the mysterious migration habits of the world’s largest fish with user-generated data. How it works: Anyone who snaps a whale shark photo uploads the image to the database at whaleshark.org. There, a software originally designed to identify deep space constellations analyzes the shark’s signature pattern of spots behind the gills to see whether it has been photographed before. From your computer, you can track its past movements, if any were recorded, and be alerted to future sightings. It’s believed that a single whale shark can travel thousands of miles in its life, but scientists aren’t completely sure. So far, 160,000 photos have been collected and 1,400 whale sharks tagged. The response has been so positive that Norman plans to expand the system to track other animals, on land and in the sea, that sport distinctive stripes or spots. Ecotourism will never be the same.
5. Ice Watchman
Climate change is generally something you hear about, not something you see. But in 2010 that will all change. That’s the completion date of photographer James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey (extremeicesurvey.org). Fusing science, art, and adventure, Balog and his team schlepped 27 specially designed time-lapse cameras to remote glaciers (sometimes to spots where no human had set foot before) in Greenland, Iceland, British Columbia, Alaska, and Montana’s Glacier National Park to capture climate change where it’s most visible. The cameras, which snap one photo per daylight hour, started shooting in 2007. Already they’ve captured what could be the largest ice calving event ever recorded (imagine skyscraper-size blocks tumbling like dominoes) and dramatic glacial recessions. For any out there still not convinced, seeing will be believing.

6. Walking Safari
A simple truth: Migratory animals should be able to migrate. Yet across the nation increasing numbers of grizzlies, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, raptors, and many other species are being squeezed into downsized habitats. That’s where Freedom to Roam comes in (freedomtoroam.org). The nonprofit looks at the needs of megafauna outside the confines of parks and preserves and aims to establish protected corridors for migration. Wildlife corridors are not a new concept, but they haven’t been particularly successful either. By bringing together an unprecedented number of local and national conservation groups, biologists, government agencies, hunting advocates, and industry sponsors, Freedom to Roam hopes to change that and finally protect the nation’s major migration routes. "If we don’t do this work immediately," says Jason Kibbey, director of Freedom to Roam, "we will lose many of these species in 40 or 50 years."

7. Digital’s Next Step
Want to know every nook of Everest’s South Col Route without putting on a parka? Photosynth, a project from Microsoft Live Labs, will someday make it possible. Using an ever growing database of photos supplied by everyday users, its computers stitch together related images into 3-D models of places and objects, allowing you to zoom in and out, move to any spot within the model, and pick your vantage point. The more pictures submitted, the greater the quality and detail. For a demonstration, check out ADVENTURE’s own photosynth: Tommy Caldwell climbing Yosemite’s renowned boulder problem Midnight Lightning .

8. Deep Sea Democracy
This fall Bay Area engineer Graham Hawkes will transform ocean exploration when he delivers his first eep Flight Super Falcon submersible to venture capitalist Tom Perkins. While the $1.7 million price tag will deter most Captain Nemo wannabes, Hawkes imagines that producing the easy-to-operate two-passenger sub in volume could eventually drop the price to around $350,000—much less than a private jet (deepflight.com). Meanwhile, he’s building one for himself. "I’m going to spend the rest of my life using it," he says. "There are a lot of adventures to be had."—Thayer Walker
Motor: Lithium batteries power the electric motor, which can propel the Falcon at a zippy ten miles an hour.
Wings: The Falcon’s unique wing design gives the sub "reverse lift," helping it to sink and allow the pilot to perform "hydrobatics" like barrel rolls and loops.
Hull: Built from a glass fiber and epoxy composite, the Falcon’s hull is strong enough to reach depths of a thousand feet but weighs just 4,700 pounds—less than half of comparable conventional subs.
Lights: Green lasers embedded in the wingtips serve as navigation lights, while ten clusters of LED lights provide up-close illumination.

9. Speed Racer
When Nike introduced its Air midsole in 1979, it revolutionized light, comfortable, and well-cushioned shoes. Now the next generation in cushioning has been born. Made from foam developed in the aerospace industry, Lunarlite is 30 percent lighter than Nike’s next-lightest cushioning and distributes the force of impact more uniformly throughout. After four years of engineering, the tech makes its debut in the new LunaRacer. At 5.5 ounces, it weighs half as much as a traditional running shoe ($100; nike.com).