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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Fun solutions to serious problems
Ian Hardy
By Ian Hardy
BBC Click reporter

Scientists and researchers from around the world have been exhibiting their gadgets at New York's WIRED NextFest. And some of these products have the potential to change lives.

A woman playing a computer game
Computer game controllers do not have to be conventional to be fun

Novelty technology is not just fun and games, it can also save lives.

The NextFest exhibition in New York is a celebration of great ideas.

It has everything from the latest in airline ticket security, to a wall of colour you can swish around with your hand, to computer software for people in the developing world who cannot read.

And it is more about ideas and concepts than the latest, greatest cell phone or palmtop computer.

The target audience is the next generation, or "kids", whichever you prefer.

Maybe somewhere in the crowd is a wannabe Einstein, just waiting to be inspired by the wonders of interactive Pong.

In some cases the underlying technology is decades old but has a 21st Century spin: mash-ups between projectors, infrared motion sensors and new super computers that have enough processing power for real time fun and games on a 20ft screen.

But technology like this can also have serious uses.

Children's development

A woman touching an interactive wall
Interactive walls have a range of uses from art to advertising

Greg Roberts of Playmotion says: "In health care we've put it into tests for autism and developmentally challenged children.

"We've got very good preliminary results that, at a young age, it really makes them more aware of stimulus.

"So, it's a real hope from our hearts that it can do something there."

There were many examples of infrared interactivity at NextFest: on floors, doors, walls and ceilings.

That makes it perfect for advertisers, so get ready to be sucked into a marketing campaign at a shopping centre or movie theatre near you soon.

"It brings richness to the content. It allows the consumer to really become part of what they're seeing on the screen, to really create their own story," says Jaclyn Jenkins of Reactrix.

Life-saving straw

A LifeStraw
Sometimes simple devices can be the most effective
Novelty technology is often fun and fascinating, but it can be the simplest of objects that have the most impact around the globe.

The LifeStraw is a $3 (1.60) plastic tube that could make drinking water safe to slurp for one billion people in developing countries, by removing bacteria and parasites.

Alexandre Doyen of LifeStraw explains: "It uses mesh filtration down to six microns, halogenated resin for disinfection, and granular reacted carbon, which improves the taste of the water and finishes off the disinfection process."

Airport security

An airline ticket with an RFID tag embedded
RFID tags in airline tickets could make travel safer
Airline tickets may soon be RFID-enabled and contain a snapshot of you that was taken at check-in.

So everyone working in the airport, from the security guards to the gate attendant, will be able to identify you instantly.

Nicole Tricoukes of Symbol Technologies describes the process:

"At the kiosk you get a boarding pass and you get your photo taken. As you approach the boarding gate, you can be verified by your pass and your face, and enter the gate.

"This is great for security, and for the passenger."

Now all you need is a pair of shoes to wear on board with built in TV screens - yes, they were at NextFest too.

Buckled up for white knuckle ride
30 Sep 06 |  Science/Nature

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