Invention

Young South African Inventor Makes Bricks From Recycled Paper

Aiming to reduce pollution and expand his country’s limited housing options, a South African inventor has created Nubrix, a brick made of recycled paper, France 24’s The Observers reports.

Elijah Djan, 21, is an industrial engineering student at the University of Pretoria. His innovative construction material has been years in the making: As a kid, Djan witnessed his father, a lecturer, burning old textbooks, and was inspired to take action. “I knew that it was bad for the environment, but my dad said he wouldn’t stop doing it unless I had a better idea for how to use the paper,” Djan says.

Djan watched a documentary on South Africa’s low-income housing shortage (as of 2011, nearly 2 million…

Forgotten History: Walter Hunt and the Safety Pin

Walter_Hunt

Walter Hunt is a man who is simultaneously considered to have possessed one of the finest inventive minds in all of American history while also being an individual almost no one has ever heard. This is despite the fact that it’s almost guaranteed that one of his inventions is currently lying somewhere in your home, the safety pin. This was something he sold the patent for for a few hundred dollars, reportedly as he needed the money to pay off a $15 debt. This was a theme throughout his life- inventing various items that otherwise should have made him extremely wealthy and famous, but which never did because of his proclivity to sell his patents immediately and move on to his next great invention.

Because we’d be here all day if we discussed in any level of detail everything Hunt patented during his lifetime, instead we’ll give you a small smattering of examples so you can get an idea of how prolific an inventor he was. Along with the safety pin and the first commercially viable lockstitch sewing machine, Hunt invented and patented a more efficient oil lamp, an attachment to boats that allowed them to break through ice, various improvements on bullet and casing designs, a rope making machine, a machine that made nails, an improved fountain pen, a portable knife sharpener, an innovative saw, a coal heated convection oven, an early version of the repeating rifle, and, most incredibly of all, a device that allowed the user to walk on the ceiling, dubbed the “antipodean apparatus”, which he sold to a circus.

While some of these inventions are antiquated and seldom used today, others were pretty revolutionary, in particular the repeating rifle, which Hunt dubbed the Volitional Repeating Rifle. He sold the patent for that to a businessman, George Arrowsmith, who then sold it to the founders of Smith and Wesson, Benjamin Tyler Henry, Horace Smith, and Daniel B. Wesson. The design of Hunt’s rifle was studied by and improved upon by the trio, eventually serving as the basis for the Henry Repeating Rifle, famed for its widespread use in the American Civil War. This latter rifle, in turn, was the basis for the more famous Winchester Repeater, arguably one of the most famous guns of all time. Hunt saw little recognition for his contributions to the weapon and never received any royalties or payment beyond the relatively paltry sum given for the original patent, which was basically the story of Hunt’s life.

Born in 1796 on a small farm in Lewis County, New York, Hunt’s beginnings were humble and his education was surprisingly lacking for a man who’d later be renowned for his keen mechanical mind. Supposedly educated in a one room schoolhouse, Hunt, the eldest of thirteen children, left formal education in his early teens and settled into the life of a simple farmer. However, his curiosity for tinkering soon found him helping out at a nearby textile mill, where many of his family members worked and where he helped the owner, Willis Hoskins, and another worker, Ziba Knox, make improvements to a flax spinning machine used there.

Despite helping the pair improve the machine, the young Hunt was left off the patent. However, soon after this, Hunt went and invented an even better flax spinning machine and patented that in 1826. Hunt then endeavoured to manufacture and sell this machine to secure a better life for himself and his young family. (He married his childhood sweetheart in his teens and eventually the pair had four children.)

Towards this end, Hunt travelled to New York and attempted to find investors to back production, but became increasingly frustrated when nobody would give him the time of day. (It’s presumed Hunt’s small town upbringing and lack of formal education made it difficult for him to assure banks and investors he could be trusted with their money.) Running short on funds, Hunt sold the patent for the machine, using the funds to relocate his family to New York, hoping to find his fortune there with his next invention.

In 1827, Hunt filed for his second patent, this time for a foot operated gong to be fitted in carriages. Hunt was said to have been inspired to create this device after witnessing a small girl hit by a horse carriage. This sort of thing was not totally uncommon at a time when carriages and people shared the road. To help get around the problem, many carriages had air horns installed. However, to sound the horn required the driver to have one hand free to operate it, which…

Get To Know History’s Greatest Robots

Robotic inventions have fascinated, amazed, and helped humans for thousands of years. Here are seven of history’s greatest self-operating machines.

1. ARCHYTAS’S STEAM-POWERED PIGEON

Nobody knows who created history’s first robot, but some historians claim it was Archytas, an ancient Greek mathematician who constructed a steam-powered wooden pigeon between 400 and 350 BCE. The robotic bird could reportedly “fly” for more than 650 feet along a wire suspension line before running out of steam.

2. LEONARDO DA VINCI’S PROGRAMMABLE CART

One of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous inventions was a human-like robot resembling a Germanic knight, which Leonardo drew (and possibly built) around 1495. But years earlier, around 1478, the polymath envisioned a self-propelled cart that many experts now consider to be history’s first programmable automaton.

Instead of steam power or an internal combustion engine, the car-like vehicle was powered by a wound-up spring, and ran on clockwork. The cart’s operator could also make the wheels turn at specific points in time during a journey by placing pegs into small holes.

In 2004, Italian experts teamed up with computer designers, engineers, and carpenters to make a real-life model of Leonardo’s moving machine. Lo and behold, it operated as he originally intended. (Experts demonstrated a one-third scale replica of the cart, fearing a full-size replica of the powerful vehicle would crash and harm someone.)

3. THE MECHANICAL TURK

In 1770, inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen built the Mechanical Turk—a life-size, chess-playing automaton, clad in traditional Turkish garments—to entertain Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. There was just one catch: The machine was a fraud.

The Mechanical Turk sat at a wooden cabinet filled with cogs, gears, and other mechanisms, with a chessboard on top. More often than not, the automaton won a match, and it even traveled across Europe and America, playing against (and beating) luminaries like Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin.

Naysayers suspected the machine didn’t operate independently, and they were right. Von Kempelen (and later, an engineer named Johann Maelzel, who purchased the Turk from Von Kempelen) recruited talented chess players who hid inside the Mechanical Turk’s cabinet and operated the Turk’s arm with…