Calling on all Backyard Inventors | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.04.2002
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Calling on all Backyard Inventors

What do a fashionable egg decapitator, a mechanical pooper-scooper and an interactive soccer robot have in common? They’re all new gadgets on display at the world’s largest inventor’s fair in Geneva.


A novel idea at the time: the first telephone in 1876.

If you never knew such things existed, don’t worry, you’re not alone. After all, who needs a trendy device for cracking open an egg – a knife will do just fine, you say. Or why can’t dog owners use the old fashioned plastic bag and shovel for picking up their pet’s droppings. And as for an interactive soccer robot, well that kind of defeats the purpose of participating in a team sport.

But for inventors, practicality is not necessarily the name of the game. Maybe a few decades ago necessity was the mother of invention, but today comfort is definitely the driving force behind the most recent product innovations. No where is this more obvious than at the upcoming International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, Switzerland, where a whole spectrum of clever products show how life can be made just a little more pleasant.

People invent things in order to survive or to make life more comfortable, says the founder and organizer of the Geneva fair, Jean-Luc Vincent. Nowadays survival is a given, he says. We’ve moved into the comfort zone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this centuries’ inventions are all trivial. Many, in fact, have significant industrial or economic potential. Just think about how far computers have brought us.

From garage to trade floor

Unfortunately, a number of good and possibly even ingenious inventions never make it beyond the garage or basement cellar, where hobby inventors are busy dreaming up new gadgets. These would-be scientists are frequently brushed aside as tinkerers, who fiddle away their spare time. We all hear the crazy stories about the people who spend years perfecting the pencil or trying to develop a better mousetrap, and we shake our heads, wondering what they’re up to. Even Bill Gates was dubbed a "drop out" before his computer programming skills began to attract attention and money.

Societal prejudices are just one detriment to the creative initiative of thousands of would-be inventors, say the organizers of the Geneva fair. Another, and more difficult hurdle to overcome, is the lack of financial backing to produce and market a good invention. For this reason the Geneva fair calls upon all inventors to bring their latest creations to the exhibition halls, to display them in a public forum, where they will come into contact with big-name companies and investors.

So for five days starting May 1, the quiet lake-side Swiss city will be a buzz with the latest whirling, ringing, blinking and dazzling products devised in the past year. Inventors from over 40 countries will participate in the exhibition which includes more than 1,000 displays in categories as vast and varied as architecture, electronics, machinery and sanitation.

All the items on display are first-time showings, many fresh out of the inventor's hobby room. Nothing older than a year may be shown at the Geneva fair. And the fair organizers require that every invention be registered with a patent. This is to ensure that only real Einsteins show up at the fair. So no matter how far-fetched the inventions seem to outsiders, these are all serious products.

From alarm systems and safety devices, to food and cosmetics, sports and medicine, jewelry and watches, electronics and telecommunications, machines and musical instruments, visitors to the fair are certain to find everything they ever needed and even more they never knew they needed.

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