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A man with a new idea is a crank…… until he succeeds.
September 23, 2010 4:37 PM   Subscribe

A chair that can diagnose depression and bipolar disorder and calibrate medication. Solar paint that turns every surface into solar power collection material. A infinitely variable geared transmission that never loses the sweet spot. A tool for microscopes that can detect bacteria quickly and cheaply using flashed light. And a power plant the size of a room that can turn out 10kw power from low grade heat. These five inventions were finalists in the Australian science show The New Inventors. And the winner is...

EVestG
Electrovestibulography (EVestG) is a new diagnostic tool/system which allows for a visualisation of the vestibular signal. As the vestibular system is sensitive to fluctuations in neurotransmitter levels, EVestG has shown potential to evaluate not only vestibular disorders (e.g. Meniere’s Disease and Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) but a range of other neuropsychiatric disorders (including depression and bipolar disorder).

At this stage, EVestG biomarkers are being discovered / “mined” /calibrated from the brainwaves of people already diagnosed with mental or nerve conditions compared with age and gender match healthy controls. These biomarkers correlations have sensitivities and specificities of 90% with their primary diagnosis and are available within the 45 minutes it takes to process the signal through a computer. This time should be compared to the current time taken clinical diagnosis which can take over 5 years in many conditions; some such as Alzheimer’s can only be diagnosed post mortem.
posted by Kerasia (42 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
That transmission looks so cool. Can anybody with engineering chops describe to me how it works?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 5:02 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah. The transmission is eye-popping.
posted by bz at 5:08 PM on September 23, 2010


I wonder how the chair responds to people who are drunk or high on drugs? I can see police state ramifications here. Instead of breathing into the machine they sit you on a portable chair.
posted by mareli at 5:14 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


No kidding on the transmission, I'm surprised he hasn't any background in engineering - but he certainly has the drive.
posted by uni verse at 5:25 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Better video of the D-Drive
posted by smcameron at 5:29 PM on September 23, 2010


I think we disected the D-Drive awhile ago, didn't we?
posted by maxwelton at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2010


A Psychiatrist / blogger has raised some pretty big questions about the EVestG's rush to commercialization. A lack of peer reviewed research and an extraordinary claim usually doesn't turn out well.
posted by humanfont at 5:38 PM on September 23, 2010


maxwelton: yeah, we did. I knew I'd seen that thing before somewhere.
posted by smcameron at 5:39 PM on September 23, 2010


If we had a contest for inventors in the U.S., it would be to see who could dream up the riskiest and most obscure financial instrument.
posted by digsrus at 5:42 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


If we had a contest for inventors in the U.S., it would be to see who could dream up the riskiest and most obscure financial instrument.

Um, we do have contests for inventors in the U.S.
posted by The World Famous at 5:43 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The transmission has been discussed (and debunked) here before.
posted by indubitable at 5:49 PM on September 23, 2010


The transmission has been discussed (and debunked) here before.

Really? bummer.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 5:51 PM on September 23, 2010


It makes me sad when ignorant people think they have invented something and don't know enough to figure out that they haven't.
posted by The World Famous at 5:54 PM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


indubitable: "The transmission has been discussed (and debunked) here before."

I just read that thread and didn't find the debunking part. Confusion and disbelief yes, but actual debunking?
posted by Kerasia at 5:55 PM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


damn you Kerasia, you stole my thunder, i was thinking of exactly the same post. But good job!

Yeah, I have heard deeply sceptical things said about the D-drive. however, the New Inventors research team don't allow any old rubbish to go on the show, they have engineers go over the invention very thoroughly, it's difficult to believe they'd let it through if it didn't have some merit. One thing though, it was clear that James Bradfield-Moody didn't like it!

For me, the winner was either the chair (so innovative) or solar paint (so important). I really hope the solar paint isn't moondust and that in a few years I'll be fastening cheap perspex sheets to my roof, an a few years later just slopping the stuff on.
posted by wilful at 5:57 PM on September 23, 2010


Confusion and disbelief yes, but actual debunking?

Yes. According to the explanation by the inventor in smcameron's linked video, the functionality of the gear system (which is just a differential) in transmitting power to move a vehicle depends entirely on the presence of a second engine that provides torque to the transmission sufficient to offset the torque of the "primary" engine. If you have to have a second engine that drives the transmission so that the first engine can drive the car efficiently, you really haven't gained much (if anything) in terms of efficiency. Particularly given that the variable torque required to make the transmission work will require the second engine to run at a wide variety of RPMs and possibly even have its own transmission.
posted by The World Famous at 5:59 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


The New Inventors have a distressing tendency to give prizes to inventions that do not actually work at all.

Most of the stuff on the show is kosher - though not necessarily as original as the inventors and judges think it is - but there've been some really low points.

They, for instance, gave a dude with yet another magic design for revolutionary spark plugs a prize; he and his invention of course vanished without trace shortly afterward. And then there was the Exhausted Air Recycling System, a thing for improving the efficiency of pneumatic tools which seemed plausible on the surface, until you realise, as MeFi commenters including me did, that it breaks the laws of physics.

In 2004, the Australian Skeptics awarded The New Inventors their Bent Spoon Award (one of those awards you don't actually want to win) for taking seriously a nonsensical sonic germ-killing thingy called "Anti Bio".

To help keep my blood pressure under control, I no longer watch the show. My readers keep torturing me with reports about it, though; thanks to them and commenters on my blog, I'm pretty sure that the abovementioned infinitely variable transmission is not useful.

The man who says it cannot be done should indeed not interrupt the man who is busy doing it. But I wouldn't get too excited about any amazing new invention just because it's appeared on The New Inventors.
posted by dansdata at 6:00 PM on September 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


Here's the gizmag follow up on the D-Drive.
posted by wilful at 6:02 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


From wilful's link, explaining it much more concisely than I did:

So it's not possible to run the control shafts using a small electric motor as we said in the video - in fact, the engineering report is quite clear on the fact that the 'control' motor needs to be just as powerful as the 'input' motor: "Our designation of 'Input' and 'Control' shafts in this report is arbitrary in that both would conventionally be used to provide power. There is no inherent character of the mechanism that requires the input to be the dominant power-providing element. The torque provided by the control shaft will typically be of the same magnitude as the torque provided by the Input shaft... the Input and Control should be considered as parallel power paths rather than as 'power ' and 'control' elements respectively."
posted by The World Famous at 6:08 PM on September 23, 2010


Thanks World Famous, I see what you're saying. On the show they did mention that it was not an inclusive unit and did require an extra 'thing' to get it actually on the go. So this extra 'thing' is actually another engine? Hmmm, it does sound less promising than it did at first. And as wilful said, the judge James Bradfield-Moody (Executive Director, Development at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation - CSIRO) didn't seem too keen on the invention.
posted by Kerasia at 6:14 PM on September 23, 2010


So this extra 'thing' is actually another engine?

It's worse than that. This extra 'thing' is another engine just as powerful as the first one, plus a normal transmission, probably with a clutch and everything, so that it can vary its power to control the torque of the driveshaft.
posted by The World Famous at 6:27 PM on September 23, 2010


I don't understand; aren't CVTs fairly commonplace these days?
posted by Tikirific at 6:58 PM on September 23, 2010


It doesn't seem far fetched that the EVestG people are picking up legitimate signals that are related to nerve function. And I don't doubt that those signals have, in some instances, a corresponding relationship with these kinds of disorders. But to try and twist that relationship -- without the backing of peer reviewed research -- into "diagnosis" seems pure quackery.
posted by not_the_water at 7:09 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seconding The World Famous. Moreover, it's a variation on a design any MechE worth her salt has seen before.
posted by phrontist at 7:13 PM on September 23, 2010


The EVestG seems like total bullshit. I really think they're reading noise, filtering it and claiming that those are signals. You can convolve noise with a signal you're looking for and make it seem like you've found something, and I'll be willing to bet dollar to donuts that's what's happening.
posted by spiderskull at 7:25 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


My husband's department (theoretical physicists) got on New Inventors last year. It was totally bizarre, because they didn't actually have an invention, or anything with practical applications, just some cool theory and experimental results. They were pitted against some product that kept foxes from eating crops, and a kebab meat slicer. The kebab slicer won.
posted by lollusc at 7:33 PM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Actually, the D-drive concept might be very useful in a hybrid configuration, where you do have two sources of torque - an internal-combustion (IC) engine, and an electric motor. It's pretty well known that IC engines are maximally efficient only over a small range of RPM, and further efficiencies could be realized if the IC engine could be optimized for a narrower band.
So with this D-drive you could have an IC engine optimised for a constant speed, and vary the rpm of the electric motor to alter the final drive ratio.

... could work, maybe.

The second Gizmag article mentioned that the D-drive is similar to the Hybrid Synergy drive on the Toyota Prius, so maybe this route is already being explored.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:37 PM on September 23, 2010


Even if the damn EVestG can 100% accurately detect variations in neurotransmitters, it still can't be used to correctly diagnose illnesses like bipolar disorder and depression. Animal studies have shown that lowering serotonin levels in the brain does not cause the animal to become depressed (yes, animals can get depressed). Bipolar is most likely partly caused by malfunctioning sodium ion channels in nerve cells. The drugs use to treat depression do so in a wide variety of ways; A few of them actually decrease serotonin levels!

Anybody who says they've found the holy grail of psychiatric diagnosis doesn't have my trust. I'm not a doctor; I'm a patient. But, in my attempts to understand neuroscience, I have come to the conclusion that the more you learn about it, the more you realize you've gotten into one hell of a complex mess.
posted by UrbanEye at 8:06 PM on September 23, 2010


Oh. Well this is a bit depressing then, if two of the five aren't all they're cracked up to be. But in the interests of Truth over feelgood fluff - how do the other three stack up?
posted by harriet vane at 8:30 PM on September 23, 2010


Artful Codger: it is exactly how the Prius drive works. Have a read of the previous thread, where I linked a Prius Simulator.

New Inventors makes me sad and for the same reasons as stated above. It is an awesome idea to publicise new inventions, promote science education, get people interested in engineering, etc, but they really really need to work on their filtering. The other one that pissed me off was someone who claimed to have invented a new electric motor that was "twice as efficient", never mind that most are in the 90-99% range depending on scale and windage losses. The poor guy didn't even understand the concept of a magnetic circuit, was treating the rotor poles as magnetic monopoles and wanted to make use of the flux "from both sides".

So that's two completely bunk devices that I've seen out of three shows I watch. Can't watch it anymore for fear of my blood pressure, even if there are occasionally some truly innovative and useful things presented.
posted by polyglot at 8:54 PM on September 23, 2010


Tikirific: existing CVTs are generally friction-based and wear out. If you could do it with gears, it could handle much higher power with better efficiency and longer life.
posted by polyglot at 8:55 PM on September 23, 2010


Confusion and disbelief yes, but actual debunking?

Yes. According to the explanation by the inventor in smcameron's linked video, the functionality of the gear system (which is just a differential) in transmitting power to move a vehicle depends entirely on the presence of a second engine that provides torque to the transmission sufficient to offset the torque of the "primary" engine. If you have to have a second engine that drives the transmission so that the first engine can drive the car efficiently, you really haven't gained much (if anything) in terms of efficiency. Particularly given that the variable torque required to make the transmission work will require the second engine to run at a wide variety of RPMs and possibly even have its own transmission.
posted by The World Famous at 5:59 PM on September 23 [1 favorite +] [!]


On last night's show, the inventor claimed the redesigned model they were showing no longer had the need for a second engine.
posted by Ahab at 9:32 PM on September 23, 2010


It is an awesome idea to publicise new inventions, promote science education, get people interested in engineering, etc, but they really really need to work on their filtering.

I work dealing with inventions (and inventors), and I've been backstage in the Belgian version of the same program. Their filtering works OK, the problem is that their priority is not to promote science, engineering, or invention, but to get the highest possible ratings.

Also, as a MechE, the "D-drive" deeply: it's just a planetary differential, guys, a two-century old design. And, yes, exactly what's inside a Prius.
posted by Skeptic at 11:15 PM on September 23, 2010


My rule of thumb about inventors: if they claim to have invented something "revolucionar", then, more likely than not, they haven't invented anything new (or, often, useful).
On the other hand, when their first words are: "I haven't invented anything", then, usually they're onto something interesting.
Why? The first sort it's usually an amateur tinkerer, gifted perhaps, but completely ignorant of the technical background to his "invention". The second sort knows it well, and knows that he's only made an incremental improvement, hence his modesty. But invention is incremental. It can't be otherwise: there are six billion other human brains working on the same problems at the same time. Of course, acknowledging that wouldn't make for good TV, hence the emphasis on the...er...cranks. They're simply vastly more telegenic than an earnest inventor.
posted by Skeptic at 11:31 PM on September 23, 2010


polyglot: Do ratcheting CVTs also have this reliability/power transfer problem?
posted by Tikirific at 11:34 PM on September 23, 2010


As someone who used to spend hours and hours looking for cryptosporidium spores in water, I thing the GALD is pure bloody genius.
posted by itsjustanalias at 12:38 AM on September 24, 2010


You guys do realise that the rest of the world has had all this stuff for at least 30 years don't you?
posted by i_cola at 2:50 AM on September 24, 2010


I just read that thread and didn't find the debunking part. Confusion and disbelief yes, but actual debunking?

Yeah, a lot of people didn't believe it, including me. The main reason I didn't believe that was revolutionary was that it was that if such a thing was possible, it would have been invented by the end of the 1800s for sure. Back then mechanical devices like that was what lots of the worlds smartest people worked on. In fact, in the thread people brought up similar devices that are already in use (like the limited slip on a car)

Remember, that transmission requires another motor to turn in order to work. But what we don't see is how much energy that other motor uses. It could be that while the transmission stay it's 'sweet spot', you need more and more energy output in order to turn the system. Which would mean it's sweet spot is really only when the other motor doesn't turn.

I suspect that this transmission would lose a lot more energy then a traditional mechanism.
posted by delmoi at 3:25 AM on September 24, 2010


You guys do realise that the rest of the world has had all this stuff for at least 30 years don't you?

So 'you guys' have had paint-on-solar power sources for 30 years and a simple microscopic light system for detecting golden staph in minutes? And you still have power problems and super-expensive diagnostic bills? Man, 'you guys' are both selfish and stupid.
posted by Kerasia at 5:21 AM on September 24, 2010


> So 'you guys' have had paint-on-solar power sources for 30

I dont' know about 'paint on' but thin film solar has been around for a long time. You can buy some here or here. You can make stickers out of it and stick it wherever you want.
posted by delmoi at 5:33 AM on September 24, 2010


Just as an aside, but does anyone else feel like puking when looking at their site?

As far as I'm concerned they ought to invent a better design.
posted by oxidizer at 6:44 AM on September 24, 2010


I've been driving a CVT vehicle for about seven years. I've had trouble with all sorts of things but the transmission has been fine. As it has for other Murano owners I've spoken too.

Of course this is anecdotal. But I've yet to see any evidence that CVT transmissions wear out at a substantially faster rate than conventional transmissions. I'm sure someone on the blue will enlighten me were this the case.

The solar paint sounds the most promising (and practical.) When it's cheap enough, I'll be repainting my car with it to power a custom made driver's seat that senses my mood and alters my meds based on traffic conditions.
posted by chemoboy at 7:29 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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