Driving Ladders, Joysticks and Hot Water

Inventor's Contest is Annual Fair High Point

Paris:- Tuesday, 30. April 1996:- Everybody who has heard of the 'Concours Lépine' can hit the 'return' button now; the rest of you can stay around for stuff that is a bit different.

Louis Lépine was born in Lyon on 6. August 1846. Just before finishing law studies in Heidelberg and Berlin, he returned to France to become a war hero in the 1870 conflict. He got shot up several times; but after the war he returned to civilian life and he served in many many government functions, ending up as Paris' head cop in 1893.

In 1900, duly noting a general despair of Parisian toy manufacturers and retailers, caused by cheap foreign imports available during the Christmas season, Emile Laurent persuaded Mr. Lépine to organize a contest for inventors in 1901. The initial contest was held in the Grand Hall of the Commerce Tribunal and it contributed to the success of local manufacturers for the 1901 Christmas season.

The official creation of the non-profit French Association of Inventors and Manufacturers (AIFF) took place on 12. April 1902; with the intention of having an annual contest. The secretary-general of the AIFF, Edouard Cousin, hit upon the idea of naming the contest after its initiator, the Paris Chief of Police, Louis Lépine, who also became the association's honorary president, remaining so throughout his lifetime.

The AIFF's main purpose has always been to give aid to inventors, to help them with the formalities of protecting their work and to provide assistance in finding the means of getting it manufactured and distributed.

After the First World War the contest was held on the banks of the Seine, until the event was affiliated with the annual Paris Fair. This year marks the 84th edition of the contest. Prizes include cash, medals and certificates.

In 1907 Mr. Bimm was a prizewinner for his Birum vacuum cleaner; Mr. Robert was awarded a prize in 1916 for the invention of an aviator's parachute; the partners Mantelet and Moulinex won in 1931 for a potato masher and 1932 saw a 'speaking alarm clock - combination coffee maker' win for Mr. Pornanski. More recently, a whole Chinese delegation won for the ensemble of their inventions, in 1989.

Today I talked with Paul Bousquet, 80, of the administrative council of AIFF, and he told me that about a third - about 300,000 this year - of visitors to the Foire de Paris don't leave without taking a look around the part of the hall reserved for the 'Lépine Contest.'

The only formalities to the competition are that the exhibitor must be a member of the AIFF - foreign members are welcome - and be able to exhibit an innovative object. Everything on show during the fair has to have been 'breveted' or patented.

While the contest is on, the objects of each stand are inspected by the AIFF's jury, to decide the winners of the prizes, that will be awarded two days before the end of the fair. I saw several of the judges attempting to work while I was there. Because of the huge crowds their work is not easy, because if an inventor in conversation with a visitor, they will not interrupt - there might be a big deal going down.

Out of a choice of hundreds of innovative items, here are three that I bumped into today:

Monsieur Pommier (14k)
Mr. Pommier, the happy inventor.
Walking Ladder

If you have a step-ladder, say, 5 metres high, each time you want something beyond your reach, you have to climb down and grasp the ladder in both hands, and move it as best you can to the next position you want and climb up it again.

But if you are Pierre Pommier, you put a fixed set of wheels on the step end, put a pair of pivoting wheels on an axel at the other end and join them to handle-bars on the platform on the top. The operator climbs up, puts his hands on the handle-bars, the 'front' wheels pivot, and as they do, the whole five-metre high ladder moves forwards, or sideways, or even backwards.

These ladders are designed with working heights of three, four, five, six and seven metres. For uneven surfaces, the wheel axles can be pivoted 90 degrees. The minimum height of the ladders is 2.4 metres. For work on stairs, the wheels are removed and the ladder is fixed in place with telescopic 'feet.' You might think a seven-metre high ladder might be a bit unstable at the summit but the telescopic 'feet,' that the operator can lower from the operating platform, take care of all situations. When dismantled the seven-metre model fits into three cartons that will fit in a car's trunk.

While talking to Mr. Pommier, the inventor, and Patrick Lau, the Hong-Kong based director of sales, we speculated on the uses the ladder might have as a inexpensive camera transporter and support for film production - the 'walking' action is quite smooth, plus there are accessory intermediate platforms with guard-rails.

The six and seven metre models are called Nacelle 2000, and the smaller models are named Esca 2000.

Joystick testing (11k)
Tester Willy says the joystick works fine.
Tiny Joysticks

With a medal in his pocket from the 23rd International Geneva Inventor's Salon in 1995, Marc Manzo-Bodrone, was showing off his manufactured and blister-packed 'New Sniper' joystick for Nintendo Game Boys - no wires, no electronics, just press it on - and presto! Easier play and higher scores. The removable accessory comes with joysticks in two heights and can be easily removed. This do-dad also works with the Super Nintendo and Super Game Boy, plus Sony's Playstation game controller. About 50 francs retail.

I got one of these and my official 'tester,' Willy, tried it and found it to be good; just as the kid who tried it for a minute at the stand, said it would be.

Here comes the sunthing... (8k)
Mr. Flosse with his solar-heat 'things.'
Solar Hot Water

Some of these things seen here are so new that PR agents have not yet got contracts to do the stands, so you have to peer carefully into almost dim cubbyholes, to find jewels. All Jean-Jacques Flosse had to decorate his stark stand were his half-dozen medal certificates, from various Inventor salons.

Actually what drew me to look twice at Mr. Flosse's stand was the word 'solar.' There was only a plexiglass thing, a big metal box thing, a ribbed-cast thing on the floor and some blue transparent hose pipe.

I am not going to describe how any of this works, because I didn't understand it at all and because Mr. Flosse said parts of it were secrets he didn't tell me.

The 'brevet d'invention' is titled, 'Thermodynamic generator of energy via light rays.' Mr. Flosse's 'things' focus and concentrate light rays in such a way as to generate 3000° C. instantly, or 120 KW per square metre. Apparently this is theory, because the material on the stand is capable of producing only 5 to 20 KW per square metre - which is 20 to 100 times superior to other forms of actual solar energy generation.

The short of it is, you get some of these 'things' I saw and you have a unheated swimming pool that you want to heat to say, 30° C. These 'things' - these boxes, tubes, etc., convert solar radiation into heat and voilà, your swimming pool heats to 30° C. in May and it stays that way. Or you can heat water for your caravan, or for your sailboat - instead of leaping over the side into the North Sea.

Another possibility of the concentration and the focus to made a lot of heat fast from light, would be to make steam, which in turn could make electricity - and I gathered Mr. Flosse is working on this.

The promise of solar energy is not some form of astrology; you go outside on a clear day and there's this nuclear explosion otherwise known as the sun, throwing off every sort of radiation - so, why man is not getting more useable energy directly out of this rather than going through the extremely roundabout method of digging carbon out of the ground and sticking it in gas tanks - is beyond me. Like so many other things.

'Concours Lépine' URL : http://www.intratrecfrance.com/

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