What might be in big in 2015? What game-changing ideas and innovations are going to make a difference, a lot of money, or a lift in the lives of a lot of the planet? Here are 10 that could get traction.
1. Cycle campers
Dane Mads Johansen came up with the Wide Path Camper, "a small and lightweight foldable camper designed for bicycles". Great idea, but at 40kg unloaded it's already a strain on the thighs. Still it might be a slow-burner in some places where travel ambitions are modest and the roads forgiving. Pictures of the unit show it being towed over dead-flat roads on a still day - a long way from cycling in a stiff easterly on the Canterbury Plains. Wind drag would be cruel after a few klicks, which has led to ideas of kicking up the power-train with help from capacitors.
Johansen's cycle trailer sleeps two adults and a child, has 300 litres of storage space, packs down for transporting, and has a built-in battery for charging devices. It costs US$2500 ($3200).
2. Compost islands
This concept comes from the smart folks at Present Architecture in New York and is a response to dealing with the Big Apple's trash. For years the city has used an "out of sight, out of mind" solution, piling waste into trucks and spending US$300 million ($382 million) a year sending it out of state. The alternative approach is to keep it in-house by creating parks which would eat the four million tonnes of organic rubbish the city generates each year. Instead of sending heavy lorries across vast distances to enormous landfills, with all the congestion, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions created by the existing policy, the designers envisage a chain of composting parks in a loop around the city. Each "island" would have a street-level plant to receive and process organic waste, which would be carted off in barges and recycled.
Above ground a 5ha public park would cap the island, big enough to support schools, gardens or even cross-country skiing grounds. Smell would be treated with filters and screens would sift out inorganic junk. Present Architecture says its idea nails two problems: it deals with 30 per cent of the urban waste stream, and adds 50ha of parkland to the city.
3. The Hippo roller
Really a twist on the smooth concrete drum used to flatten cricket pitches and bowling greens, the Hippo is a clever way to haul water over third-world turf. In many African countries, two out of every five people struggle to get clean water, increasing the risk of illness caused by dehydration and poor sanitation. Water collection work is often the job of women who, in South Africa alone, collectively walk the equivalent distance of 16 times to the moon and back every day gathering water. Full containers balanced on the heads of water carriers weigh 20kg, about the weight of economy class luggage allowances. The task is time consuming: a United Nations study found that Sub-Saharan Africa loses 40 billion hours a year to water collection; that's the same as a whole year's worth of labour by France's entire workforce. So roll up the Hippo, a toughened plastic drum with a metal handle which carries 90 litres of water. All the weight is borne on the ground. For US$190 ($242), the South African foundation behind the device will provide a village with a Hippo for six years. The rollers are manufactured in a factory in Johannesburg.
4. Electric aircraft
Aircraft design is under the microscope. Things need to happen quickly. In 10 years the US Federal Aviation Administration estimates one billion people will be flying each year. The heat is on to move people efficiently - and cleanly. Nasa is doing its bit with radically designed aircraft that burn less fuel and slash nitrogen oxide emissions. But the most fascinating developments are occurring with the engines. Airbus test-flew an electric aircraft, its fan engines powered by lithium polymer batteries in the wings.
The electric fans can keep the plane aloft for 30 minutes. Slovenian-based Pipistrel sells a two-person glider with a pop-up engine powered by four lightweight batteries. The glider packs down in a trailer covered in solar panels which charge the batteries for the next flight. With fully charged batteries, the plane makers say the glider could theoretically run for an hour. Pipistrel sells a two-seater electric trainer which has a US$200,000 ($255,000) price tag. They have another more ambitious design on their books - a four-seater electric plane capable of carrying four people for 200km. The makers think it will fly this year.
5. Primate power
Any day Sandra, a shy Sumatran orangutan, could be freed from Buenos Aires Zoo, a move befitting her newly won status as a "non-human person". The 29-year-old primate has spent her entire life in captivity. Born at a German zoo, she was moved to Argentina two decades ago.
Orangutans are part of the family Hominidae - or great ape - along with gorillas, chimpanzees and humans. With a name which translates from Malay as "man of the forest", orangutans share about 97 per cent of their DNA with humans. The landmark court ruling came after animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition - a document more typically used to challenge the legality of a person's detention or imprisonment - on behalf of the captive orangutan.
The court agreed that Sandra deserved the basic rights of a "non-human person", meaning she could be moved to a sanctuary. In a New York case last year, an appeals court rejected an animal rights advocate's bid to extend "legal personhood" to chimpanzees, saying the primates were incapable of bearing the responsibilities that came with having legal rights. The court found that although lawyer Steven Wise had shown that Tommy, a 26-year-old chimp who lives alone in a shed, was an autonomous creature, it was not possible for the ape to understand the social contract that binds humans together. Still, the implications of these cases are far reaching.
A fresh way of looking at animals as conscious individuals could foster new welfare standards for domestic species while deepening objections from groups that object to lethal methods of controlling invasive or pest animals. From the jungle to the oceans, the law is reaching out in ways that recognise animals as individuals rather than species, way beyond their role of merely providing services to humans.
7. Silver flash
Kiwi John Britten was years ahead of the pack when it came to motorcycle innovation. Sadly, he died as his creative talents were flowering. Hints of his legacy come through in a concept bike called Full Moon, from the Slovenian company Akrapovic. The firm makes car exhausts, which perhaps explains the flowing sculptural sheet metal design. "The bike itself is essentially an exhaust," Akrapovic says. The machine has "automated" steering, a composite rim brake on the front wheel, hydraulic suspension so the bike can be parked upright, and two LED strips on the leading edges of the footrests that we suppose are meant to act as headlights.
The machine runs on a 1524cc engine. The rear wheel is concealed by the wrap-around exhaust while the front wheel, made of carbon and aluminum and which gives the bike its Full Moon name, is 76 centimetres in diameter. The prototype made its debut at a German motorcycle show last month. Given its lunar pedigree, it may well show up on the silver screen.
8. Vape on
Remember the Oxford Dictionary's international word of the year? The language watchers settled on "vape". To vape is to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette. The more lucrative field looks likely to be vaporised illegal highs, and perhaps alcohol. The actor and comic Whoopi Goldberg is ahead of the curve, writing on the Denver Post's Cannabist website that her "vape pen" relieves her devastating glaucoma headaches without overwhelming her with a marijuana high. The net is full of accounts of dissolving illicit substances in vegetable glycerine before tweaking the result for enhanced impacts. Given the trajectory of the industry, it is fair to say that the vape revolution has thrown down a challenge to Big Tobacco and the pharmaceutical industry. US vape advocate Brian Penny wrote: "The e-cigarette is poised to push the drug industry to a healthier drug-delivery system."
9. Vegetable Milk
For years the Cassandras have been warning investors not to pin all their faith in New Zealand's white gold industry - the dairy business. The news out of San Francisco adds weight to that cautionary message. Bioengineers behind a start-up called Muurfi are bubbling over a lab-brewed liquid they say is nearly identical in taste and nutritional makeup to cow's milk. The impulse to leave cattle in the paddock has been round for years, but the ability of a cow to produce milk that tastes like milk has kept the dairy industry ahead of brave new competitors. Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi hope to change that with a plant-based concoction that, if successful, could produce not just milk but the entire dairy suite - butter, cheese and yoghurt. Their approach involves using DNA sequences from cattle and inserting them into yeast cells, growing the cultures at a controlled temperature and collecting milk proteins.
While the proteins will come from yeast, the fat will be extracted from vegetables. Minerals, such as calcium and potassium, and sugars will be added to the brew. They intend to use healthier fat than found in natural milk and a sugar more suited to people who are lactose intolerant.
Says Pandya: "If you have all the right ingredients, making milk by hand can actually be surprisingly easy." A test batch composed mostly of plant-derived fats and sugars still had a little bit of cow. Pandya, however, felt the taste was "97 per cent" that of milk.
10. Dengue vaccine
As much as half the world's population is at risk of developing dengue. The disease is characterised by high fever, nausea and vomiting, pain behind the eyes and in the muscles, bones, and joints.
Endemic in parts of the Pacific, dengue kills 20,000 people a year, and has a severe economic impact. Unlucky Kiwis have returned from an island break having been infected by mosquitoes that spread the virus.
A challenge in creating a vaccine against dengue is that there are five different related, but not identical, strains. Protection from one type does not guarantee immunity from the other forms.
A vaccine that just went through the last phase of testing was found to be 60 per cent effective, on average, in protecting people against the disease, and 95.5 per cent effective against the disease in its most severe form, as dengue haemorrhagic fever. Though not perfect, "it's the best dengue vaccine so far", MIT immunologist Jianzhu Chen told online journal The Verge. The vaccine is expected to be available this year.