How You Can Become the “Elon Musk” of One Brand New Technology

Ed. Note: On the seventh of every month (unless it falls on a weekend), the FREE Tomorrow in Review e-letter features their “7 Things You Need to Know” series, courtesy of scientific and financial journalist Stephen Petranek. The series is designed to show you the most exciting (and potentially profitable) breakthroughs in the science and technology sector. Below are the first two of these 7 important points…

1. It Came From a Virtuous Place

In the last 20 years or so, scientists have begun to figure out that when you mash together two completely unrelated fields, the sparks of innovation start flying.

A good example is when particle physicists and astrophysicists began to realize that understanding the origins of the universe and, therefore, the Big Bang, meant they were both studying similar phenomena — the behavior of tiny particles that make up atoms. That led to a far better understanding of how matter and energy behaved in the seconds immediately following the Big Bang and how the first stars formed.

Another great mashup beginning to yield incredible innovation these days is that of electrical engineers and automobile engineers. The Tesla Model S, for example, has almost nothing to do with traditional auto design — each part of the car is unique, designed specifically to be ideal for an electric auto instead of an internal combustion engine auto. But of course, auto engineering helped make the Tesla into what Consumers Reports called the best automobile it has ever tested.

The Pedalist, as Virtue calls it, looks like a tiny auto that got squished in a traffic jam.

[Ed. Note: Tesla Motors plans to mashup advanced robotics with motor vehicles, so that, according to Elon Musk, “a Tesla car by next year should be 90% autopilot… for highway travel… with a combination of various sensors… cameras with image recognition… radar [and] long-range ultrasonics. Other car companies will follow,” he says, possibly referring to Volkswagen AG’s Audi and Daimler and AG’s Mercedes-Benz. This Thursday, Musk announced that “[it’s] about time to unveil the [Model] D and something else” — the latter causing quite the buzz.]

A similar mashup of electrical engineering and bicycle design is starting to produce equally exciting innovations. The magic started with e-bikes, electric motor-assisted bicycles that you can take to work without breaking a sweat. But bicycles, even e-bikes, are notoriously uncomfortable in rain, snow and ice. What the electric cycle commuter needs most is something with a roof.

They’re called velomobiles, and they’ve been around for a while, but they’re starting to become far more sophisticated than a shell surrounding a recumbent cycle, which necessitates a low-slung vehicle that is difficult for other vehicles to see. Last month at the Interbike show in Las Vegas, a commuter-bike company called Virtue Bike introduced a huge leap forward in velomobiles with a polycarbonate high-rise version that allows a rider/driver to sit upright and be taken more seriously.

The Pedalist, as Virtue calls it, looks like a tiny auto that got squished in a traffic jam. But it has headlights, turn signals and room for an electric motor to help with the pedaling. At 34 inches wide, it will also fit through many doorways so it can be taken inside. You gotta love this thing. At about $4,000 without the electric motor, it’s far less expensive than a Vespa.

Interestingly, San Diego-based Virtue is looking for investors to get these things on the streets, or perhaps on the bikeways that cities across the nation are building faster than highways. Anyone want to be the Elon Musk of cycling?

Addendum: For a lot of laughs, watch this video shot on an Australian ice hockey rink with Trisled’s Rotovelo bikes used to play a different version of ice hockey. Warning: It will make you want to join a team!

2. How Crab Blood Keeps You Safe

If you’ve ever received an injection, you owe a debt to the horseshoe crab, an animal that began crawling around on the ocean floor hundreds of millions of years ago.

The horseshoe crab is a living fossil, about as primitive as life forms get on this planet. And it’s not really a crab, but part of the phylum that includes spiders. Even its blood looks primitive. Our blood turns red when it is carrying oxygen, because the molecule that binds oxygen incorporates iron. The horseshoe crab’s similar molecule uses copper, so its blood is blue.

No matter the color, that blue blood has a very special property — it can help us identify when products like intravenous drugs and vaccines carry bacterial toxins that have survived sterilization attempts. Horseshoe crabs thrive in seawater, especially in coastal areas that horseshoe crabs like, which is crammed with bacteria — more than a billion gram-negative bacteria in a fifth of a teaspoon.

So horseshoe crabs have cells in their blood to protect against infection. Some of these cells contain a compound called limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL), which forms clots when it comes into contact with bacterial toxin.

Horseshoe CrabThe FDA requires by law that horseshoe crab blood is used to perform a 45-minute test on any medical product that touches the human body — from surgical implants like pacemakers to intravenous drugs and needles. It can isolate a threat equal to the size of a grain of sand in a swimming pool.

We harvest hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs every year, in what has become a $50 million-a-year business.

A quart of horseshoe crab blood sells for $15,000. Although the crabs are handled with care, estimates are that as many as 15% do not survive. Fisheries have only recently begun monitoring the health of the horseshoe crab population.

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek’s career of over 40 years in the publishing world is marked by numerous prizes and awards for excellent writing on science, nature, technology, politics, economics and more. He has been editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald’s prestigious Sunday magazine, Tropic, and has covered a wide range of topics for Time Inc.’s Life magazine. His...

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