Easy mowing

Sept. 27, 2001
The John Deere Spin-Steer is said to be the first lawn tractor to offer zero-turning radius maneuverability with a traditional steering wheel.

Designers repositioned the engine in a zero-turn radius type vehicle from rear to front so it looks and feels like a conventional lawn tractor. Two separate hydraulic motors, one for each side, propel traditional ZTR mowers which use dual levers to steer. Because they operate independently and at different efficiencies, maintaining straight lines or tight turns is difficult. A new drive system packaging the two hydraulic motors in one case clears that hurdle.

Also, a zero-turn machine with a steering wheel does not follow the same rules as conventional lawn tractors when backing up. When backing up a conventional lawn tractor, turning the steering wheel to the left guides the rear of the machine to follow, like having a car in reverse. However, when backing up a zero-turn tractor, if the steering wheel turns to the left, the front of the machine follows, but not the rear. A reverse logic system automatically switches the steering to react as operators expect.

Plastic rear fenders replace sheet metal for better durability during those occasional accidental encounters with trees and shrubs. Sight windows in the fenders display various fluid levels.

And, for mowing comfort, compartments for keys, wallets, and sunglasses are available, as well as cupholders for your beverage of choice. The SST tractor comes with a 16 or 18-hp Briggs and Stratton V-Twin Vanguard engine with OHV. Designer: Henry Dreyfuss Associates, Wood-Ridge, N.J. Price: $4,299.

Is that a computer in your pocket?
The Flash Key is a pocket computer. To use, simply plug it into a USB socket on a computer, and it becomes a fully functioning add-on computer. The memory module sits on a narrow stalk which is a bit wider than the USB plug. It works with any computer that has a USB slot, regardless of operating platform. Users can store, remove, and share data securely and portably. The Flash Key requires no batteries, power attachments, adapters, disks, or drives. Designer: Ziba Design Inc., Portland, Oreg. Price: $70-$90, depending on storage capacity.

Hands-free vacuuming
Silver-award-winning Hoover Q concept vacuum cleaner uses infrared sensors to follow you through the house. A remote control lets the vacuum unplug itself from an outlet slowly to retrieve the power cord. A spool-shaped canister has large wheels for easy motion and to minimize overturning. The canister has an infrared link to the wand which lets the "follow me" feature activate. A translucent, bagless waste compartment makes it easy to see when changing is necessary. An S-Shaped wand cuts down on bending to vacuum underneath furniture and lets it stand up on its own. Designer: IDEO, Palo Alto, Calif. Price: N/A.

Mobile Law Enforcement
The bronze-award-winning Tetra system provides police in the U.K. with a handheld or body-mounted terminal that uses a secure radio frequency in Europe known as Tetra. Tetra-secure radio frequency is specifically for public safety and security. The handheld terminal provides data and voice communications, digital imaging, and bar-code scanning. The pocket PC architecture and large touchscreen lets officers send and receive data, fill out forms, and access national and international police databases. A digital-imaging feature captures images and sends them to other officers and the main data bank. Bar-code scanning of driver's licenses, serial numbers, and license plates transfers the data to headquarters for a real-time search. The imager also captures and decodes bar-code graphics. The terminal provides hands-free communication for emergency situations, and a GPS feature locates officers while in pursuit or in dangerous situations. It sits in a magnesium housing with rubber overmold and an internal gasket for weather protection. A nylon mesh belt and sash system holsters the terminal. And, for safety, a reflective thread is woven through the nylon. Designer: Steiner Design Associates, Greenwich, Conn. Price: N/A.

Thinking outside the thumbtack
The ReThinking the Thumbtack incorporates new features that go beyond simply attaching paper to a wall. Research shows that people use thumbtacks in creative ways, such as stringing up lights. The aluminum-body double pins and horseshoe design let the tacks do more tasks, such as stringing cords, lights, and hooks. Next on the agenda: paper clips? Designer: University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign, Urbana, Ill. Price: $0.30/tack.

Drug-free therapy for ADD
The Thoughtcaster helps kids with attention-deficit problems improve their attention spans and concentration without relying on drugs. It's based on a training program from NASA's Langley Research Center to extend a pilot's attention span. It consists of a wireless helmet, wired base station, and software. Three sensors in the helmet detect brainwave signals and wirelessly transmit them to the base station while the child concentrates on playing a computer game. A typical game requires concentrating on a skateboarder or cyclist in order to win a race.

The base station connects to a home computer. After installing the software, a parent or teacher adjusts the helmet on the child's head. An onscreen bar graph indicates when the helmet is fitted correctly. The display prompts the child to push a mode button under the bill of the helmet to activate the computer game. The child's brainwaves control the action on the screen. Attention training occurs through the brainwave information emitted by the child and the immediate visual feedback received from the game.

The helmet fits children from 6 to 12 years of age. Replacement sensors snap into the helmet which automatically recalibrates itself. Designer: Bolt, Charlotte, N.C., Spark, Richmond, Va. Price: $995.

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