GENEVA: The French have been credited with inventing the bidet and popularising pissoirs or public urinals, and now they can add the biodegradable and portable toilet to their name.
Frenchman Mayer Helewa designed the lightweight, easy to construct and carry toilet after Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of displaced people were crammed into a stadium for a week, with hardly any access to facilities.
“It’s a taboo subject, but necessary in case of natural disasters,” he told AFP at the annual International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, pointing to the earthquakes in Japan and Haiti that displaced tens of thousands of people.
“The first problem is to have access to a toilet. Because if not, people will do their business wherever, and you end up with epidemics such as cholera,” said Helewa, who is a doctor.
Weighing about two kilogrammes, his invention is essentially a piece of cardboard that folds into a boxed seat in a minute, and comes with plastic bags that each contain an absorbent pad to soak up liquids.
Helewa, who gamely climbed atop a sample, claimed that the heavy-duty version is able to withstand a weight of 200 kg and usage of 20 hours a day, after it was tested by four armies.
The French invention is among more than 1,000 creations showcased by inventors from 45 countries at this week’s inventions fair in Geneva.
The rule of the exhibition is that the invention can only be exhibited once in the Swiss city, and must have some form of intellectual property rights protection.
While Helewa’s product is more or less ready for the shop shelves, other inventors have come armed with prototypes to seek investors who could commercialise their products. Licences negotiated at the fair can reach $40 million each year.
Inventions this year range from a prawn peeler to interchangeable high heels – that can be unscrewed from the shoe and swapped for a shorter heel – to a garden lighting system that uses mirrors to multiply the luminosity produced by a single bulb.
Mohd Farriz Basar, from Malaysia, showcased his LED illuminated vest, which is linked to a motorcycle by radio frequency and flashes right when the rider is turning right, or flashes red when the rider brakes.
There have simply been too many lives lost to motorcycle accidents, he said, explaining why his invention is important.
Meanwhile, four friends from Spain designed a bracelet that vibrates when it is time for patients to take their next doses of medication.They hope it would be taken up the pharmaceutical industry and included in every box of medicine in the future.
Another two friends from Switzerland came up with a simple modification to a supermarket trolley allowing the front panel to be lifted off, thereby making it easy to slide the shopping out rather than having to lift it out.
“The reasoning behind this invention is very simple, it just came from our observation of people shopping: we realised that they have trouble getting their goods out of their trolleys,” said Marie Guerry.
The inventions are on show until April 10.