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Dispatches

GENEVA
On the Make

— CHANEY KWAK

“It’s like a kangaroo tail for humans,” says Emmanuele Lopopolo, from Italy, as he leans on a backrest attached to a telescoping pipe. His lumbar-supporting invention, “Backsaver,” is just one of over 1,000 novelties on display at the 2011 International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva.

Universities and research labs make up most of the exhibitors from 45 countries at the world’s biggest invention fair. But amid engineers and scientists, a handful of entrepreneurial dreamers hold their ground, hoping for investors to snap up their prototype toothpaste-dispensing toothbrushes, portable cardboard box toilets and pyramid-like vertical gardens.

“Except for my wife, no one knows I’m here,” says Luc Peetermans as he demonstrates “3-D Cutting,” an adjustable chopping frame that guides your knife to cut vegetables in exact sizes. Back in his small hometown in Belgium, he is mayor.

Meanwhile, Brahim Zoubir, a Moroccan firefighter, tucks a volunteer inside his origami-like canvas stretcher. After struggling to transport an injured woman from a second floor apartment, he set out to make a gurney that can be carried or slid down a ladder.

For some, attending the fair means continuing their loved ones’ legacies. Thomas Neihsen took a few days off from work in order to show SafeStair, a body frame that glides along the handrail to prevent the elderly from falling. It was created by his late father.

By the end of the fair, many exhibitors have signed deals, but not everyone. Spain’s Eudald Batlle, for instance. He shows off his soda can, which opens to reveal a baby bottle nipple that pops out. “It would be perfect for an airline,” he says, undaunted.

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