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Ben Gulak, 19 / Uno
Like most visitors to China, Ben Gulak was struck by the stifling air pollution. He also noticed that everyone seemed to be riding around in mopeds, bicycles, scooters and motorcycles. He asked himself: Why not an emission-free bike?
He spent months cooking up ideas and drawing sketches until he finally settled on Uno, an electric unicycle. (Uno is a unicycle in appearance only; it’s actually manufactured with two wheels mounted closely together.)
The first prototype, which Gulak designed by himself, uses a series of gyroscopes, accelerometers and other sensors that keep the bike balanced. If the rider leans forward, the sensors pick up that movement and reorient the bike, much like a Segway.
The design landed Gulak, a Canadian-born freshman at MIT, a spot at the International Science and Engineering Fair, on the cover of Popular Science magazine, which put Uno at the number one spot on its list of the year’s top inventions, and on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
That kind of publicity lured a number of angel investors to fund a second prototype, for which Gulak has hired a full team of engineers. They hope to have the first models out in November. “Everything that is happening right now is so exciting, but I still have to focus on my education and getting my degree,” he reasons. “For now I’m sticking it out.” Gulak wouldn’t say who his backers are, but he employs a handful of engineers to make the Uno.