The Exotic and the Unusual

ray latypov - inventor
Ray Latypov beside his astronaut-like 'VirtuSphere.'

From San Marino to Moscow at the Foire de Paris

Paris:- Wednesday, 29. April 1998:- The annual Foire de Paris at Paris-Expo down at the Porte de Versailles is - for Paris - a mega of a salon. It is like a 'home affairs' exhibition, and each year it adds more, bigger, better, wider, higher! brighter!! deeper!!! features!!!! It is the mega-feature show.

On the eve of it, the features crews of the TV-news are already showing previews, so I skipped these last night and am hitting it 'cold' today. I meet the same lady I did last year in the press bureau, but decline her phone-book-size and weight whole-show catalogue. By the time I selected the three or four subsection ones I think I want, they add up to the same volume.

You don't expect me to 'cover' the 20,000 new items here and I don't expect me to either. From my own 'preview' last week, I decide to see what a quarter or eighth-sized indoor football pitch looks like. This turns out to be a lucky choice, because it is under the same roof as the press bureau.

But it is as far away from it as it is possible to go. On the way, I see that I am in the 'regional' or 'foreign' vacationsan marino stand destination hall, and I think this seeps into my subconsciousness. There are stands for exotic places in France and for exotic ones a bit further away.

How the football got put in here is a mystery, but here it is. The pitch of the "Espace Football' turns out to be 16 by 25 metres, which makes it about one-sixth of a regulation World-Cup playing field, and not the quarter or eighth I'd imagined.

Just one of the many fancy things made in San Marino.

No football field is worth anything unless it has loudspeakers at least four metres high. This one has them, and they are playing the cheering of a crowd in Rio's big stadium. I guess it is the 'exotic' part - the rest is some pro players showing some almost pro players how to do it.

I back away from this and end up talking to a guy named Marin from Sao Paulo. He is running a stand - sort of for Brazil - and has an art directory to show; a combination of books and a CD-ROM. He tells me about Sao Paulo and I have just seen this movie shot down there, so I want to know about the water. Specifically, I want to know if there are dangerous things in the water. There are, but they are not big. Not usually.

Mr. Marin tells me about the Marché d'Art at Bastille and gives me a good tip for a Brazilian restaurant in Paris.

A stand named Saint Marin stands out, partly because it seems well-made and tastefully designed. After a few minutes of chit-chat I finally tumble that I am dealing with San Marino, which is a very little country surrounded by Italy.

It is a republic and it has a small population, some of whom speak a local dialect, in addition to Italian. There is one major town which is called Citta San Marino and there are 12 smaller towns andIsraeli snack stand a couple of crossroads places. The young lady says the food is very good in San Marino. I can tell there are some other very good things there too, such as the five holidays of its very own.

Israel is celebrating 50 years as a country right now and it has a big stand. I am about to leave it behind, when I discover one corner of it is a tiny snack bar; so I have one of those pocket-like sandwiches. I forget what they are called.

Neat Israeli stand makes overfull snacks.

Mine is very full of middle-eastern stuff. I wander over to the adjacent SNCF stand and harass them for the Train and Bike brochure, while dribbling my snack on their carpet. This is the first day of the foire; the SNCF's stand is going to be a mess by the time it is finished. Although the lady is annoyed, she asks me how my Israeli treat is - it's pretty good even if it's a bit messy. Maybe I'm clumsy.

What I am, is in a hurry to get to the inventors. They are in the vast space of hall one someplace, and it is on the other side. There is an underpass to it.

Like the football, the inventor's area is the furthest away; nearly in Issy. They do this because it is one of the most popular attractions at the foire, and they want you to walk past all the garden stuff and the lawn mowers to get there.

This year, the inventors area is much larger. A lot of 'inventors' are showing miracle cleaning products, but there are the usual 'magic' oyster openers and the truly astounding corkscrews, notno strings globe by MSI to mention the knife sharpeners, glass cutters, brick splitters, and the like.

My first 'find' - tah-tah! - is the football hanging in thin air. Yes! Supported by nothing, no wires, no invisible plastic; no! Just hanging there, free on all sides.

No strings, no mirrors - just hanging there, and turning.

The company, Magnetic Suspensions International, is pretty happy to have sold an in-store display to Addidas for the World Cup. On the other hand, if you look at this 'suspension' thing long enough, you will think of suspending something too.

How it works is ultra-secret, but it only requires a bit of electricity - one or two watts - to make a football or a globe float in the air. The secret part is small, so it should be able to fit into almost anything. It's up to you to figure out what 'anything' may be. The French company holds all rights except for the UK.

At the press booth of the 'Concours Lépine' I learn that the Chinese are regular exhibitors, and now the Russians are here too.

As Ray Latypov's 'VirtuSphere' is fairly large, I don't have too much trouble finding the Latypov brothers' stand. If I understand him correctly, the VirtuSphere is for playing virtual-reality games. The whole thing is on rollers, so when you are inside it with the virtual headset on, you can physically move - endlessly - in any direction you want.

The sphere on display, he says, is sized for children up to about 12. Adults need a bigger one. Even so, he gets inside it to show me how it's done - but I get the impression Ray is pretty agile, or he's done it before.

The Latypov brothers are busy guys when they are at home in Moscow. They've brought four different items to show; but they are all sort of prototypes. They work, but they are hand-made.

The 'VirtuSuit' is a garment full of sensors, which collect data about the body's position and orientation in real time, and feeds it into a standard PC. For example, if a top-notch golfer hastable setting been 'recorded' wearing the suit, you can put it on to try and match this golfer's moves, and thereby win big tournaments. You might even want to do this over the Internet; to play virtual-reality games with others.

The 'Foire' is a home-show; so here's a balcony table and setting.

The brothers have a trained programmer, and they think up things for him to do. One of these is 'NetPrize,' which seems to be some computer code that permits hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands, to play the same game - or rather, assign different scores - of up to one million for 20 questions or one billion for 30 questions. Any questions?

The brother's simplest thing is a computer game called 'RussPack.' You can hit this Web site to try out the game for free. Its code is tiny, but the game is supposed to be as simple as 'Tetris' and time-consuming as chess.

Despite high piracy rates in Russia - according to the Latypovs' brochure - the game is selling well there for the equivalent of $13. If you are thinking of a little piracy, 'RussPack' has a US Patent as well as a French brevet.

Talking to Ray Latypov is a bit like being in his rollercoaster of a 'VirtuSphere.' I don't remember exactly what he said about the brothers' Moscow Web site, but give it a hit anyway.

Every year I kind of dread going to the biggest of Paris' salons and every year I come away from the inventor's show being glad I went. This year was not different.

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