Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker, Ben Gulak. Unique, amazing inventions - and the story behind how they came about - always inspire us. Such is the story of Benjamin Gulak, who, as a teenager growing up in Ontario, Canada had a special wish: that one day he be known for his inventions - inventions that would help improve the world.
Now, just age 21 and the inventor of the highly acclaimed "eco-friendly" Uno III -- a stylishly compact personal mobility vehicle he developed as a high school senior - he can honestly say he's off to a great start.
Benjamin is also the creator of the DTV Shredder (his latest invention) which, built as a cross between an all-terrain and extreme sports type of recreational vehicle, is ridden like a skateboard. Because of the vehicle's tank-like tracks, the military is considering converting the DTV into a robot vehicle that would be capable of going into hostile battlefield conditions to transport wounded soldiers to safety.
And not only is Benjamin a widely-known inventor in green technology, he is also a sought-after entrepreneur. He is founder and chairman of BPG-Motors which manufactures the Uno vehicle, as well as being founder and chairman of BPG, Inc., which he began at age 21 when his high school science fair project Uno gained international attention. Today, BPG, Inc. develops Benjamin's revolutionary vehicle designs - combining vehicular function with form.
Says Benjamin: "My personal goal is to find innovative solutions to every day transportation problems by looking at issues from a slightly left-of-center perspective. This includes demonstrating that 'green' transportation can be cool!"
As a youngster growing up, Benjamin was somewhat of a rebel, but focused.
" I never really did anything the normal way -ever," recalls Benjamin, who, in addition to his invention and entrepreneurial endeavors, is currently pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "This created a lot of problems. Even when I was little, I was getting in trouble for little things in school. If I had an idea of how something should be done, or what I wanted to do, I always ended up finding a way to do it my way, and that created friction along the way."
In high school, he liked working on his science projects (using tools that his late grandfather, a design engineer, had left him) more than going to class, he says.
It was at age 17 when he took a trip to China with his father and mother that the idea for the electric Uno III took shape.
" When he saw the incredible pollution in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, much of it produced by smoky two-stroke scooters and motorcycles," says Benjamin, "I knew that electrics would make ideal substitutes--if they were cool." He set out to create a practical, non-polluting vehicle -- with style.
Bejamin recalls: "Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth had just come out then, and people were talking about pollution almost every day. I was at more or less the epicenter where all this bad stuff was happening. I remember reading in the paper that everyday 20,000 new cars were hitting Chinese roadways. I thought for my next science fair project I wanted to do something green."
The inventive young man soon began to put his plan in motion upon returning home.
The highly adaptable Uno -built from an angle-iron frame of the Yahama R1, attached wheelchair motors, batteries and gyroscopes - can morph from its upright Segway-ish unicycle mode (for low speeds) to its motorcycle-like horizontal position (for higher speeds) on the fly. Nimble in navigating through traffic, the Uno is also collapsible, fitting effectively in an elevator or garage, and boasts a top speed of approximately 35 miles per hour and has a range of 30 miles.
Since Uno was introduced, the "buzz" about the vehicle has accelerated at an incredible rate. After winning a Grand Award at the 2007 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the Uno was awarded one of the Top 10 Inventions of the Year by Popular Science magazine.Â Gulak's Uno then started to appear in newspapers and magazines around the world - leading to the start of BPG Motors.
And to help fund the Uno project, Benjamin received added attention when he won $1 million toward his cause on the TV reality show Dragons' Den in 2008.
Both the Uno and DTV Shredder are still under development and are not yet for sale, but BPG hopes to launch the Uno III in early 2012, at least on a limited basis.
"Beyond these two projects, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do next. But whatever I do, I want to keep doing things that have the potential to have a positive impact," he says.