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Technology’s New Wave: Concrete That Floats, Lipstick-Sized Video

February 28, 1990

CHICAGO (AP) _ It has the Walkman of the future, the concrete of the future and the plastic lawnmower with no future.

The National Design Engineering Show and Conference features the work of 871 companies through Thursday in an exhibition that is a peek at technology’s next generation.

″You and I, ultimately, in some way will be related or involved with every single product in this show, whether it’s paint on an automobile or the spring in the seat or the knobs to turn on your hi-fi,″ said Robert Rosaler, director of an engineering conference sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in conjunction with the show.

About 25,000 engineers are expected at Chicago’s lakefront McCormick Place for the show and conference, which opened Monday.

A Massachusetts company is showing a video monitor slightly larger than a lipstick container. It uses a magnifying lens to produce an image that looks as though it is on a 12-inch screen.

″This is basically the Walkman of the future,″ said Raymond Hoffer, a representative of Reflection Technology of Waltham, Mass. ″It’s a videoman,″ he said.

The 2-ounce terminal can display 25 lines of 80 characters each on a red- and-black screen. It attaches to a headband that can position the video screen a few inches in front of the eyes, allowing someone to look up information while leaving the hands free to do work.

By Christmas, the mini-monitor is due to appear in stores as a component in a 5-by-2 inch paperless pocket fax machine, said Neil Golden, director of sales for Reflection Technology.

At least eight other companies plan to use Reflection Technology’s monitor in products, including a 5-by-3 inch portable computer and a patient monitor that doctors can wear in the operating room, Golden said.

Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. is showcasing a lightweight concrete substitute called Macrolite that weighs about a third as much as the real thing.

To illustrate, 3M representatives filled a tub with water and put in two ″concrete″ logs. One sinks. The other, made of the substitute, floats.

Developed by 3M in 1986, the lightweight concrete can be used for building in earthquake-prone areas.

″You can build the same high-rise buildings, only much lighter, so when they sway they don’t topple over,″ said William Whitcomb, a company representative.

3M says the ceramic substance, pumped with air, is a better insulator than concrete. An 8-inch wall of Macrolite provides the insulating power of 65 inches of concrete, Whitcomb said.

Dow Plastics, a division of Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical Co., is on hand with a product it has no intention of producing - a plastic, elliptical lawnmower that cuts a swath about a foot wider than traditional push mowers.

Plastic allows a bigger machine that is no tougher to push than steel and aluminum models, said mower designer Robert Cleereman.

Cleereman said Dow wants to show commercial engineers that plastics can be used in place of metals and woods.

In short: Unlike other ideas here, this one is to prove a point, not turn a profit.

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