Game Changers: 5 New ‘Next Big Things’

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Imagine if you could pay for parking with a few taps of your phone, and that you’d never have to pay for more time than you used. Imagine if, after you’re done eating a bag of chips or drinking a carton of juice, you could scarf down the perfectly edible packaging, too. Engineers and designers have been imagining these things, and more.

Here are five new intriguing innovations with potential to be “next big things”:

Electric Motorcycles
Electric cars such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are often heralded as the gas-free vehicles of the future. But even with soaring gas prices, electric car sales remain unimpressive. Plug-in vehicles made up just 0.1% of new car sales last year, and experts speculate that by 2017, the figure will reach only 1.5% of the market.

The prototypical electric vehicle of the future might, in fact, wind up having two wheels rather than four. According to the Los Angeles Times, electric motorcycles currently on the market have a larger range than electric cars (112 miles, versus 100 miles for a Leaf) and are able to hit nearly 90 mph on the highway. A Pike Research study reports that, based on their popularity in Asia and around the world, sales of e-scooters and e-motorcycles will grow from 17 million in 2011 to 138 million by 2017.

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Edible Food Packaging
Think about how much trash surrounds the food you buy: Granola bar wrappers, the bags filled with chips, and all sorts of other packaging ultimately wind up in the trash once what’s inside is devoured. But what is the packaging itself could also be eaten?

Industry publication Packaging Digest reports that at least two U.S.-based manufacturers will soon start marketing ultra-thin membrane edible food packaging, potentially saving countless pounds of bags, wrappers, and containers from ending up in landfills. How will the concept work? Will consumers be willing to eat, say, a juice container—one that’s been touched by deliverymen, supermarket clerks, and the grubby hands of their children? We’ll have to wait and see.

Smartphone Parking Meter Payments
Forget about needing quarters, or even a credit card. The Detroit Free Press describes how in Ferndale and Dearborn, Michigan, meters are being tested that allow drivers to pay for parking via smartphone, or by dialing a toll-free number from any phone.

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What’s especially interesting is the new technology eliminates the scenario in which you’ve overpaid to park. When leaving your spot, a driver deactivates the service and is billed only for the time he uses.

The 25¢ Casserole
The Orlando Sentinel reports that an innovative Florida-based nonprofit called Feeding Children Everywhere has just about perfected a nutritious, super-easy-to-prepare casserole aimed at helping to end hunger the world over. The casserole, which incorporates rice, lentils, dehydrated vegetables and mineral-rich Himalayan salt, has been proposed as a solution to hunger in Florida, Africa, and everywhere else there are children in need of sustenance. The casseroles come in individual plastic bags—perhaps the nonprofit should meet with the edible packaging companies—cost just 25¢ apiece in ingredients, and are delivered to Africa, South America, and the Caribbean, as well as schools in Florida.

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Vending Machines for Everything
Coinstar, the kiosk company that brought us the ubiquitous DVD and video game rental service Redbox, has been testing out vending machines that’ll sell everything from a café-quality, fresh-brewed cup of coffee to refurbished iPhones. While it’s hard to tell if any of these concepts will produce a practical machine for the real world, the Wall Street Journal recently rounded up some vending machines already in the marketplace selling highly unusual (for vending machines anyway) goods, including prescription drugs (a code from a doctor is necessary), original artwork for $5 apiece, and buckets of live worms for fishermen.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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