Ben Gulak invented an electric motorcycle that landed the 19-year-old freshman on the cover of Popular Science magazine for developing number one of their top 10 inventions of the year.

“It was so exciting to see the magazine in variety stores and on newsstands,” says Gulak, who also recently landed a spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

He calls the bright orange vehicle The Uno and developed it after a family trip to China.

“Beijing was covered in a blanket of smog. You hear about pollution, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so bad,” Gulak says, adding he noticed thousands of motorcycles and scooters in that city and thought there must be a more environmentally friendly way to travel.

Back in Toronto, he began sketching a unicycle-looking street bike that resembles a motorcycle but is more compact and maneuverable, and is also electric. He first developed it for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in New Mexico that year and won second place. Why not first place? (“There were some technical issues, like the bike would go 30 feet and the electronics would explode in a ball of flames.”)

Now that he has ironed out the kinks, Gulak has launched a company to develop the bike and has filed for patents in dozens of countries. He estimates the vehicle will sell for about $6,000.

Gulak first learned of engineering from his grandfather, a design engineer who developed the first twist lipstick. When he died, Gulak inherited his machine shop.

“I’ve always loved tinkering, and if I can keep designing things that can make a difference in the world, that will be amazing,” he says. “Everyone should try to leave the planet a little better than they found it.”

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