Take that idea and flip it around. Thomas Edison (an inventor with a great first name) wasn’t the first inventor to find a way to record sounds. He was, however, the first one to find a way to play them back. Earlier inventors managed the first part, but not the second. I can appreciate their situation. My air mattress has a slow leak. It almost lets me sleep through the night, but eventually my butt hits the floor. I wake wrapped on either side by the remaining inflated sections. My workaround has been to turn on the pump for a few minutes while I take my inevitable middle of the night bathroom break. There must be a better and quieter way to pump in air about as fast as it leaks out. And, I think I found it in one of my other inventions. All I have to do is flip the idea around. Oh yeah, and prove that it works, first.
I guess I’m an inventor. I have a patent (thanks to Boeing) for an idea I developed while working on the aerodynamic control of a supersonic transport. Anyone can be an inventor because anyone can have a fresh idea. Making it work and getting the government to issue a patent for it is a lot more work. It’s like the difference between having a great idea for a novel and actually writing it, editing it, formatting it, publishing it, marketing it, and selling it. (If you want hints on how to pursue your inventions, check out Alan Beckley’s blog.)
I enjoy inventing so much that it got me in trouble at Boeing. A group of us were developing a new kind of airplane. The legal types playfully chastised us for not submitting inventions on an airplane that couldn’t fly without them. So, in three months I helped invent ten things. I was told that I “was too comfortable with new ideas.” So much for American innovation.
Just because I’ve turned into a consultant, writer, and artist doesn’t stop the inventive mind. Browse through this blog for several Fresh Ideas. Whether any of them are practical or marketable is a question to be answered when I finally have the time, money, and inclination to pursue them.
One in particular continues to intrigue me. The Passive Pump relies on Brownian motion and nano-manufacturing to create a vacuum pump that could passively remove the air and gas from a container. If successful, it could make it easier to store and ship perishable items like food and medicines to regions were electricity is unreliable or expensive. Disaster zones come to mind. I came up with the idea in 2005, wrote about it in 2012, and have watched some interesting traffic to the blog post over the years. If someone is developing it for humanitarian purposes, great! Give me a call. If someone is developing it for commercial purposes, great! as long as I am properly compensated.
Some of you have jumped ahead. It’s a pump. It can work both ways. That thought didn’t arrive until this afternoon while I was getting ready to put the air mattress away for the season. (I sleep on it during hot summer nights because it and the room it is in are cooler than my normal sleeping arrangement, my living room couch. If you want to know what happened to the bed, read Minimalism Meets A Carport Sale.)
The idea is simple. A patch or panel is built into anything that needs to be inflated or deflated. The patch or panel has numerous microscopic flaps in it that only let air flow in one direction. Make the flaps small enough and Brownian motion may, may, be sufficient to let the more energetic molecules pass. Give it enough time and one side will have a higher pressure than the other without requiring any energy source.
I don’t know if it will work, but I do know how I’d test it and develop it. The manufacturing technologies exist. Let me check those lottery tickets again to see if I can afford the fab and lab time.
Want more engineering details than I’m going to put in a blog? Schedule a meeting.
A recent saying in Silicon Valley is “If you want to make a billion dollars, create something that improves a billion lives.” That isn’t my motivation, but I could use the money; and this idea does have that potential.
Flipping ideas is not limited to inventions. It is rarely as obvious as realizing that you’re using the wrong end of a hammer; but it is as common as pulling when you should push. In karate, opposing the flow isn’t as effective as moving with it while redirecting it.
It can be hard to see it for yourself. One of the things I do as a consultant is to watch and listen for struggles that can be turned into energy sources, for negatives that can be turned into positives by flipping a perspective.
It is easy to overthink thoughts. Thinking things through is a good idea, but don’t be surprised if that flipped perspective effortlessly reveals a solution. It may just take a fresh look at an old fresh idea. If Thomas Young had flipped his idea for recording sound in 1807, we would’ve had recorded music seventy years earlier, and maybe that Thomas would be just as well known.