For Europe and the Netherlands in particular, technological innovation is becoming an increasingly important component of the economy. This is reflected in the increasing amount of money that is being spent on supporting the development of promising technological findings. In 2011 alone, the European Union plans to spend €6.4 billion on innovation, a 12% increase in comparison to 2010 and a 30% increase in comparison to 2009.
Het verslag van de vorige Innovation in a Week is alleen beschikbaar in het Engels
Although it is great that interesting technologies are being developed beyond the academic research or get a second life if they don’t fit in the core strategy of a cooperation, many technologies still don’t reach the market. Development times are often long and in the meantime the target market changes, competitors appear or the technology simply becomes outdated. This is a tragedy, especially since marketeers are screaming for technological innovations.
What is needed in this scenario is a quick way to translate abstract technologies into appealing applications that will allow marketeers to see the potential of these technologies. Insight in a new technology enables marketeers to give essential input to the developers at an early stage.
Ministerie van Nieuwe Dingen held a five day workshop to demonstrate exactly this translation. By doing the workshop publicly MvND aimed to make two points. The first point being that it is possible to translate abstract technologies into inspiring applications in just five days. The second point: there is a whole new generation of designers being trained right now who can make this translation. These designers are quick to develop an understanding of abstract technological principles and at the same time they have a well developed design intuition. They have the ability to structurally involve users and stakeholders in their design process and insight in marketing issues.
MvND invited students and alumni from Industrial Design at the Eindhoven University of Technology to participate in the workshop. Four students and one alumnus were selected to participate to represent the new generation of design engineers.
During the five day workshop the participants were challenged to develop an application based on one out of three technologies that were presented on the first day of the workshop. On the fifth day the participants presented their applications with sketches, technological foundations and sometimes even working prototypes to an audience of investors, innovation managers, sales professionals and designers.
Because of the time pressure and the commercial context the students were guided intensively by the MvND team: Joris van Gelder; industrial design alumni, Jan-Hein van Twist; business developer, Jan van der Asdonk; industrial design alumni. The participants were guided to follow the next principles:
1. Design from the principles of the technology rather than the known applications of the technology
2. Imagine what a technology could mean to people rather than what it could do for developers
3. The application should affect our daily lives
4. The application should be physical and visible
5. The appeal of the final application can be explained in one sentence
6. The application should evoke a sense of curiosity or even enchantment
Based on the three different patents, six applications were created. We describe the applications per technology.
A technology wherein the rotation of a thin copper plate alongside a series of magnet creates friction on a electron-scale, substantially increasing the temperature of the copper plate. This technology is based on the same principles as electronic induction only the induction is now generated kinetically instead of electronically.
Although the technology has been around as a heat source for a couple of decades it never caught on. MvND was captivated by the efficiency and elegance of the system that directly translates a circular movement in heat.
The participants were just as impressed as MvND because the majority of them decided to create an application based on the whirl warmth generator.
Mark Thielen created a lighter that never needs a refill
By spinning the product’s disc over your pants, the inner gearbox drives a small copper disc alongside the magnets, creating heat. After spinning, this internal disc becomes so hot, it can light your cigarette. All that it takes is inserting the cigarette into the small cavity, and it is lit. And the most wonderful thing is, it never needs a refill.
Arne Wessels made shoe inlays that warm your feet as you walk
By using the pressure from a footstep, these inlays generate heat by sliding a copper plate across an array of magnets, generating a tiny bit of heat with each step. As you walk, every step adds heat to the copper plate so over time the plate reaches a comfortable temperature.
Bob Spikman made a flask that warms water
By pulling the handle, this flask creates warm water by spinning an internal copper disc alongside magnets. This principle can create hot water not only for tea or coffee, but also creates something to keep you warm at night.
Bob also designed a shower hose that generates its own heat
By using the pressure of the water in your pipes, copper discs are spun and create heat. By applying this principle in a clever system, the shower hose heats water, so you can use less gas in creating the necessary warmth for your steaming shower.
Rheomagnetic fluids are sensitive to magnetic fields. They can react in two ways: they either become thicker or they change in shape. Nowadays, the most common application for rheomagnetic fluids are shock absorbers. These shock absorbers can be calibrated electronically, making it possible to change the handling of a car while driving.
Ionica, a developer that works with several types of rheo magnetic fluids, challenges MvND to come up with suprising applications for their fluids.
Dirk van Erve created shoe laces you don’t need to tie
By soaking flexible laces in the ferrous material they become rheo-magnetic. The shoe can be taken on or off because of its flexible laces. However, when magnetism is applies, the shoe laces become stiff, keeping them on your feet. Dirk presented his application convincingly with a flawlessly working prototype. Partly because of the prototype, the laces evoked an enthusiastic reaction from the audience.
Magnetic levitation technology
Used in the LOS Concepts series of lamps made by Crealev, this technology keeps an object afloat on top of a magnetic field. We focussed on a sensor that measures the horizontal deviation of the floating object so electromagnets can keep the floating object in place.
MvND was impressed by the simplicity and effectivity of the sensor, that doesn’t require microprocessors or other digital electronics.
Nicolas Nelson and Dirk van Erve created a coaster that is always underneath your glass
By applying the same tracking technology found in the levitation applications, the smart coaster can track the location of a glass that is held over the table. When the glass is placed on the table, the coaster springs into action by applying directed vibration across its hairs. This makes the coaster move to the desired direction, placing itself beneath the glass before it touches the surface.
The organizers, MvND, considered the workshop a success for three reasons. Firstly, because of the surprising and thought provoking results, like the smart coaster and the shoelaces. These applications do more than add another item to the list of products that the developers were thinking of. They represent an entirely new perspective on the technology and open up a whole new field of ideas “what can you do with magnetic cloth?”
The second reason why MvND is satisfied are the reactions from the audience. The applications that were being presented engaged the imagination of the people in the audience, that mainly consisted of non-designers. Reactions we got were “if you use the heating elements in a washing machine you don’t need a heating element anymore” – Mara, art manager, and “You could use the position sensors in construction, then the cranes can have an autopilot” – Khalid, salesman.
Lastly, two of the results spurred so much interest among members of the audience that they are being developed as towards commercial products for global brands. Keep an eye on the MvND website to follow the latest developments of these products.
During this workshop the application scope of the patents has evidently been broadened. More importantly, most of the applications created in the workshop can be developed within a year and require little further technological research. This means that the developers are able to quickly introduce their technologies to a whole new market, thus generate income and attract commercial attention, even at an early stage in the development process.