Our March 6 cover story on inventor Jerome Lemelson, the 1995 Design
News Engineer of the Year, triggered a flood of calls and letters from our
readers. Most came from disillusioned engineers who could not get their pet
inventions beyond the idea stage and were looking for some advice from Lemelson,
one of the most successful inventors in U.S. history with some 500 patents.
One engineer responding to the article--Lyle Haugland of Boeing--provided what I thought was an excellent analysis of frustrated would-be inventors. He calls them "The Golden Handcuffs Generation." These are individuals who for various reasons cannot, or think they cannot, pull away from their careers and other commitments enough to bring their innovative ideas to fruition. As Haugland sees it, the actual or imagined "handcuffs" that keep these engineers from following their dreams include:
Marriage and family commitments and responsibilities.
Careers that aren't successful enough to make one financially independent, yet still rewarding enough to discourage the pursuit of riskier but more creative endeavors.
Companies that lay claim to an employee's inventive ideas, regardless of whether or not they are developed on company time or apply to company products.
Lack of education or knowledge of how to patent, develop, and market ideas.
Inadequate support from spouses, relatives, friends, and peers.
Lack of enough good judgment to know how to spend their limited creative time and financial resources.
Haugland has given invention a great deal of thought as a former process improvement expert for the Boeing Defense & Space Group. He argues that corporations and schools could do a lot more to remove the constraints that frustrate creative engineers. More colleges should offer courses in invention and innovation development and marketing. Companies should allow talented engineers to take paid or unpaid sabbaticals to pursue their inventions. Still another need: marketing companies that do not charge individuals until an invention is commercially viable.
All of these are good ideas that could encourage more engineers to conquer their fears and act on their dreams. If you know of such programs, please let us know about them, and we'll spread the word.
Truchard will be presented the award at the 2014 Golden Mousetrap Awards ceremony during the co-located events Pacific Design & Manufacturing, MD&M West, WestPack, PLASTEC West, Electronics West, ATX West, and AeroCon.
Robots that walk have come a long way from simple barebones walking machines or pairs of legs without an upper body and head. Much of the research these days focuses on making more humanoid robots. But they are not all created equal.
The IEEE Computer Society has named the top 10 trends for 2014. You can expect the convergence of cloud computing and mobile devices, advances in health care data and devices, as well as privacy issues in social media to make the headlines. And 3D printing came out of nowhere to make a big splash.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.