What's Your Opinion on a Design Ideas Forum?

Ann R. Thryft

March 6, 2013

3 Min Read
What's Your Opinion on a Design Ideas Forum?

Design News has a highly creative, intelligent, and innovative audience.

The more I read and respond to comments on the stories posted on our site, the more impressed I am with you, our readers, and your knowledge. Many audience members not only have theoretical knowledge in the areas they've trained in to track down problems, but also the kind of practical, hands-on experience that makes it possible to fix washing machines or re-engineer a lawnmower. We see both in the Sherlock Ohms and Made by Monkeys columns.

But I also see readers make creative, interesting comments on posts that go beyond immediate concerns, along the lines of "what would happen if you combined this feature or technology over here to solve a design problem with that entirely different other product class over there." For instance, in my recent article, 3D Printing & Robots at MD&M West, a thread started during a discussion about Rethink Robotics' Baxter, mentioned in the article as being designed from the ground up to be safer around humans. Readers were discussing various methods of making robots sense that a human was present or nearby, not a part to be picked up, so the robot would not run into the human or harm them in any way.

One reader commented:

I wonder if the flesh-sensing technology used in saws (i.e. table saws) would be able to be integrated into the 'skin' of a robot to help it identify humans. Since the saw companies are resisting using the technology, perhaps the robot industry would be able to incorporate it.

That kind of cross-platform creative thinking reminded me of the best of Silicon Valley-style innovation, which is where we got the now overused, but once illuminating, phrase "thinking outside the box."

As it turned out, other readers chimed in with some experience about that SawStop technology and the result is it may not make sense for robots. But that's important to know. It's especially helpful to know why, so engineers can make up their own minds and decide if the trade-offs are worthwhile, or if perhaps the technology could be applied in other designs.

For example, one reader said the SawStop technology has a sensing mechanism that wouldn't work around humans, an expensive reset process, and a tendency toward false stops. Another said SawStop has licensing fees, presumably expensive ones, and pointed out one reason it may not have caught on in the power tool industry was the need for retooling.

What if this was an idea that would work in this application? Maybe Rethink Robotics has already thought of it, but maybe they haven't. Or maybe one of their competitors would be interested in this idea. But all the potentially great ideas like this tend to get buried on the comment boards.

So I'd like to propose a forum on Design News that focuses on innovative, problem-solving design ideas where individual engineers and companies like robot manufacturers can trade comments and suggestions like these. What do you think? What are your ideas about how this could or should work? Please give us your suggestions in the comments section below about how to pull these ideas together, and what kind of forum it should be.

About the Author(s)

Ann R. Thryft

Ann R. Thryft has written about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for Design News, EE Times, Test & Measurement World, EDN, RTC Magazine, COTS Journal, Nikkei Electronics Asia, Computer Design, and Electronic Buyers' News (EBN). She's introduced readers to several emerging trends: industrial cybersecurity for operational technology, industrial-strength metals 3D printing, RFID, software-defined radio, early mobile phone architectures, open network server and switch/router architectures, and set-top box system design. At EBN Ann won two independently judged Editorial Excellence awards for Best Technology Feature. She holds a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Stanford University and a Certified Business Communicator certificate from the Business Marketing Association (formerly B/PAA).

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