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4. Applied Simple Science


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 4. Applied Simple Science

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Now that we have taken a look at some simple science and how to look through the simple science lens at scientific principles, let us now investigate how this may be use in the ‘real world’ to invent useful devices. Note that we are using the word ‘device’ for the things around which we will be inventing. A hinge, for example, is a device for assisting the holding and moving of the door, whether it is a car door or a flap on a mousetrap or a door in our house. Our device stories help us look at different elements of the design process.

Devices deliver functionality, which means that they have a function or purpose which adds value in given situations. In being inventive we can question the purpose of the device, what functionality we want and how it is delivered. When we know what the device is supposed to do we can start inventing new ways of doing this. We can also look at the broader circumstances of its use and invent new ways of using it. But enough of abstract talk, let us look at some everyday objects and how we can invent around them.

Let's look at ways we can apply simple science in some simple examples:


Gillette's razor

King Camp Gillette was a moderately successful salesman of ‘Crown Cork Seal’ bottle tops, but his real driving ambition was to invent something that would make his fortune. He was a part-time inventor, and even had several patents to his name. One day, when discussing his big dream with a friend, the friend suggested that he should invent something like the Crown Cork Seals he sold: a device that was used once and then thrown away. The idea took him and he started his desperate search.

His favourite creative triggering system was what he called the ‘Alphabet system’, where he took each letter of the alphabet and listed every product he could think of starting with that letter. But despite repeated use, this did not work this time. Finally, in 1899 when he was half-asleep and shaving, the idea of a disposable razor blade suddenly came to him. He immediately sat down and sketched out the idea.

That same day he stopped at a hardware store in Boston and bought brass and steel strips and started on his first prototype. Unfortunately, a truly sharp blade was more difficult to create than he at first had thought. He consulted many experts, even people at MIT, who all said it could not be done, yet still he did not give up. He formed a company and after five years of research including some brilliant work by a young engineer by the name of Nickerson, the first Gillette razor was sold.

When the first razor blades were sold in 1904, they cost one dollar for twenty blades. It is a testament to Gillette’s constant innovation that in 1960, despite 56 years of economic inflation, the price was still unchanged.


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