Category Archives: technology

Outside the Box Thinking: The Future of Automotive Manufacturing

Automobiles have been manufactured on assembly lines since the days of the Model T in the early years of the twentieth century. The following four minute video shows how Henry Ford's workers put the innovation to use to support the mass production of autos:

Since then, auto manufacturers have had over a 100 years to advance assembly line technology. With that being the case, you might think there's not much more room for improvement left in this now very well established technology.

Unless you think outside of the box. Check out the following five and half minute video for a glimpse of the potential improvements that might yet be made for how automotive vehicles will be produced in the future:

If successful, the first manufacturers who can pull the "unboxed" parallel manufacturing concept off will cut their production costs by up to half, while taking up substantially less space than vehicle manufacturers consume today. Those potential advantages mean legacy manufacturers who are late to adapt to the new production methods will be at an extreme disadvantage in the market. We may be on the cusp of the equivalent of a space race for carmakers.

Inventions in Everything: The Levitationarium

Gaining the ability to fly is one of the oldest dreams of human beings. It can be found in the ancient Greek myth of Icarus. In that story, all Icarus needs to fly is a pair of wings made with feathers attached by wax. But what starts as myth becomes a cautionary tale. Icarus flies too high, too close to the sun. The sun's heat melts the wax attaching the feathers to the wings, causing them to fall out. When too many feathers detach, Icarus stops flying and starts falling. It all ends quite tragically.

It's only been in last dozen or so decades that human beings have learned to fly safely. The U.S. Patent Office has issued hundreds of patents related to that achievement. But what most of those patents describe is not the kind of flight humans dream about. A dream of flying requiring minimal gear and nothing more than jumping from the ground before the experience of soaring in the air for as long as desired before gently touching down again at the end of flight. There's no falling involved. Certainly nothing like what happened in Icarus' story.

There may be hundreds of patents related to flight, but U.S. Patent 4,457,509, issued to Jean St-Germain in 1984 is the one that has come the closest to delivering making it possible for humans to have that long-dreamt experience of flight. Enter the Levitationarium!

U.S. Patent 4,457,509 Figure 1

Given the scale of the figure, it may be tough to see the people entering the Levitationarium and engaging in flight, so we added some color to help locate them. Here's the patent's abstract, which describes St-Germain's inventive vision:

An installation such as in the form of a building having a room or chamber in which an upward air flow is produced to levitate human beings. This installation, herein called a levitationarium, is constructed and arranged to be simple, safe and economic to operate in particular by comprising a blowing propeller that is shrouded and arranged to produce an induced suction flow in an annular air passage around it, under the action of the direct flow by the propeller inside the shroud; by having a toroidal air passage arranged for closed circuit streamline air flow serially through it and the levitation chamber; and by including a toroidal core portion interposed between the levitation chamber and the toroidal air passage and providing a spectator gallery and access to the levitation chamber.

It's not the fully free flight of which humans have always dreamed, but its not that far from it. Today, levitationariums are places you can go to experience it.

Although they're not called levitationariums. You'll find them advertised as "indoor skydiving" or "vertical wind tunnel" facilities in several dozen cities across the U.S. Check out the following 2016 video from iFly Westchester in Yonkers, New York, where the modern incarnation of St-Germain's invention appears to live up to the hype:

At this writing, booking a two flight experience can be done as at offpeak times for as low as $75 at the Yonkers location, the price at peak times is $105.

That's a bargain. Just try to make your own pair of waxy wings for less than that these days.

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

The IIE team has a long history with things that either fly or float through the air. Here's a short list:

Outside the Box Thinking: The Lowest Lowrider

Remaking a street car into a hot rod requires a lot of engineering and mechanical talent. That's just as true for remaking a car into a lowrider, which involves modifying a vehicle's suspension to lower its body closer to the ground.

Making a car into a lowrider however comes with big question. How low can they go?

Carmagheddon, a group of Italian car hackers, took on the challenge of finding out what it would take to make the lowest of lowriders. The following 11 minute video reveals how they truly took it to the next level by customizing what looks like a go-cart chassis for their modified Fiat Panda:

The next video shows it in action!

You would never want to chance hitting a speed bump or pothole while driving their lowrider, but that's also true of the vintage Fiat Panda from which it's been made. All the same, it's a work of inventive genius for how they solved the challenges of making what could well be the world's lowest driveable lowrider.

HT: Core77.

Inventions in Everything: Water Talkies

For many of the inventions the Inventions In Everything team has profiled over the years, there's an unfortunate pattern.

It starts with inspiration. An inventor starts with an idea and successfully sees it all the way through the patent process. Then, it runs into the harsh realities of the marketplace. Some inventions never even make it into the marketplace. Some manage to plod along in very niche applications.

But until U.S. Patent 5,877,460, we haven't seen a patented invention that became popular with its intended market soon after it launched, only to go on to all but disappear. If you want to find it today, you might get lucky shopping on eBay.

It's the story of Ritchie Stachowski's Water Talkie, which the then 11-year-old conceived in 1996, filed to patent in 1997, and was awarded with a patent in 1999. The following video clips assembled from contemporary televised news coverage in the late 1990s features Stachowski demonstrating his product:

While the poor sound quality of the video clips make it tough to tell, they do demonstrate why the product ultimately vanished from store shelves. The water talkie didn't work very well.

In 1999, at Age 13, Ritchie Stachowski sold the company he started to sell Water Talkies and other toys. Today, he goes by Rich instead of Ritchie and is a principal at Hairagami, a startup his mother Barbara founded to market a range of hair-design and style products she invented and developed. Inventions you can buy today at retailers like Amazon and Walmart.

The story certainly doesn't fit the pattern we described at the outset. It's a story of a invention that failed in the marketplace, yet for the inventor, is still a success story. One with a very different outcome from what we or anyone else might have predicted.

The Math That Got Oppenheimer All Worked Up

It's a typical day for any scientist or engineer. You're doing some calculations while playing around with the fundamental forces of nature and... you suddenly realize that what you're doing could have fatal consequences. As in the potential death toll starts in the dozens, if not hundreds or thousands. Worst case, you find what you're doing could cause the apocalypse.

Movie fans who hung around after watching Barbie to also watch Oppenheimer as part of the "Barbenheimer" social media-inspired double feature craze recently become aware that's a thing the people that do this kind of work deal with on a daily basis. Admittedly, for many of these fans, seeing the main character of Oppenheimer getting all worked up over results of math that suggested a runaway nuclear reaction could end the world could be a real consequence of detonating an atomic bomb caused a real head rush.

So what's in the math that Robert Oppenheimer did that made him think the proverbial end of the world was something that had a non-zero chance of happening because of the work he was doing? Welch Labs explains the math Oppenheimer did in the following short video:

We now return you to the world that continued muddling through when the invention of the atomic bomb didn't cause it to end.