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Posts from the Ideas and Inventors category

Failing for Success: Alexander Graham Bell

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” - Alexander Graham Bell

Failing for Success: Alexander Graham Bell

Bell at the opening of the long-distance line from New York to Chicago in 1892 via Wikimedia Commons.

March marks the quick succession of two important anniversaries in the life of Alexander Graham Bell – his birthday (March 3) and the date he patented his groundbreaking telephone (March 7). And though we think of his invention as one that changed the course of history, success for Bell wasn’t always smooth. But while Bell encountered failure in his long career, it did not stop him from exploring new ideas.

Known as the father of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell’s invention historically changed how people communicated. In fact, Bell’s innovation completely disrupted the norm of communications. When he tried to sell the telephone patent to Western Union in the late-1800s, the company’s president scoffed at the idea, and thought of the telephone as only a toy. Furthermore, Bell’s other 16, non-communications-related patents are a testament to his general interest in inventive ideas across various activities.  

Despite the multitude of invention success, Bell encountered failure as well. Many of his inventions, while ahead of their time, were not as successful as the telephone. Here are a couple of Bell’s invention ideas that did not work out as intended:

Early Metal Detector

This near-success occurred in 1881 after the assassination of then-President James A. Garfield. Bell, his assistant, Sumner Tainter, and mathematician Simon Newcomb developed a device that hummed when close to metal. During initial testing, the device succeeded and found bullets that the men placed under their clothing. However, while searching for the bullet in President Garfield’s body, the detector hummed continually.

Unfortunately, the bedsprings in President Garfield’s bed led to the continuous humming, and the invention was seemingly a complete failure. Nonetheless, Bell is credited with providing the framework for the modern metal detector.

Kite Flight

Later in life, Bell immersed himself in the study of flight. He supported aerospace engineering through the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), and came up with concepts meant to progress the science of human flight. From 1907 through 1912 Bell primarily experimented with tetrahedral wings, or box-kites. However, many of his concepts could not stay aloft for long periods of time, and the Wright brothers became the first inventors to perfect extended flight.

Nevertheless, architect and artist, Tomás Saraceno, recently used Bell’s idea to create a tetrahedral wing that stays aloft in the air. This concept, according to Saraceno may one day lead to the development of floating solar-powered structures for energy production.

Interested to hear how more inventors throughout history persevered in the face of failure? Check out previous installments of our Failing for Success series, including Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla and The Wright Brothers.

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How Ingenuity Is Art: Top Invention Stories from February

In 2002, Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space said, “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin… they are manifestations of the same thing. The art and sciences are avatars of human creativity.” 

How Ingenuity Is Art: Top Invention Stories from February

While creativity is often associated with art in its most traditional sense – sculptures, paintings, photography – Jemison reminds us that scientific innovation is a work of art in itself. In fact, creativity is intrinsically tied to much of our work. Whether we’re building cutaways of our technology, discovering ways to detect disease, or creating a new method to store milk, finding answers to pressing global challenges requires the imaginative ability to see beyond pre-existing ideas.

So this month, the links we love tell tales of artists both within and outside the walls of IV who, like Jemison, use the power of thought as their paintbrush – leaving their mark through inventions that improve our world.

IV in the news

This month, IV spinout Kymeta reached a new milestone in its satellite antenna internet technology for connected vehicles. Find out about its successful demo of the tech from GeekWire. The technology disruptor connecting our world was also named to Fast Company’s top-10 most innovative companies in space.

IV’s work with the University of Washington and Duke University on wireless charging technology was featured on Seattle’s KIRO7 and described as “pushing the boundaries of physics.”

IV is working on a device to detect fake drugs that can be easily accessed in the developing world. Learn more in The Guardian about IV’s collaborative effort with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and how it could save lives.

At IV, we’re working to make Nikola Tesla’s dream of wireless charging a reality using metamaterials. Hear firsthand from IV’s Russell Hannigan on the technology that could be charging drones wirelessly in the near future.  

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Kymeta’s Latest: Blazing a Trail Toward Total Connectivity

Stephen Hawking once remarked, “We are all now connected by the internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”

Kymeta’s Latest: Blazing a Trail Toward Total Connectivity

Image courtesy of Kymeta

Technology has enabled us to achieve a higher level of global interconnectivity than ever before. Yet even in our modern world of smartphones and wireless internet, there are still loose ends – those places around the world where connectivity is still limited. Kymeta, an IV spinout, is working to change this by delivering on what connectivity is meant to be – secure, available, universal and global. Harnessing the power of metamaterials, Kymeta is creating high-speed, global connectivity that can be easily accessed on land, out to sea, or high in the sky.

Since our last post about Kymeta’s mTenna™ technology, the company has made major moves worth sharing. Its innovation over the last several months have propelled it one step closer to delivering accessibility from the furthest corners of the Earth, including today's announcement that its 20 cm mTenna™ successfully connected to the Intelsat S.A. satellite constellation.  

Fast Company named Kymeta one of 2017 “World’s Most Innovative Companies”

Congratulations to Kymeta for being named to Fast Company’s top-10 most innovative companies in space earlier this month. “Anyone whose DIRECTV has dropped out during a flight will appreciate Kymeta’s flat-panel antennas, which use electronic steering to connect with low and medium earth orbit satellites and provide broadband speeds for fast-moving vehicles. Train commuters would no longer have to rely on cellular towers and cargo ships would gain access to improved navigation features. Even your car could get better connectivity,” said Fast Company on the impact of Kymeta’s technology.

Kymeta to bring high-speed connectivity to civilian armored vehicles

This month, Kymeta announced plans to work with Aurum Security GmbH to bring Kymeta mTenna™ satellite connectivity to VIP and civilian armored vehicles (CAV). This means high bandwidth connectivity can be accessed by VIPs, government officials and royalty no matter where they are in the world.

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Top stories from January: How challenging assumptions leads to breakthroughs

Renowned professor and biologist Uri Alon once said, “In order to discover something truly new, at least one of your basic assumptions has to change.” This creative and outside-the-box thinking that scientific discovery demands is not an easy feat to achieve. It requires us to abandon a preconceived notion and embrace a new framework for looking at a problem.

Top stories from January: How challenging assumptions leads to breakthroughs

From clean energy and virtual reality to artificial intelligence and American football, as we wrap up the first month of the new year, the stories we’re loving exemplify this spirit of challenging basic assumptions to solve the world’s biggest problems.

IV discoveries in the news:

On Nova PBS this month, Nathan Myhrvold shared his views on the future of global energy demand and how to innovate the next generation of nuclear power.

This month, IV’s Global Good worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to deliver more than 5000 Mazzi™ containers, which provide clean and effective storage of milk, to the farmers in eight regions of Ethiopia. 

IV spinout Evolv Technology developed a new security scanner using AI technology that can check 800 people per hour securely, streamline flying, and eliminate those pesky airport security lines once and for all.

As we prepare for Super Bowl Sunday, IV scientists teamed up to patent a new high-tech football helmet that would make the game safer for all your favorite players.

IV spinout Xinova announced a collaboration with San Francisco-based Aetho that could create new tools for augmented and virtual reality.

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Metamaterials: Bending Nature

When Nathan Myhrvold calls something “the closest thing to magic he’s ever seen,” it warrants a second look. Metamaterials are a new frontier, one the New York Times said “the waves of the future may bend around,” and we are investing a lot of time in their success. 

Metamaterials: Bending Nature

In this illustration, a thin diffractive lens focuses a divergent wave created by a small driver and achieves a nearly perfect focus on the other side of it. This shows how focusing can “reverse” diffraction (the spreading of waves) and instead direct wave energy towards a small receiver.

Metamaterials are engineered structures including arrays of small features that can manipulate electromagnetic, acoustic, or even water surface waves in interesting ways and well beyond what is possible with naturally occurring materials. In other words, metamaterials literally bend, squeeze and twist the waves – sound waves, light waves, radiowaves – that are all around us.

From new satellite antennas enabling broadband access anywhere in the world to innovative radar capabilities allowing drones to navigate safely, to connected cars and more, metamaterials promise an exciting future.

And that future is not far off. Today there are many near-term applications that metamaterials technology enables, leading to practical solutions that can positively impact the lives of millions of people around the world. In 2010, our Invention Science Fund laid out a plan to pursue practical applications of metamaterials, and one-by-one we have systematically created, incubated and ultimately spun-out new companies empowered to develop and bring these new products to market.

Today, four new companies are hard at work, exploiting ISF’s metamaterial invention leadership to create new classes of products. Kymeta is bringing to market a radically new kind of flat satellite antenna for high-speed mobile and other applications. Evolv Technologies, which was formed in collaboration with Duke University, is pioneering advanced security and other imaging technology. Echodyne is building new kinds of scanning radar, such as for drones and self-driving cars. And, finally, Pivotal Communications is creating new kinds of advanced communications antenna solutions, including those essential to delivering the promise of super-fast “5G” of cellular services. 

ISF is hard at work on our fifth metamaterial spin-out and beyond. We can’t say too much about it right now, but what we can say is that we think it will be very practical and very powerful. The applications of metamaterials are limited only by our own imagination and we’re eager to continue sharing what’s next.

For more about how our spinouts are using metamaterials in the market, check out the latest around companies like Kymeta, Evolv, and Echodyne, and stay tuned for news about new technologies. 

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It’s What’s Inside That Counts: the Arktek Revealed

In this video, we’ll show you how we told the story of the magic behind — or rather inside — the Arktek™, which received a USPTO Patents for Humanity Award in 2016. 

In order to produce these visuals, our team develops cutaways, or diagrams and prototypes with some external parts left out to reveal the inside. You may already be familiar with the Modernist Cuisine team’s use of cutaways to depict their work. After all, the best way to show the science of cooking is to see what’s actually going on inside the pot. And while these Modernist Cuisine photos are perhaps the most prominent cutaways – on display in museums as part of a traveling exhibit and in several cookbooks – we also use them to tell stories of our life-saving inventions.

A few years ago, for an exhibit in the Bezos Center for Innovation at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), our team created a cutaway of Global Good’s Arktek. The vaccine storage device can store a month’s supply of vaccines for a village of 6,000 people in 100 degree plus heat, without electricity. The innovative technology was developed by our team of inventors, rocket scientists, industrial engineers and health experts to save lives in countries with the lowest immunization rates in the world.

Want more inside scoop of the goings on at IV? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter

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Happy Birthday to The Explorer Who Knows No Bounds

This week at IV, we celebrate the 75th birthday of a scientist who fundamentally changed how we think about the universe and has become an emblem of intellectual curiosity for scientists, thinkers and innovators alike.  

Happy Birthday to The Explorer Who Knows No Bounds

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“From his wheelchair, he's led us on a journey to the farthest and strangest reaches of the cosmos. In so doing, he has stirred our imagination and shown us the power of the human spirit here on Earth.” – President Obama awarding Stephen Hawking the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009

Throughout his life, Hawking has inspired scientists and innovators across generations, including Intellectual Venture’s co-founder Nathan Myhrvold. Hawking was one of Nathan’s first mentors when he was a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University.

Stephen Hawking is the former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, with the likes of Isaac Newton and Charles Babbage. He is also the author of the international bestseller A Brief History of Time as well A Briefer History of Time and a series of children’s books. He is currently the director of research at Cambridge’s Center for Theoretical Cosmology.

Hawking has dedicated his life to exploring the fundamental laws that govern the universe. He was the first to set forth a theory of cosmology explained by the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, and his pioneering work in physics and cosmology is among the greatest scientific discoveries of our time.

Most remarkable about Hawking, however, is perhaps not his scientific contributions themselves, but his unwavering pursuit of knowledge and his strength in the face of adversity. Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, over 50 years ago. The diagnosis usually means one has years to live, not decades. Despite his diagnosis, Hawking continued to explore the world around him and has remained steadfast in his goal to achieve complete understanding of the universe.

Hawking once said, “Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up.” It is this tenacious curiosity and spirit of exploration that inspires us at IV to continue to explore big ideas. So today and every day, we recognize Hawking and other great thinkers who embody this spirit and remind us just how far determination and curiosity can take us. 

Be sure to check out Nathan Myhrvold’s birthday wish to Stephen Hawking and follow him on Facebook via this link. 

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Top Invention Podcasts to Listen to in 2017

At IV, we recognize the immense value of listening. The act of listening allows us to expand our knowledge, develop new ideas and learn from others. So as you charge into 2017 full-speed ahead, take some time to listen to our top picks of invention and science podcasts and learn from some of the best and brightest minds in the New Year.  

Top Invention Podcasts to Listen to in 2017

Freakonomics

Award-winning author Stephen Dubner and distinguished University of Chicago Economics Professor Steven Levitt first wrote their best-selling book Freakonomics back in 2005, spawning several other books, a blog and radio show. Tune into this weekly podcast, hosted by Dubner, as he explores socioeconomic issues and ever-changing innovations with guests, including Nobel laureates, social scientists and entrepreneurs.

60-Second Science

Life can get busy, but this podcast from Scientific American is sure to fit into even the most hectic schedule. This one-minute podcast offers a daily dose of recent news on all things science and technology, from research on how dogs use fluid dynamics to smell better, to studies on how the public feels about using self-driving cars. Much like our monthly posts about recent must-read news stories, this podcast will help you stay informed.

Engines of Our Ingenuity

Innovation doesn’t always come easy. This podcast shows the long journey to invention through stories about how the greatest ideas of our time came to be. Engines of Our Ingenuity focuses not only on the value of success stories, but spectacular failures as well. As Nathan Myhrvold said in his commencement speech to the UCLA class of 2015, “The measure of a person is not whether you fail or not – because you’re gonna – the measure of a person is in what you do after that.”

StarTalk Radio

This podcast, with host and renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, will help you bridge the gap between pop culture and science. Discussing all things space, Tyson is joined each week by comedians, celebrities and other guests as he dives into everything from space travel, to the Big Bang to extra-terrestrial life.

Science Friday

For the past 25 years, host Ira Flatow has been making science fun during his weekly podcast through educational stories about science and technology. With guests including Jane Goodall and Elon Musk, you’re sure to find new discoveries and inventions that inspire you. Be sure to check out some of the archived episodes too, including this 1993 episode discussing the future of the internet.

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Holiday Greetings from Intellectual Ventures

Our very best for a wonderful holiday season. See you in 2017!

For last year’s card, which featured a photograph of various bread stamps by IV founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold, click here. Happy holidays!

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IV’s Best Nine of 2016: Nine Pictures Worth 9,000 Words

The first photograph made in a camera was taken in the 1820s. Because of the early photographic process, the image is difficult to view. In fact, at first glance, it can be hard to see the image at all. However, if viewed from a specific angle and in specific lighting, the image’s unique story comes to life. Almost 200 years later, this notion that an image has the power to capture a pivotal moment in time if taken and viewed in the right circumstances still holds true. Some images need context. Others require the photographer to zoom in, zoom out, or even change the angle of the camera, to tell the full story.

IV’s Best Nine of 2016: Nine Pictures Worth 9,000 Words

As 2016 comes to a close, we’re depicting the year of ideas, inspiration and invention through nine of our favorite pictures that were taken at just the right moment in time. Because while the world of invention propels us forward quickly, it’s important to remember the milestones of progress that helped us get where we are today.

This year, IV’s Global Good won the USPTO Patents for Humanity Award for harnessing the power of invention to solve humanity’s biggest challenges. Among the team’s technology that is changing lives is the Arktek™ – a device that can store a month’s supply of vaccines in 100-degree heat without electricity. This photograph was captured last summer, when a team from Global Good traveled to Ethiopia’s Danakil Desert to observe how the Arktek is helping the community. Explore the impact the Arktek is making across Nigeria, Ethiopia, Senegal, India, Nepal and Fiji here

Photo credit: Peter Prato

IV founder and CEO Nathan Myhrvold shared his thoughts on the innovation landscape and emerging technologies with many different audiences this year. He was the keynote speaker at the annual Bloomberg Technology Conference where he spoke about IV’s unique approach to inventing and his top tips on what it takes to be a good inventor. Nathan also took part in a “fireside chat” at this year’s GeekWire Summit where he covered metamaterials, investing in invention and creating technology to transform lives. Finally, Nathan spoke at the Science|Business Horizon2020 conference in Brussels about the importance of risk-taking in innovation.

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