Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Your Wildest Ideas, Made Real ; 'Invention Nurseries' Can Execute Almost Any Concept - for a Price

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Your Wildest Ideas, Made Real ; 'Invention Nurseries' Can Execute Almost Any Concept - for a Price

Article excerpt

In an upstairs room in an old brick building on the industrial outskirts of this intellectual town, a tall table stands cluttered with people's ideas from years past: a "lamp commander" that turns lamps on and off with voice commands (no clapping necessary); a remote-control buoy light that turns on from 100 feet away; and an electronic card scanner developed in the early 1980s.

In their day, no one had heard of these products. But somebody wanted one and found a company - Arthur D. Little - willing to build them for him. "You think of something that solves a problem, and we figure out how to make it,"says Craig Carlson, director of new business development at ADL.

Such "invention nurseries" are the pinnacle of personal customization. They mainly serve the needs of inventors and businesses that want to outsource research and development. But for individuals with the means to pay their rates, they can build virtually any product, says Leonard Hofheins, CEO of Design Partners, an invention nursery in Concord, Calif.

He recalls a Pacific Bell executive who paid Design Partners $10,000 to develop a device that seals hair braids, for her own use, though she may also develop it commercially.

"Sure, you can build things on a one-off basis, but it's very expensive, because we don't have any economies of scale," Mr. Hofheins says.

Another wealthy man hired Design Partners to build a smart telephone with video and voice-over technology. "It was his brainchild, but he didn't have the knowledge to finish it," says Mr. Hofheins.

Using rapid-prototyping machinery, invention nurseries can build individual plastic and metal parts without the special tooling that factories require. While the machines create too much waste and work too slowly for mass production, they are perfect for prototypes.

Down the hall from the old inventions at ADL are new projects: a rack of steel girders fills a room and frames an electromagnetic field for precisely positioning devices.

In a cluttered basement lab, a prototyping machine grinds out a stovetop from a solid billet of aluminum.

In another lab down the hall, a scroll compressor whirs noisily at 4,000 revolutions per minute on a test bench. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.