Imagineering, Got Ideas?
Updated on:  Thursday, December 17, 2015 01:46 PM

Walt Disney is credited  with having coined the word "Imagineering."  
As used in the title, Imagineering Ezine, it means: "the imaginative application of engineering sciences." 
Perhaps a more simple definition would be: "
being creative with engineering

View of Imagineering:  Fringe Science & the Lone Inventor   -   The Creative Person
Searching for New Ideas  -   Steps in Product Development   -   Ideas Lost & Found

Fringe Science and the Lone Inventor
The Fringe Science section includes some thoughts about good science that is poorly managed
and bad science that can often fool someone into believing it is good. 

"It will never fly Orville"

The term Fringe Science is used to describe those endeavors that are outside the accepted realm of good science. Good science is not be clouded with smoke and mirrors.  It is not shrouded with some mysterious pseudoscience jargon. Good science stands alone, naked with all its content revealed for everyone to see. 

Carl Sagan said that "science was self correcting." He meant that a new idea in science or technology would only be accepted when it could be witnessed and proved by others. Thus, those wild and crazy ideas about a new energy source must be backed up by cold hard scientific test results that could be duplicated. Fantastic claims demand equally remarkable proofs. Those ideas that don't pass the test are rejected.

Inventions that are prime examples of fringe science include free energy, perplexing forces and perpetual motion machines.  I am a college graduate with 30 years of hands-on science and engineering experience under my belt. So, I find it very difficult to swallow the claims from the inventors that defy scientific explanation.   I believe these are just examples of bad science.

This does not mean that an experimenter with a screwball idea should just give up when the ideas are  met with skepticism.  It just means that he needs to do his homework and conduct his experiments carefully, making it difficult for others to dispute his findings.  

The idea of an inventor can be completely over shadowed by poor scientific methods. As a consultant, I try very hard to look beyond the inventors' approach and not give them an instant opinion. I probe as deeply as I can to see if there might be something of value. There have been many historical examples where the prevailing scientific community would not initially accept an inventors claims. Remember what they said to the inventors of the airplane, "It will never fly Orville."  The lesson is that we should not be too quick to judge some ideas.

Sometimes, the personality of the inventor can cause some real problems. During the course of my 17 years as a consultant I have met many inventors that were overly protective of their ideas. Some were so hung up with protecting their idea that I found it impossible to work with them. Many required me to sign non-disclosure forms that went on for ten pages. Then, when we finally got down to business and I was able to review the details of the invention, many times it lacked any redeeming value.

There are many unusual surprises in working with inventors.  I remember one inventor too  who claimed to have extracted energy from thin air.    He  was convinced that he could power an electric car with his "air motor."   It was a turbine that was spun to a high speed using a bottle of compressed air. The turbine was attached to an alternator. The electrical output of the alternator was connected to the input terminals of an AC motor. All three devices were sharing a common shaft. He would spin up the system and he claimed he could extract extra energy from the alternator that was not needed by the motor to keep the thing spinning. When I asked him how long it took his machine to spin down to a stop, he said several minutes. But he still firmly believed that he had somehow tapped into some unknown energy source. No amount of discussions about conservation of energy would convince him otherwise. He clearly was not interested in real science and I was not about to try to rewrite the laws of physics. So, I sent him on his way.

Every now and then an invention crosses my desk that seems perfectly possible, but not very practical. I once reviewed a very detailed proposal that was fully explained using scientific terms, how to extract energy from the Earth's rotation. A  Ph.D. physicist and I reviewed all the calculations and found no flaws. However, the system required an enormous flywheel whose energy losses to maintain its high rate of spin would most likely exceed the amount of energy that could be produced by slowing down the earth's spin. Still, it was an interesting idea and it might be useful in a college physics classroom to demonstrate gyroscopic forces.

Do you remember a great TV series called "Connections" produced by James Burke some years ago?  The program was shown on many public television stations. Burke showed how many scientific advances resulted from inventors putting together bits and pieces of many other inventions. But, many scientific advances also occurred by accident. It makes you wonder what other neat inventions lurk around the corner if some scientist would just screw up the right experiment.

I also sometimes imagine a parallel world like our earth on some distant planet, populated with creative intelligent beings. Would those creatures make the same technological breakthroughs as we have, in the same order? Of course not. So, maybe they would invent optical techniques before they invented radio methods for long range communications. Maybe they invented solid state semiconductors before vacuum tubes. Even if the other world had a thousand year technological head start on us, there still might be some things we could teach them.

But, I think it has now become increasingly more difficult for the lone inventor, that works out of his basement lab and has a very limited budget, to produce any significant breakthrough. I know I  am going to get a lot of flak from making such a statement, but I do believe it is true. I am not saying it is impossible, but I say it is becoming much more difficult. Many of the inventions we hear about today come from big companies with deep pockets. The chance that one inventor can come up with a real breakthrough is remote. Not impossible, just highly unlikely.

During my 30 years in the electronics and product development business I have seen a lot of strange and interesting stuff. In future discussions I will go into more detail of some of the things I have witnessed or experimented with. But, none of the projects involved anything that was outside the bounds of normal science. At least not to me.

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Future Planned Topics for discussion

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