Needed now: Fabulous design ideas

June 1, 2009
Post-it notes and furniture slides aside, can you remember the last time you heard about a really great idea and wondered, Why didn't I think of that?

Post-it notes and furniture slides aside, can you remember the last time you heard about a really great idea and wondered, “Why didn't I think of that?” Here's another obviously useful idea to ponder, which just may inspire as well. In response to a recent contest, a French team comprised of an engineer and two architects came up with a “Wind-it” design to place wind turbines inside high-voltage electricity pylons. Their idea confronts one of the trickiest problems facing wind power development — where to put all the wind turbines.

What's so inspiringly elegant about the winning design is that it uses existing towers and pylons that already string along 157,000 miles of U.S. high voltage power lines: Turbines are stacked within structures that are already there. Simply genius. Another benefit is that the energy generation and transmission are easily linked together because they're located within the same physical unit. Metropolis Next Generation Design Prize winners include Julien Choppin and Nicola Delon, partners in the Paris architecture firm Encore Heureux, and Raphaël Ménard, director of Elioth, a research arm of French engineering firm Iosis Group. The team members are the first non-U.S. winners of the prize, and were judged to have best met the 2009 challenge, “Fix Our Energy Addiction.”

If you have a great idea, whether or not you are traditionally employed, why not start to develop it now? Besides renewable energy-related innovations, other promising sectors ripe for innovative products include food, beverage and tobacco, medical and scientific, and military markets. According to analysts at IMS Research, Austin, Tex., these application areas are expected to progress during the economic downturn, with either even or slightly positive growth for motion control. Though it may seem counterintuitive, recessions can be an ideal time to innovate, as some successful companies have discovered by avoiding cutbacks in innovation and talent during tough periods. Cases in point: The 2001 recession gave birth to Apple's iPod and iTunes, as well as the wildly popular Crest Whitestrips from Procter & Gamble. That idea you've been putting on the back burner may lead to the next disruptive technology. Just as in Plato's day, necessity remains the mother of invention. If ever there was a need for fabulous ideas, it's now.

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