Weekend of Innovation: Toyota Tech, Part 2

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Earlier this week, I introduced you to Toyota's Ideas for Good Innovation Weekend Event at Carnegie Mellon University. Essentially five technologies used in Toyota's cars were reimagined by five different and turned into innovations that can help people. To get more details on those inventions read my earlier blog. Today, I want to talk a little bit about the innovation process.

On some level, the innovation process — for those of us who aren't engineers or scientists — is familiar. It feels something like a brainstorming meeting or an IKEA furniture assembly session. There's some creative energy flowing about how get stuff done and quite a bit of problem-solving.

But what I didn't expect, were all of the small revelations sprinkled throughout.

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During some of the early brainstorming talks, suggestions about how to improve upon a winner's idea bubbled up, generated excitement. For example, the team supporting Fran's innovation for an Automated Firefighting Extension Ladder Guidance System suggested adding chemicals sensors, so that ground crew would know whether or not the air was toxic at the top of the ladder.

Talk around David's table (Touch Tracer Computer Mouse, Keyboard and Monitor) kept coming back to the idea of an app-driven device that could be customized to the user. Never use the numerical keypad? Ok, it's gone. And wouldn't it be cool if the touchpad also worked as a signature pad for electronic documents?

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Every time someone had a great idea, the team picked up on it and did what they could to make it reality.

I was also impressed the different stages of testing the prototypes. For the team testing the better bicycle helmet, just getting the microcontroller device to stick to the helmet during tests drops became a challenge.

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When testing the power of the solar ventilation system for Tim's Pure Air device, Illah Nourbakhsh, a robotics professor at CMU, became immediately excited when he discovered that the solar panels drew way more energy from the sun than he had anticipated. This told them that they could ultimately use a smaller solar panel to do the job, which would reduce cost.

It seems obvious that innovation would be exciting. But when you're in the middle of it, you suddenly realize that it's more than just exciting. For the engineers and scientists who devote their careers to finding solutions to problems, building better whatzits, and inventing new ways to do things, innovation is a way of life.