Let’s look at three recent innovations which might surprise you.
Washing machines can be very heavy. This is because they contain concrete blocks weighing about 25 kgs which are needed as counterweights to keep the machines stable during spin cycles. Researchers at Nottingham Trent University have developed a plastic container to replace the concrete blocks. It is empty and light until delivery when it is filled with water.
This simple idea reduces the initial weight of the machine by about 30% making it easier to handle and cheaper to transport. It is also better for the environment as CO2 is released when concrete is produced.
Wine and spirits are traditionally stored in oak barrels which impart flavour as the contents mature. A small family business in Bellheim, Germany has just won a design award for a rectangular oak wine vat called a rebarrique. Unlike a barrel it can be easily assembled and reassembled. It also takes up much less floor space and is easier to transport.
The insides of oak barrels have been ‘toasted’ or lightly burned to diffuse aromas to the wine or spirit. But a traditional barrel can only be used a few times before this effect diminishes and the barrel has to be replaced. The rebarrique can be disassembled and the oak shaved and retoasted so that the same container can be used many times. This saves money and oak trees!
Listed in Time Magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of the Year is the Bempu. It is a bracelet which is attached to the wrist of a newborn baby. It continuously monitors temperature and sounds an alert if it is too high or too low. It is made by an Indian startup company called Bempu and costs around $28. So far, the device has helped an estimated 10,000 newborns, in over 25 countries. In India alone, 8 million prematurely-born underweight babies every year are at high risk of developing hypothermia. Maintaining a newborn baby’s body temperature is critical to its survival.
What is striking about these simple but effective ideas is that nobody had thought of them before. Wine has always matured in round barrels, washing machines have always had concrete blocks and babies temperatures were always measured intermittently with a thermometer if one was around. These things were taken for granted. It just goes to show that everything else we take for granted – whether a product, a service or a process can and will be replaced by something better. Innovation marches on, driven by a little lateral thinking and a big dose of entrepreneurial action.