There’s a Generation Gap between an App and an Application

March 28, 2013
In the industrial world, many years can separate a problem from its solution. But in a kid’s bedroom, dreams can become reality overnight.

So this 17-year-old British kid gets $30 million from Yahoo for a Smartphone app he invented in his bedroom.  The app automatically summarizes news stories for small screens. He took a six-month break from school to perfect the program.

It sometimes takes old guys like me almost that long to research and write the kind of article that might someday be collected and digested by that kid’s invention. And I get a fraction of a percent of that kid’s paycheck for my trouble.

Life just ain’t fair.

I’m sure there are some out there in this audience who feel my pain. Some of you are actually inventors who’ve spent a lot more time than this kid trying to find a market for their brainchild. I know that because I heard from one of you recently.

This person I’m talking about actually teaches robotics in a public school. His students were part of his research and development for a motorized pallet he invented. This device has more than 30 years of documentation and experimentation behind it, he told me. He and his students will be demonstrating this device at a nearby company’s annual engineering day next month.

What they’ll demonstrate is a prototype motorized skid designed to move 400 pounds at 3 miles per hour on a flat concrete surface for 3 hours before battery charging is required.  He envisions that this device could have applications in an office environment to move boxes of copy machine paper, furniture, etc., without banging into walls. It is joystick controlled and has pushbuttons for braking and activation of an audible or visual alarm. Should the umbilical wire between the joystick control and the device get disconnected, the skid stops.

He asked me for feedback on this device and I connected him with one of MH&L’s advisory board members, Roger Bostelman, who’s an engineering project manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Roger also serves on the ANSI/ITSDF B56.5 AGV safety standard committee and has been researching 3D imaging systems for many years. These systems are used in x-box video games—whose typical end user is a kid in his bedroom holding a joystick in one hand and a smartphone in the other while inventing new apps in his head.

But I digress.

Roger was intrigued by this gentleman’s invention but believes the concept needs more work. He knows what he’s talking about because he’s devoted considerable effort to trying to adapt these 3D gaming sensors so they can be applied as 3D imaging safety sensors in industrial applications like AGVs. His team is developing standard test methods to support the ANSI/ITSDF B56.5 safety standard.  How long will it take before these 3D sensors end up on the industrial market?

Roger says such a standard typically takes five years to revise.  Then once the standard is approved, industrial vehicle manufacturers wishing to incorporate these sensors into their vehicles will need to perform the tests if they want to comply with the ANSI standard. So the road between a test lab and an industrial workplace is long.

I’m hoping our teacher/inventor will be writing an article about his motorized pallet for MH&L very soon. One thing’s for sure—that teenage millionaire I told you about will be reading the article on his smartphone long before anyone is moving boxes of copying paper with the author’s invention.

Life just ain’t fair.

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