Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Mother of Invention

Some places are cool because of the mess. When you step into our basement audio visual workshop, you just know you’re not going to be able to understand what goes on down there… but that whatever it is they do… it’s damned clever.

It looks like that place in Star Wars where the obsolete droids were dismantled for their parts. The place is strewn with circuit boards, wires and computers with their innards exposed. It’s here that invention takes place, or rather where invention is tested. View of the audio visual workshop below:

The moment of invention took place over a morning coffee. We needed a microscope for our upcoming Behind the Scenes exhibition… one that would allow visitors, particularly children, to study specimens – and one that would also allow for more than one person to participate. We could not quite find anything on the market that fit the bill. But a coffee-time discussion between four members of our staff led to a beautiful solution. The Masterminds at coffee below – from left to right: Mark Dickson - Manager of Exhibitions, Ken Johnson - Senior Exhibition Designer, Norm Charbonneau - head Image Management and Technical Services and Nigel Sinclair - Exhibit Arts Technician:

Instead of a microscope, this team imagined that a tiny high definition digital camera linked to a flat screen monitor would do the trick. The camera moves back and forth on a rail over an illuminated box holding the specimens. The whole unit is transportable… which makes it useable elsewhere in our galleries when the current show ends. Prototype of the unit on the IMTS lab bench below:

And once the testing is complete, the unit can be reproduced. In Behind the Scenes, we’ll have seven of these… these… now what should we call it? Anyone want to suggest a name? The almost finished …er …thing being prototyped with visitors below:

Two things stand out for me as I observed the development of the magnifier. First of all, the inventive process was just such a modest, collaborative affair. No great fanfare or eureka moment, just a group of colleagues talking over coffee, bringing their collective experience to the table. If I came up with this idea, I’d be dancing in the street! The second thing that struck me was just how much work was needed to take the idea to completion. Initial prototyping of the technology (camera, lighting and monitor) was followed by the evolution of the mechanical parts of the device: parts were machined, tested with users and then reengineered repeatedly until it worked smoothly without failure.

Tim Willis

1 comment:

  1. I agree: there should definitely be some street dancing here. It's an incredible device. And to think that it was just kind of...imagined, and then created. Truly spectacular talent you've got there.


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