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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Knowing what you don't know is key

June 02. 2013 4:16PM

ANY NEW IDEA you think might become an invention starts out being very easy, as it is just an idea in your head. The next step an inventor must take is to prove that this idea may work and solve a particular problem. You have to build a proof of concept (POC) prototype.

However, as I stated in the last week column, a POC may take many steps to get to work correctly. In building a working POC, you may (and will certainly) encounter many pesky problems, and they must be solved to make progress. This is where pros and amateurs are separated. In general, pros know and admit their boundaries of knowledge, while amateurs try to overcome the boundaries by doing it alone. A good inventor inherently knows his or her knowledge boundary and will cross it by asking questions of people who have the knowledge.

Simply said: You must clearly know what you don't know.

In the experiment conducted at the shooting range, we were able to discover the critical incident angle of a projectile. An incoming projectile with an incident angle larger than the critical would pierce through the shield, while the narrower incident angle would cause the projectile to bounce off the shield. That is a fundamental purpose of this trial. Two types of test bullets were used on each angle: one smaller with .223 55 grains, and one larger with .308 110 grains.

In the first test, we used 14-gauge cold-rolled steel plate, which failed in all angles. However, 11 gauge plate did survive at a 15 degree incident angle as shown in the photo. This is a success.

But my intuition tells me that 11 gauge (1/8") plate is just too heavy as a shield. Now I am standing at my knowledge boundary beyond which darkness prevails. I know little about material science and the technology of sandwiching various materials to strengthen the plate while simultaneously lightening the weight.

So I am going to request participation from our readers. If you have any suggestion based on your expertise, please email it to me ASAP. Let's design this revolutionary shield to save troopers' lives.

Patent 1.01 Dealing with naysayers

When you are working on an invention, you will most definitely encounter more than one naysayers. Although the major source of preventing an invention is the inventor himself or herself through paranoia, greed and laziness, as I discussed on May 13, you will feel surrounded with naysayers if you are starting to invent for the first time.

This assault by naysayers would stop once you have one successful invention and establish a record, but the world is a cruel place for you when you are starting. So I list below what you can expect to hear from your boss, colleagues, friends and your family members:

That won't work.

Dumb idea!

Who needs it?

You are wasting time and money.

That's been done before.

These naysays are hurtful, and often kill your invention before it sees daylight. You must notice that the first four naysays are not based on actual knowledge and are nothing but irresponsible wisecracks. Young inexperienced inventors often succumb to these negative comments and quit pressing their inventions forward. The fifth comment probably is based on some half-baked knowledge without in-depth search, and is indeed very poisonous to inventors.

Inventors must overcome these cruel naysayers without breaking down their passion to solve problems. I have experienced plenty in my careers. The only way to overcome it is to firm up your original idea after thorough study of the problem and gain full confidence on the conceived solution. If someone makes a negative comment, ask for logical and factual explanation. Keep your cool and politely request an explanation without losing your temper. Not all naysayers are ill-willed. Some are indeed valuable.

Next week, we start writing a patent application.

Shintaro (Sam) Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at

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