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February 09. 2014 4:22PM

Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Know your market before developing an invention


 


Preventing texting while driving is an important topic for “Let’s Invent” columnist Sam Asano. Wendy Freedman 

MOST AMATEUR inventors, that means all of us 99 percenters, fail to verify if there would be a substantial and solid market for their solutions, namely an invention, for the problem they thought they have found. I have spoken about the disease called "paragrela," which afflicts a large percentage of us 99 percent inventors.

Let me repeat it here. An inventor develops a solution to a problem. In his mind the solution would work beautifully even though he hasn't built a prototype to see how it works. The inventor mentally calculates that the cost of production is well within the reasonable range so that the product would make a handsome profit in the marketplace after going through the chain of distribution networks. Thus the imagination spreads its wings.

Or you might call it hallucination. I personally must confess that I have gone through more than one such phase, and imagined myself becoming a very wealthy inventor overnight.

This is the first hurdle an inventor must manage to get through. The disease called "paragrela" is taken from paranoia, greed and laziness. Once convinced that the invention would have a widespread and deep-rooted market, the inventor becomes paranoid. He would not talk to or discuss with anyone, who might be of great assistance, from the intense paranoia that someone would surely steal the idea. Greed also joins the force. The solution he has come up with for the problem might be really nothing new, has been made and available readily in the market place, or for some obvious reasons it doesn't work. But the inventor wants to work all alone and in silence without communicating with people with knowledge.

Verifying the solution he has just developed has excellent merit in terms of functionality, cost consideration, patentability and marketability and MUST first be done before the inventor starts spending money in all directions. The inventor often ignores this phase of quiet survey, as he is so intensely convinced that the solution is a winner. Often the inventors act as though the validity of his solution is so obvious that investigating is a waste of time.

Let's thoroughly define the problem.

Earlier we started discussing the problem of TWD, texting while driving. TWD is a new epidemic sweeping this country and is getting worse by the day. Yet effective measure(s) to eliminate TWD so that deaths and injuries caused by it won't occur has not been developed and/or is not available.

A driver gets in the car, starts the engine, and begins driving. Let's assume that there are three passengers in the car. They all have one smartphone capable of texting. The purpose of this TWD prevention system is to disable the driver's cell phone, but not to interfere with passengers' texting practice. Moreover, what the system should disable is the very cell phone the driver is holding in his hand, not necessarily the cell phone that belongs to the driver.

Some opinions insist that the driver should be able to text as long as the car is moving at a speed less than, say, 5 mph (speed maybe adjustable). I have changed my mind on this, and now believe that the car should be at a dead stop for the driver to be able to text. This applies to both sending and receiving texts.

As for three passengers, they should be able to send and receive text regardless of the speed of the car.

What about cell phone conversation by the driver? This is a controversial issue. Many people would insist that conducting a phone conversation while driving is NOT as distracting or compromising the safety. This may be true if the driver would use voice-operated apps such as Apple's Siri, and not use cellphone keyboard to dial.

One strong condition is that under no circumstances the driver should not be able to disable the system so that he/she could text while driving.

Does this describe the entire boundary conditions of the TWD prevention system? Did I miss anything?

As I have insisted in the past many times, please write this down in your notebook with the date and mark it as Boundary Condition of Solution. The boundary condition is a list of statements that the proposed (and not yet found or developed) solution should behave within the boundaries. It is NOT a list of specifications, which is more detailed and defines various performance factors. The above boundary conditions clearly depict the boundary within which the solution must function without fail.

Next week, we will discuss developing the solution that would fulfill the above boundary conditions. Can we do it? If we develop a solution that satisfies the boundary conditions, then next step is to verify and estimate the market size.

I need your help

I have written many times that this country needs to bring back manufacturing. The fabulous prosperity of the '50 to the '70s, when this nation was indeed the country of milk and honey, and the target of envy by the world over is now gone. Unemployment then was so low that when I started my own little business, I couldn't find anybody, yes any human body, to work for us. Unemployment hovered around 3.5 percent, and that means every able-bodied person was already employed.

Today unemployment is nearly 7 percent nationwide. The reason the figure stays flat without rising higher, is that many unemployed people stop looking for jobs, and they are then considered as outside of the statistics. Adding insult to injury is the high figure of underemployment that is estimated around 20 percent. Underemployment is a person with some proper training such as a college degree or equivalent couldn't get a job in that specialty and is now working flipping hamburgers at a fast food outfit. People in this group often are depressed, and feel hopeless. They are quickly slipping down from being a member of the middle class.

I am a firm believer that manufacturing MUST return to this country for us to be prosperous again. However, in order for this country to be industrious and be at the top of the world in manufacturing, young people must enter into the profession. In this aspect we are also failing. Patent applications, a measure of inventiveness of a nation, now has slipped below China, Japan and the European Union. Patent applications precedes rise in the industrial activity. With that fact I have recommended to the White House that it should commence a nationwide TV program to push inventions by our children. I had originally thought the target group would be those students at high schools. However, when I discussed this concept with some people in the educational field, they thought middle-school students are at more impressionable ages to begin being immersed in the world of innovations.

I need all the help you can give us in order to form this TV contest program. We need to focus the ages of children when the program could be most effective. How should the program be designed, and executed? Email me your recommendations, please.

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 sasano@gmail.com.



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