Invention Innovation: What Inspires Inventors?

Invention Innovation: What Inspires Inventors?

by Stephanie Morrow, July 2010

What inspires the inventors of today's most popular, unique, and sometimes outrageous products may be surprising. Many inventors talk about childhood as being the inspiration behind their unique inventions, while others may be inspired by experiences later in life. Whatever the inspiration may be, the inventors below have brought their unique ideas into the forefront and have added some interesting and creative items to our world. The following five inventions are just a few examples of innovative inspiration that took off.

1. The Not-So-Silliness of Silly Bandz

Any parent of an elementary school child, tween, or teenager has probably come across the elastic silicone bracelets known as Silly Bandz, which are colorful bracelets shaped like everything from fish to hearts to dinosaurs. Kids from all over the world are obsessed with Silly Bandz and are making their inventor, Robert Croak, a fortune. The Toledo businessman was inspired by a cute rubber band he came across at a product show in China, invented by a Japanese artist. Since then, the bracelet's sales have taken off, selling millions of Silly Bandz. And with virtually no advertising except for word-of-mouth promotion through the Internet.

Silly Bandz are affordable, at about $5 for a pack of 24, and are so popular that they have even been banned from some schools across the country for being too distracting. However, Silly Bandz keep getting bigger and bigger. How big? It is rumored that Macy's may add a Silly Bandz float to its 2010 Thanksgiving Day parade.

2. The EnergyHub Dashboard – The Smart Thermostat That Talks to Your Appliances

Seth Frader-Thompson had a “green” inspiration while driving his energy-efficient hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius. The Prius features a dashboard screen that shows current gas mileage so drivers can keep an eye on efficiency. Frader-Thompson wondered why houses didn't have a similar gauge to keep track of household energy use. This inspiration led to the EnergyHub Dashboard, a device that gathers efficiency info from a house's furnace, air conditioner, light bulbs, alarm clock, etc., and reveals how much electricity or gas each appliance is using and how much it costs. 

Not only does the EnergyHub help homeowners keep track of their electricity and gas consumption by revealing usage; it can also be used to turn appliances on and off, and adjust the thermostat. Frader-Thompson's invention has been named one of the "best new gadgets" and "breakthrough ideas of the year" by Time Magazine.  Not bad for an inventor who was inspired by driving his car!

3. Dyson Does It Again – The Bladeless Fan

The father of vacuum inspiration and invention, James Dyson, has done it again.  Best known as the inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, Dyson had another inspiration last year that evolved into the bladeless, non-buffeting Air Multiplier, otherwise known as a bladeless fan. The inspiration for this latest Dyson invention came from the work his company did when it created its Airblade hand-dryer, a device that blows a thin stream of air at 400 miles per hour in order to get water off of one's hands, three years ago,

The Air Multiplier works similarly to the Airblade by moving the fans blades into the stand and directing air through the fan's ring, creating a continuous stream of cool air. This new device is safer than conventional fans because it is bladeless and it promises to be 15 times more efficient than the standard fan.

4. Beer Pong as Inspiration?

Many inventors have credited childhood games as inspirations for later inventions, but beer pong? This popular college drinking game inspired Andy Wright and Mike Johnson to invent a triangular rubber mat that helps keep plastic cups of beer from falling over and wasting beer during the game. 

Marketing the mats through their online company, Bottle Cap Technologies, the Northwestern University graduates join a wave of young inventors who have been inspired by the popular drinking game in which teams take turns trying to toss ping pong balls into an opposing team's beer cups. Tossing balls at partially-filled beer cups naturally resulted in a lot of spillage. Until Johnson and Wright's beer pong mat, that is.

5. Last, But Certainly Not Least – The Snuggie

If you have a television, you've probably seen the quirky infomercial for the Snuggie. Millions of Snuggies have been sold across the country, and the popular blanket with sleeves has been seen on the television shows Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and even Oprah. 

What inspired Snuggie creator Scott Boilen, President and CEO of Allstar Marketing Group? Boilen has admitted that the Snuggie was not an entirely original idea, and he may not have been inspired by a cold night in college, which fellow inventor Gary Clegg claimed gave him his idea for his “Slanket” 10 years prior to Snuggie's appearance on the infomercial world. However, one difference that made the Village Voice declare 2009 “The Year of the Snuggie” was the creative infomercials, in which Snuggie owners are dancing, watching sports games, and simply having fun in their Snuggie attire.

The popular Snuggie product has expanded to not only fit adults, but children and even pets, and has even inspired Snuggie Pub Crawls in Cincinnati and Chicago, in which more than 2,000 people bar-hop through their respective downtown areas in Snuggies. And the inspiration doesn't stop there; a sold-out crowd of more than 20,000 fans at a Cleveland Cavaliers game set the Guinness World Record this year for the largest gathering of people wearing fleece blankets when the spectators all wore Snuggies at the “Cavs Snuggie Night.”
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