When Griffin Technology was developing their iTrip nano, they needed a better way to attach the player to the transmitter. So they turned to a tape dispenser they’d recently been sent by Inventablesâ€â€a Chicago-based innovation company. There was nothing particularly unusual about the dispenser except that its bottom was coated with microscopic suction cups that allowed it to stick to most surfaces an unlimited number of times without losing adhesiveness or leaving a residue. The material turned out to be a perfect solution, and today every iTrip nano has a thin line of micro-suction tape that adheres it to the iPod.
Griffin Technology is just one of Inventables’ many clients, a group that includes companies like Procter & Gamble, Nike and Mattel. Every quarter these companies receive samples of new technologyâ€â€a piece of paper that changes colors when exposed to odors, for instanceâ€â€as well as applicable concept designs (one idea for the color-shifting paper was a milk carton that could visually display when the milk soured).
Discovering these technologies takes some legwork. At any given moment, Inventables’ team of “technology hunters” is combing the Internet, parsing through tradeshows, and circling the globe in hopes of finding the next micro-suction tape. The team’s head, Osman Ozcanli, whittles the thousand finds per quarter down to a workable number, and every week sits with a group of designers, students and Inventables employees to brainstorm applicable concepts. But in the end, what Inventables ends up selling is no more than a way to think outside of the box. “Each company already has its own advanced research team,” explains Ozcanli. “We help them make sense of technologies they aren’t able to consider.” Unhemmed by specifics or even practicality, they create lavish innovations giving new life to some of the world’s most creative, if underutilized, technologies.
In the May issue of Popular Science, we featured one such creation: a shoe that could change its pattern with the press of a button using an invisible power source. The idea was based off of a thumb drive Ozcanli had picked up; its display showed the available storage space remaining at all times, drawing power from the computer only to update the information but requiring none while the display remained static. Here are four more conceptsâ€â€some, like the Transparent Toaster, similarly distant; others tantalizingly closeâ€â€and the technologies that inspired them.