Why Didn’t I Think of That?

It’s hard to believe that simple things can still be invented. Doesn’t anything useful require some type of engineering degree to conceive? Yet we learn time and time again that people are still doing it, and some of these people are quite young.

Last year, 16-year-old Ann Makosinski invented a flashlight powered by body heat. She employed Peltier tiles to convert the difference between the temperature of the hand on one side of the flashlight and the air temperature on the other side into electricity. This process relies on the thermoelectric effect: when a temperature gradient is applied to a material, the charged particles that can move will move from the hot side to the cold side. And that’s what electricity is: a flow of charge that can be harnessed to do work. But to give Ann credit, it’s not entirely that simple. Even her engineer father was amazed that she was able to manipulate the circuit to make it put out 20 millivolts.

I can find tons of examples like this by reading about annual Google Science Fair finalists (of which Makosinski was one). Peruse through that list each year and experience one of two feelings: “Why didn’t I think of that?” and/or “Can I please get a do-over on my high school years?”

The feature of this brief post is a program conceived by a team of scientist at M.I.T. that amplifies variations in videos to extract more visual information, e.g. so you can monitor the heartbeat of an infant in ICU without applying a physical EKG monitor. A Ph.D. student involved with the algorithm’s development, Michael Rubinstein, said it’s actually a very simple algorithm. It makes a spacial average of the pixel color intensities, amplifies them x100, then replays the video with these new intensities. I just can’t get over what a good idea this is! And that is hasn’t been done yet–amazing, given how uncomplicated it is. Watch the video below (if for no more reason than it includes a motion magnified clip of Christian Bale from Batman):

I guess this is just a good reminder that anyone can have a worthwhile, novel idea. Innovation never ends, and simplicity is often a virtue. If you think you’ve got a good one, believe in yourself and run with it.

Discussion Topic: Have you recently heard of an invention that made you wonder why you hadn’t thought of it?

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