Innovative product development doesn’t always mean coming up with a completely new idea. In fact, after a decade of seeing the results of product development in action, I’m convinced that some of the best ideas are ones that are recycled.
So in the same way that unwanted CDs and the like can get reinvented into the various body parts of modern-day cars, so an established idea from one industry can transform a product in a completely different industry.
Take the everyday supermarket trolley as a great example. You may have read our recent press release (Low-cost manufacturing on galactic scale) regarding our involvement in the SKA project – the world’s largest radio telescope. It’s a truly staggering project where tens of millions of receivers will be linked together across an area the size of a continent – split between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. When switched on, the SKA will achieve survey speeds 10,000 times faster than any existing instrument and the huge collecting area will make it 50 times more sensitive than today’s most sensitive instrument. Our job was to take the antenna design created by experts at the University of Cambridge and produce a version of it that uses low-cost manufacturing techniques and is simple to assemble and install. How did we achieve this? Well, as Gary Kemp explains in a recent interview with Wired Magazine where he describes the antennas as ‘about as tall as a person and a bit Christmas tree-shaped’, the team took its inspiration from the humble coat hangers and shopping trolleys and asked whether we could simply bend wire in the same way to create a very low-cost product that completely met the functional specification. When we looked into it, this method ticked all the boxes and the next stage in this galactic development moves one step closer.
And we don’t just take this down-to-earth approach for out-of-this-world projects. Over the years, we’ve taken radars used to measure Arctic ice thickness and turned them into through-wall radars used by special forces around the world, and taken years of telecoms know-how to create medical products that seamlessly communicate, improving patient compliance and patient outcome. So you don’t always have to look to the stars for inspiration…. truly innovative products can often take inspiration from the simplest of everyday items.