|Welcome to the Creative World of Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner!||
A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly newsletter on Creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
As always, if you have news about creativity, idea innovation or invention please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your comments and feedback are also always welcome.
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WORKING WITH IDEAS THAT WON'T WORK (a very short story)
I was in the office of Maxwell Cardigan, president of Saturn Domestic Robots, demonstrating a prototype robot capable of climbing vertical surfaces in order to clean shelves, windows and that kind of thing when Max's computer chimed.
“Yes?” he called.
“Anna Schmidt is here to see you,” announced Max's secretary via the computer.
“Send her in.” said Max.
As director of research and development, I had heard of Anna. She was one of the brightest new bright sparks to join Saturn in years. Her Master's thesis on networked robot communities was brilliant and although she was still in her early days at the company, she was already impressing people. We were lucky to have snapped her up.
“Come in, Anna, come in,” said Max. “I'm so glad you were able to make it on short notice. I trust your flight was a good one.'
“Thank you, sir, I'm delighted to be here,” said Anna with a hint of a Brazilian accent.
Max introduced me to Anna and a few minutes of chit chat followed. But not many. Max never has much patience for chit chat.
“As you know, I asked you here because I was impressed with your idea about applying fractuals to the two legs walking problem.”
One of the biggest challenges facing robot engineers is getting robots to walk upright on two legs like humans do. Two legged robots can walk in straight lines easily enough. But turning corners, climbing up stairs, stepping over obstructions and running are all highly problematic, usually resulting in robots falling over. That's why household robots tend to be squat things on wheels. If we could solve the “two leg walking problem” - as it has come to be known - it would be possible to build robots that looked more human; robots like you so often used to see in science fiction films.
Every good robotic engineer has a crack at the two leg walking problem. I certainly did. No one has solved it. I had seen Anna's idea and paper on the idea management system, but knew from experience there were would be problems with her approach.
I started to voice my concerns: “It's an excellent concept, Anna, but...” I started. But Max waved me down with his hand.
“It is indeed an excellent concept, Anna,” said Max. “That's why I'm giving you three months and 150,000 Euro to see what you can do with it.”
“But,” I started. But Max's glare clearly indicated that my “but” was not wanted. So, I shut up.
Anna was, of course delighted. Max and Anna about the concept a little more and then he sent Anna off to meet some other people here at headquarters.
When she was gone, I said, “Max, what are you doing? You know fractuals won't work. I spent six months in 2022 trying to apply fractuals to walking robots. In the end, all I came up with is a solid theory showing why fractuals cannot be applied to the two legs walking problem.”
“Oh, I know,” said Max. “But you saw the passion she put into her paper. It's hard showing passion in an engineering paper, but she did so because she passionately believes in her idea, doesn't she?”
“You say 'but' too much.”
“If we tell her that her first big idea will not work and prevent her from working on it, she will be seriously demotivated, won't she?” asked Max.
“Well, yes,” I answered.
“Of course she will be. And a demotivated Anna is likely to have fewer and less exciting ideas than a motivated Anna, isn't she?” said Max.
“Well, yes,” I replied.
“So at a cost of 150,000 Euro we've motivated the brightest robotics engineer you and I have seen in a long time and have essentially invested in a series of new ideas over the next year, haven't we?” asked Max.
“How can you be sure of that?” I asked in return.
“I can't. But, as I recall, during the six months you spent learning that chaos was not the solution to the two legs walking problem, you developed three new patents for the company.”
“Four, actually,” I said.
“Four, then.” Said Max. “And over the following six months you came up with a stream of new ideas that probably added a couple million to our turnover in 2022. If Anna does half as well, that 150,000 Euro is a cheap investment in our future growth.”
He did have a point. I spent six months of long days and nights in the workshop playing with fractuals and trying to apply them to the two legs walking problem. Nothing worked, but it seemed that every second or third idea I tried inspired an idea related to some other aspects of robotic motion. Fortunately, I kept a journal of those ideas. In fact, those ideas are a large part of why I am head of research and development now.
“By the way,” said Max as I was leaving his office. “I tried the fractuals approach myself while working for International Industrial Robots in the late 2010s. I spent a year on the problem without finding a solution. But no one at International Industrial Robots was interested. So, I used the ideas I had had, while working on the two legs walking problem, to build a prototype for the first Saturn domestic robot. And I generated enough interest in that prototype to launch this company. To be honest, I hadn't really expected you to find a solution either. But I knew you'd find some interesting ideas in your search. And you certainly did.”
He was right you know. But now I worry. Anna really is clever. What if she finds the solution to the two legs walking problem? Think of all the ideas we might lose!”
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