On the drive home from my writing group yesterday evening, I caught most of this engaging KQED radio interview with the brilliant inventor, Dr. Saul Griffith. Saul is a MAKE contributor and technical advisor, among his many other endeavors. He is the co-creator of the DIY kids comic series Howtoons, and he developed the Makerspace program with MAKE’s Dale Dougherty. He also co-founded Squid Labs, Makani Power, Instructables, and Otherlab.
One of the things he’s working on right now at Otherlab is in the area of soft, inflatable robotics. Hear Saul talk about this and many other fascinating ideas in the interview:
I particularly like his response to a caller just out of high school who in the future wants to apply engineering principles to solve real world problems. He asked what he could do to help prepare himself for that. Saul replied:
Here’s a secret to the universe that I wish someone had told me: When you’re 18 or 19, and you’re fresh-faced and you’re bright, the world will invite you in to look at everything they do. By the time you’re 30, they think you’re a competitor who’s going to steal their ideas and walk away with their business. So — I did a lot of this when I was younger, and I wish I’d have done more — I went and saw every manufacturing plant that I could, in Sydney. And I would call up the owners of these companies, whether they were making bread, or toothpaste, or solar cells. It didn’t matter what it was, I was just interested in how they were made. And I would call them up and say, “Hey, I’m a bright young thing, I’m going to do engineering at college. Can I come and see your factory?” And they will always say yes. … While you have this brief window in time when you’re non-threatening, go and steal everyone’s ideas and have a look at how they do everything!
This video shows clips of the aforementioned inflatable robots in action. It’s narrated by Saul, who talks about engineering in a refreshing and hopeful way.
You’re living through a transformative time. Probably more transformative than the Industrial Revolution was. We have an unprecedented democratization of tools: laser cutters, 3D printers, water jets, CNC everything. Things like makerspaces. It’s getting easier and easier for people to make real their ideas, and then you throw that out to the public and see whether it sticks or not. There’s no reason not to pitch your exciting visions for the future in a much more entrepreneurial way. Keep moving. Keep having ideas. Allow yourself to be frivolous sometimes. Just make sure you’re doing something. Treat every single thing in your life as a little engineering design problem, and do it so many times that, over a lifetime, you become a master.