Wearables
World’s Fastest Man: How I Built Bionic Boots
BionicBoots_Keahi_TI-10
Photos by Hep Svadja
For more on microcontrollers and wearables, check out Make: Volume 43.  Don't have this issue? Get it in the Maker Shed.
For more on microcontrollers and wearables, check out Make: Volume 43.
Don’t have this issue? Get it in the Maker Shed.

To strap on and run with the Bionic Boots is a feeling like no other. As you begin to stride, you feel the springs storing energy. Then you push off, and you feel the enormous power released, akin to acquiring your own slice of a superpower.

I built the Bionic Boots simply because I wanted that experience. Ever since I was 12 years old, I’ve been dreaming of one day dropping into the African savanna and running with cheetahs.

Initially, the concept was to emulate and experience the sensation and speed of running like a fast animal. I still have the same goal, but the invention is evolving through the use of future technologies to reach new endeavors. I want to produce a viable form of environmentally sound transportation over any terrain, be it city streets or off-road trails — and to run faster than any man alive.

The first spark of inspiration came from watching a natural history program on kangaroos and how they were able to store energy in their large Achilles tendons, enabling them to move at high speed over difficult terrain with an efficient gait. I made my first drawings at 12, and the inventions that came along years later were not too dissimilar to those originals.

A quarter century later, I’m on something like the 200th prototype. These boots are made from aluminum and carbon fiber, with elastic tendons. In them, I stand 7 feet tall, and can run 25 mph.

In the intervening time, I went to college and moved, in 1999, to America. I studied transport design and won a Royal Society for the Arts award for the boots, and used that grant to go to California, the birthplace of so many recreational sports (mountain bikes, skateboards, fiberglass surfboards) and to bring the Bionic Boot into the public domain.

I already had an aesthetically pleasing and working prototype, but it would be one of many. I tend bar six days a week to pay for patent fees and material costs and have worked up to the X14 (2014) prototype.

Mechanical Animal

BionicBoots_Keahi_in_Studio-26

The boots work by basically giving plantigrade (that is, flat-footed) humans a mechanical advantage, allowing them to run on their toes in digitigrade fashion, the way fast land mammals such as greyhounds and cheetahs do. By raising me on my toes, the boots lengthen my legs and stride, which increases speed and efficiency.

There are two levers, a main one and one for the toes. Both are attached to rubber extension springs that mimic the aforementioned kangaroo tendons. The main lever provides the majority of the propulsive force. As the boot lands, the 18-inch lever stretches the springs; then as they contract, the lever swings through a pivot past the heel, propelling the main lever and springing the user like a catapult. The smaller toe lever has a rubber and foam grip, which gives purchase over uneven terrain. Depending on the conditions, one, two, or possibly three interchangeable toes with differing sizes and tread patterns can be added.

BionicBoots_Prototype_Boots-1

To build the boots, I leveraged metalwork, carbon-fiber molding, and spring building. The initial main boot was designed and constructed by making an anatomically correct copy of the boot itself. Later, my friend Carl Riccitelli made a mold of it, and laid carbon fiber into the mold to produce the current prototype with the best strength-to-weight ratio so far.

Aircraft grade aluminum (6061 and 7000 series) was used for the other major components. All were constructed without the use of CNC milling machines or casting methods, but instead were cut, shaped, and polished using only a hand drill, angle grinder, and hacksaw.

The spring system is made of natural rubber from speargun spring bands, cut to specific length, with custom-made grommets to attach to the rubber. These can be added or subtracted to adjust for the weight of different users or the running style or cadence desired.

BionicBoots_Prototype_Boots-2

My invention has been designed — and has evolved — for fast running as a form of transportation. While the top speed is formidable, the stilts are not designed for maneuverable running (i.e. turning).

I am not the only inventor to design augmenting boots. There are other proto-types and products that use different spring systems, though my invention pre-dates the patents on the most similar ones.

One example, originally sold as Powerbocks (now Pro-Jumps) from Germany, also uses a pivoted lever to add stability, but is designed more like traditional stilts, allowing you to jump vertically like a pogo stick. Young athletes use them for parkour-style extreme sports. (Not to be confused with kids’ springy Moon Shoes, which simply suspend the feet in oval frames, like two trampolines.)

The differences between the two are not only in the main function but also in the spring: The Pro-Jumps use a fiberglass leaf spring, whereas mine feature natural rubber as an extension spring to store potential energy. Additionally, because of the material, the Bionic Boots weigh in at just six pounds, around two pounds less than the Pro-Jumps.

But one feature that is truly unique is the pivoted toe, which gives the landing some dampening from the stiff impact of the large spring, as well as maneu-verability and extra purchase on uneven terrain. I’ve used them on everything from potholed and cobblestoned streets in New York and London to California beaches, peaks in the Rocky Mountains, and even in shallow water.

Farther and Faster

There’s still a lot to do, future improvements to the Bionic Boot to extend the distance and speed. I’m planning an onboard electronic feedback control system to help coordinate the power and propulsion to give the most effective timing of power output throughout the running cadence, thus providing maximum efficiency and power expenditure. I’d also like to explore 3D printing, specifically with titanium or carbon fiber — even a 10 percent weight reduction could give incredible results.

Collaboration with companies like Local Motors, which printed a car with carbon fiber-infused ABS, or Renishaw, which printed a titanium bicycle, could help improve the boots’ performance.

The “muscles” could be adapted too, perhaps to include pneumatics like Festo’s “fluidic muscle,” which enabled that company’s Bionic Kangaroo. It uses pneumatic pressure to contract the muscle as air is added. In nature, a kangaroo recovers energy from jumping and stores it for the next leap. In a boot, that could mean greatly increased speed and distance.

In the end, the Bionic Boots could become a whole interlinked exoskeleton built solely for speed, approaching that of an ostrich or even a cheetah.

I can see a vision of a prototype I sketched many years ago, encompassing a full-powered protective suit with onboard readouts of speed, distance, system power outputs, and more. It’s my bionic conception of future transportation.

48 thoughts on “World’s Fastest Man: How I Built Bionic Boots

  1. “I tend bar six days a week to pay for patent fees”

    1. That’s a lot of money diverted from making prototypes. Why would Make, a magazine devoted to the glory of making, highlight a man who makes such a sad decision?

    2. Seeking “letters patent” was seeking a grant of royal monopoly enforced by the power of the king and his army. Things haven’t changed much. A maker today who “succeeds” in getting a government patent monopoly succeeds in threatening other makers from using their hands their machines and their materials (their property) in ways they were previously free to do. Why would Make magazine highlight someone seeking to make these threats?

    3. Something that cannot be used by unlimited people at the same time is called property. Intellectual property is an oxymoron.

    1. While I agree that the current patent system is broken, I think there is a difference between someone who wants to make something purely for the joy of creation and someone who wants to makes something as a means of income. In the former case, patents likely reduce the happiness you would get from sharing your experience with others and watching something you created grow beyond your expectations.

      But we all need to make a living somehow. Mr. Seymour’s dream may be to do so by selling his product to others rather than tending bar (I don’t know him personally and am just using his case as an example). *If* what he has made is “novel, useful, and non-obvious” it qualifies for a utility patent in the US (at least according to my understanding). And that patent would stop another party from taking his invention (bypassing all the R&D work he has put in) and selling it before he has a chance to get his business up and running. So the patent serves to give him a chance to overcome the initial hurdles of starting a business with a degree of shelter from competition. Not that his competitors are free to invent their own solutions to the problem (helping people run faster) and could potentially come up with a superior one, killing his business. Properly specific patents do not grant monopolies.

      One of the problems with our current system is that far too many inventions are granted patents even though they do not meet the criteria and their claims are too broad. It is easier (and less costly) for the patent office to do this than to rigorously review each application. It also leaves it to the courts to decide, much later on, if the patent is valid.

      I also think the current lifetime of a utility patent is ridiculously long. Anyone who needs 20 years to bring a (typical) thing to market isn’t really serious about making it his livelihood.

      Finally, a patent would not prevent Mr. Seymour from licensing his product to multiple manufacturers if he doesn’t plan to produce it himself. Each manufacturer could then compete on their own merits: by providing better service, advertising, distribution, packaging, price, accessories, etc. Again, there is room for a patent without a monopoly.

      1. “Properly specific patents do not grant monopolies.”
        To the contrary, a patent is precisely the grant of a monopoly. A monopoly is when the government directly or indirectly threatens people with loss of property or jail if they enter into the protected business. That’s what the grant of a patent gives you.
        I gather from your comments, though, that you don’t like monopolies. Me too. So it appears that there is a contradiction here.
        I empathize with someone trying to make a living like me. I’m a medical device inventor, by the way. However, my empathy does not extend to agreeing that they should be given government sanction to threaten the person or property of others.
        Here’s a free idea: if you’re afraid people might copy your money-making idea:
        1. don’t tell anyone, or
        2. keep the secret of how exactly it works to yourself, or
        3. come up with another idea.
        Shakespeare prospered with no copyright. So does Cirque du Soleil. Let’s be creative. Not violent.

        1. I’ll offer a couple of points in response.
          1) The business is not protected. Only the design claimed in the patent is protected. Widgets exist to address some need and there is almost always more than one way to address that need. So multiple businesses can spring up to address it without violating the patent claims (again assuming the claims are valid which is not always the case).
          2) You’re right… I do not like monopolies. In general, competition is good at creating better products and healthy markets, which benefit society in general. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about whether a patent grants someone a monopoly.
          3) Medical devices are an interesting case. Their very purpose could be to save lives and reduce suffering, and so it becomes an ethical problem when you think about withholding an idea without a really good reason.

          As for your free ideas:
          “don’t tell anyone” – difficult to do when you must involve other entities in the production of your widget
          “keep the secret of how it works to yourself” – any reader of this blog can look at these boots and see how they work. It isn’t a secret. Are you okay with another company buying one of your devices, figuring out how it works, engineering a duplicate, and selling it without you, the inventor, getting a slice of their pie?
          “come up with another idea” – this is what successful companies do to stay alive once the protection on their first idea runs out.

          People can prosper with no copyright, but it still serves a purpose. If you think you can open an acrobatic show using the Cirque du Soleil name without getting sued for copyright (or maybe trademark?) infringement, you are mistaken.

          Having said all that, I completely agree with you. Let’s be creative. Not violent. I am enjoying the way your comments challenge me to think about the flaws in our current system.

          1. ” Are you okay with another company buying one of your devices, figuring out how it works, engineering a duplicate, and selling it without you, the inventor, getting a slice of their pie?”
            Yes, I’m ok with that. I also am inspired by the ideas displayed in others’ products. The way I make money is to focus on tricky-to-make products in niche markets. I like solving little problems that would not be of interest to competitors.
            It’s hard to imagine a world without our system of copyright and patents for sure. And I can’t explain exactly what the world would look like without it. Let’s say we lived in a system where each person filled out a postcard every six months to indicate shoe requirements for their family: size, and color (brown or black). Six months later you lined up at the post office and picked up your family’s shoes. The system worked more-or-less without a hitch for 100 years. Then suppose I come along and say, “Why doesn’t the government get out of the shoe system business and let private companies manufacture and sell in private shops?” People might say, “Arthur don’t be crazy. How can you be sure private companies would keep making the uniform style we’re all used to? How many shops can you guarantee there would be in each city? What if the line ups take all day?”
            I feel it’s the same with imagining a world without intellectual property rights. Doesn’t mean we can’t try to imagine though.

          2. “‘ Are you okay with another company buying one of your devices, figuring out how it works, engineering a duplicate, and selling it without you, the inventor, getting a slice of their pie?’
            Yes, I’m ok with that. ”

            So how is someone suppose to make a living off of inventing new ideas when they can easily be stolen with no profit to the inventor. I know you said you focus on a niche market, where there’s less interest. Perhaps this is what you like, but what if other’s don’t? Should all inventors avoid popular markets in fear of losing their product to larger companies? How is that fair?

          3. “So what do you suppose a company does when another uses their invention against them, and wins? How is that fair?… if patents didn’t exsist, someone else would just steal this guys design.”
            In our current world, that could indeed happen. What the losing company might do is hire more lawyers and try again. I dunno. But I disagree with your assumption that it is “their” invention in the first place. When I said in my opening comment that intellectual property is an oxymoron, I meant it. Inventions are not property. Unlimited number of people can use an invention at the same time.
            Lots of things in life aren’t fair. Being born into an educated family, having a great radio voice, a great throwing arm etc. etc. But what I really think is not right is for humans to initiate violence against the person or property of other humans. Patents are bully licences. They give a man permission to initiate violence against someone else who might be further inspired in the chain of inspiration that was used to invent something new. That’s really not fair don’t you think? I hope you’re against initiating violence anyway.

          4. When I said their invention I was only pointing out who did the inventing.

            I do agree somethings it is ridiculous when it comes to trade marks and copyrights. I am a decent artist, and people ask me all the time if I sell my work. I have to tell them no, since a lot of my work is based on movies (something any audience can relate to). Sure most artists get away with it, but I do not want to get caught.

            You say “violence” is wrong, and patents is a licence for a type of violence. Which I’m sure large companies do often, but what if I was a struggling inventor looking for his break (full time career), how is it fair that I do not gain profit form my work? A large company could just swoop in and begin mass production, leaving me behind. You make it sound too easy for the inventor to be hired by companies. Perhaps they would see his gift and bring him in as well, but without a patent, the struggling inventor has no power. Couldn’t this be a type of violence? Benefiting from another’s work while they receive nothing in return. Your answer seems to be “Life sucks, o’well”.

          5. I’m glad you are ok with it, and happy that you are able to choose to work on niche products. But not every product is tricky to product and addresses a niche market. For those that are easy to manufacture and address a huge market, I believe some protection for the little guy is in order.

            I do *not* believe that genes should be patentable, nor techniques for swinging on swingsets (seriously, look it up). I also think there should be laws preventing patent holding companies from existing. I’m all for encouraging innovation, and I believe in the case of the “little guy” breaking into a market, patents actually help do that.

            I don’t think it is too difficult to imagine a world without intellectual property rights. We see it right now in China. The 3Doodler pen was ripped off: http://theworstthingsforsale.com/2013/12/19/3doodler-ripoff/

            Whole cars are being copied and sold, bypassing the originator’s extreme R&D, testing, and regulatory burdens: http://www.economist.com/node/8961838

            And if the rare failure of an OEM airbag don’t scare you, counterfeit ones being used by some body shops should: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDuRealrdck

            What I’m in favor of is basic fairness. Arhur: if you have children, ask one of them to make a painting. Make sure he spends a good amount of time and effort on it. Then have a friend of yours come over and buy the painting, in front of the child. Keep all the money for yourself. Now have a discussion with your child about whether or not this is fair and whether or not it spurs his creativity.

            The US Patent Office is a mess, currently, as are many of the laws surrounding it. But I think the basic premise of fairness surrounding the use of one’s work is worth fighting for. And that is where we need to bring the system back to. Fairness is what it is all about. One more example:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6A1Lt0kvMA

          6. “Arhur: if you have children, ask one of them to make a painting. Make sure he spends a good amount of time and effort on it. Then have a friend of yours come over and buy the painting, in front of the child. Keep all the money for yourself. Now have a discussion with your child about whether or not this is fair and whether or not it spurs his creativity.”
            1. Assuming the child used his own hands, his own paper and his own paint then the painting is his property.
            2. I have a friend over and, without my son’s permission, sell the painting and keep the money.
            3. I have initiated violence against the property of my son. This is wrong.
            A better example might be if my son willingly sells the painting in exchange for money in his hands and a year later finds a very close copy to his painting in a magazine advertisement. And yes, I’m ok with that too even if my son stamps his feet and says it’s not fair. He’s wrong.
            You didn’t respond when I said that Shakespeare prospered without copyright laws. Why not? Rock stars don’t make as much money anymore because people download illegal mp3s so they have to go on more concert tours to feed their families. Good.

          7. Your first point focuses our discussion on the definition of property and of copies. I should not have chosen a painting as my example since a copy of a painting is not the same as the painting. But for the purposes of our discussion, a copy of a gait-extending boot is the same as the original. So if my child created a device *and stated that he intended to make more of them and sell them*, and then my friend copied that device and made millions before my child even made a second one, I think he and I would agree that was not fair.

            Of course Life Isn’t Fair. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t try to make it more fair. To me, saying “someone stole your design… life isn’t fair… get over it” is like saying “a bully beat you up at school… life isn’t fair… get over it.” instead of addressing the problem of bullying.

            My views about digital music:

            If I want to own music produced by an artist and he wants to be paid for that, I should pay him. I will only do so if the value (to me) matches the price he wants. After that, if I want to make 5 copies to put on each of my devices, I should be free to do so. If I want to play the music for a friend or at a party, I should be free to do so. If my friend wants the music for himself, he should pay the artist.

            Now, do I think the artist is wise for charging for his music in this way? Not necessarily. Depends on how much he charges. Is something like Patreon a better business model? Maybe. Or give the music away for free and make money on live performances? Maybe. It is up to the creator of something to decide how his creation should be shared. If people who buy the creation don’t like the terms, they should not buy it. They should get what they need from a different creator with fairer terms.

            As for Shakespeare, I have not studied his history closely, so much of what I state here is gained from a cursory reading of Wikipedia (sorry… I’m short on time).

            1) From 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed by only the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. [so he owned a monopoly on his work – tisk tisk]

            2) After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new king, James I, and changed its name to the King’s Men. [hmm… sounds like he got a patent for his monopoly]

            3) In 1599, a partnership of company members built their own theatre on the south bank of the River Thames, which they called the Globe. In 1608, the partnership also took over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Records of Shakespeare’s property purchases and investments indicate that the company made him a wealthy man. [so he built a company to sell his product and it made him wealthy].

            4) Some of Shakespeare’s plays were published in quarto editions from 1594. By 1598, his name had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages. [no mention is made here whether he made money from these publications. My assumption is that he did. It’s only fair.]

            I don’t think Shakespeare is a good example for someone freely giving away an idea and being wildly successful with it. I’m not sure where Massimo Banzi stands in terms of making income from the Arduino. MakerBot may actually be the best example so far, but they went closed source after a while and I think Flashforge and Wanhao are eating their lunch (rightly so… the latest developments from MakerBot aren’t great). TV-B-Gone is about the best open-source success I can think of right now in which its inventor prospered and continues to prosper from its openness.

          8. “Your first point focuses our discussion on the definition of property”

            Yes. I defined property in my first comment: something that cannot be used by unlimited people at the same time. I’m guessing that you feel that is incorrect. You feel that pictures, music, inventions etc, in addition, are the property of the person who claims they are the sole creator.

            I think we need to step back in our arguing to see the forest instead of focusing on the trees of various examples. I’d like to hear about your concept of what property is and why the concept of property was even invented by humans. Why do even little children say things like, “That’s my stick. I found it first!” Here’s my view: property is a concept to avoid all human conflict over scarce resources. There is no other concept that works. It’s brilliant. The key is scarce resources. There is no need to fight over something that unlimited people can use at the same time. Like ideas. Not sticks. Here is a parable that helps to explain my thinking:

            Two young women who lived on the same farm and who both had an idea for a new hairstyle came to King Charles for a judgement. One of the women claimed that the other, after realizing her idea was stupid, had exchanged the two ideas to make it appear that the better idea was hers. The other woman denied this and so both women claimed to be the inventor of the better hairstyle.

            After some deliberation, King Charles called for a sword to be brought before him. He declared that there was only one fair solution: the better idea must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the idea. The liar, in her bitter jealousy, exclaimed, “It shall be neither mine nor yours—divide it!” However, upon hearing this terrible verdict, the idea’s true inventor cried out, “Oh Lord, give the idea to her, just don’t kill it!” The king gave the idea to the true inventor. King Charles’ judgement was heard throughout all the idea monopoly lobbyists of the world and thought to be wise.

            All human conflict can be solved by strict observance of private property rights. Here is the recipe to follow:
            1. Every person is the private owner of his own physical body.
            2. Every person is the private owner of all nature-given goods that he has perceived as scarce and put to use by means of his body before any other person.
            3. Every person who, using his property above, produces new products becomes the private owner of these products provided that, in the process of production, he does not physically damage the body or goods owned by another person.
            4. Once a good has been first appropriated or produced, subsequent ownership in it can be acquired only by means of a voluntary transfer of its property title.

          9. I think we need to differentiate the idea of a thing from the thing itself. Let’s go with music for this example. Anyone is free to imagine any combination of notes, rhythms, instruments, etc. to create a symphony. The idea of a particular symphony exists for anyone to grasp. But not anyone can compose a truly great symphony. It takes a particular combination of skills, talent, and work to come up with it. By your definition, once a composer creates a symphony and plays it once (not keeping it a secret) a physical good has not been created so there is no property to own. Anyone is free to take that combination of notes, write it down, and sell the music. Or charge admission to a performance of the piece without compensating the composer, since an arrangement of notes is an idea, not property.

            To me, what it comes down to is the compensation for the effort, skill, and talent of the composer. If he announces to the world “this music is for all of you to enjoy freely”, akin to Creative Commons, commercial, no attribution, share alike (hopefully I got that right)… fine. Anyone can do whatever they want with it. But if he declares to the world, “I have created this symphony, and you may play this particular arrangement, but I wish to receive a share of your profits, and I wish it to be attributed to me, and I wish to decide who may present my work” I believe he has a right to those controls as he did create that symphony.

            Now, I don’t think he should own that piece forever. Eventually if it is successful it becomes part of culture and enters the public domain. And before that time if someone wants to play that arrangement of notes on their own, for their own enjoyment, that’s fine. And if someone wants to change the symphony to make something new, that’s also fine (though we must then consider how much change is required for it to be new… Is one note enough? How about 3? 5? 20?).

            So how do I wrap that into a definition of property?
            First, an idea is not property.
            Second, the manifestation of an idea may or may not be property, depending on the nature of the manifestation, the intent of the creator, and the ethics and morals which surround the manifestation.
            I’m sorry that the definition is not black and white. I don’t think it has to be.
            Our current treatments of idea manifestations are myriad: patent, copyright, trademark, etc. They treat things differently and serve different purposes. I do not think they are optimal in their current strong forms for encouraging innovation. But likewise I do not think we should discard them altogether.

            My views here are a matter of opinion. I am happy that you and others are here, expressing yours cogently and with respect. We do not know the best way to improve humanity through efforts of individuals. So we must discuss, try different things, adapt our policies, and learn. I applaud the Open Source movement and look forward to seeing more and more successes transform our burdensome legal framework. Thanks for making me think!

          10. “Anyone is free to imagine any combination of notes, rhythms, instruments, etc. to create a symphony”

            But if you imagine a song that is too similar to one already copyrighted, you are not free to perform it for money. To be clear, under the current system you are both free and not free.

            “By your definition, once a composer creates a symphony and plays it once (not keeping it a secret) a physical good has not been created so there is no property to own. ”

            Correct. There is no scarce good created and thus no property. A hundred people can hum the same tune without in any way preventing the composer from humming it too. The way composers can make money is like Shakespeare did: charge admission to come and watch/listen to the master’s latest creation. Limited engagement. No recording devices allowed in my playhouse, fyi.

            “To me, what it comes down to is the compensation for the effort, skill, and talent of the composer”

            Do you pay more to listen to a symphony that the composer agonized over? Beethoven agonized over every tune and to Mozart it was like falling out of bed. So what? Consumers are (properly) ruthless bosses. They pay for value they perceive they are getting — not for compensation of all the R&D work.

            “Now, I don’t think he should own that piece forever. Eventually if it is successful it becomes part of culture and enters the public domain”

            Why do you think that? Be strong. If you believe an idea is property it is property. Is your house taken away after a period of time and enters the public domain. No? Then why should intellectual property be different?

            “First, an idea is not property.”

            Hurray! We’re getting closer.

            “Second, the manifestation of an idea may or may not be property, ”

            I can see that. If I use my tools and spare parts to manifest my own version of a new vacuum cleaner idea that inspired me, then the new vacuum I made is my property. And the fellow who inspired me is free to make as many copies as he wants too and each would be his property to sell.

            “Our current treatments of idea manifestations are myriad: patent, copyright, trademark, etc. ”

            Hold on here. A patent is an idea formally expressed. Now you’re saying a patent is a manifestation of an idea? I’m confused.

            Charles, I am also grateful to engage in such a civilized discourse. I hope you will forgive my sometimes goading style of writing. I completely agree that friendly intellectual sparring like this is a way for all of us to think more clearly. Good for one’s health I say.

          11. So if I understand you correctly, you would prevent people from recording your limited engagement performance because you want to create a scarce good in order to capitalize on it. If you allowed recording, the good would no longer be scarce. But that means that property is not defined by the manifestation of a thing itself, but by how that manifestation is observed. Let me ask: what if someone who had perfect pitch and perfect recall attended your performance. Would it be okay for him to then write down the notes and perform it himself, charging admission (without attribution or licensing)?

            As to your point about value… I agree with you completely. The true value of something is not defined by the creator, but by the observer. A Bugatti may cost three times as much to produce (both in manufacturing and R&D costs) as a Hyundai, but it sells for 20x the cost. The market bears that value proposition for a reason. The fact that Beethoven agonized and Mozart didn’t doesn’t necessarily matter. Both produced works of genius in the eyes of (many) consumers. Now, if something is very difficult to make but has a low perceived value, the creator must decide if he still wants to put in the effort. You can create a model of an entire city in toothpicks, but it will be difficult to find a buyer for that product who pays the same hourly rate as if you were performing brain surgery, even though the mechanics of the things may be similar. [YES, I realize brain surgery is a lot more difficult… I’m working with orders of magnitude here. Let’s not get caught up in the details.]

            Now, to length of ownership of property. My existence on this earth has a limited span. And while I would like to pass on some of the wealth I gain to my children, I think they should learn to make their own way in the world. So particularly with “the right to make money off of an original idea”, I think the time span should be limited. With something like a house, it should not. I don’t think I’m being weak… I just have a nuanced idea about the value of property to a person vs. a dead person vs. one’s heirs vs. society. The reason I think that eventually “the right to make money off an original idea” should pass into the public domain eventually is in order to balance the incentive for the “little guy” to act on his creative ideas with the potential societal benefit of derivative works.

            Now when I talk about patents, copyrights, and trademarks, I’m talking about the legal (and some might argue moral) frameworks with which we treat ideas. I’m not saying a patent is a manifestation of an idea. A patent is (*ideally* but not currently) a statement by society that says “we recognize that this person (or set of people) invented this thing which is new, useful, and not obvious to other experts in his field, and we agree that for a specified time period he should control the manufacture and licensing of that product. We do this because we believe this protection incentivizes creative efforts in a way that benefits society.” So the patent (and trademark, copyright, etc.) is a societal agreement for how to treat this idea.

          12. How nice to resume our dialogue. Good to hear from you. OK here we go,

            “what if someone who had perfect pitch and perfect recall attended your performance. Would it be okay for him to then write down the notes and perform it himself, charging admission (without attribution or licensing)?”

            Yes, it would be ok. If I were to attempt to stop him from using his hands to write down memories from his mind on his own paper, I would be initiating violence against his property. Not ok. I think it would be polite for him to attribute his inspiration to attending my performance, but being polite is strictly voluntary. If he were to ask for advice on this attribution matter from a smart business consultant, the consultant might advise him that many people will deride him for re-performing with no attribution because Krolman’s original performance was so well known and loved! This could therefore be bad for his profits.

            “I think the time span (of property) should be limited.”

            That is your right as the property holder. You have the right to limit the time you hold property to whatever length of time you like. You could transfer title to someone else anytime you like. Hopefully you’re not hinting that you think that someone else other than the property holder, like the sovereign, should decide the limit. But I’m afraid you are indeed.

            “the value of property to a person vs. a dead person…”

            A dead person cannot be a property holder. A dead person is a thing, not a human.

            “The reason I think that eventually “the right to make money off an original idea” should pass into the public domain eventually is in order to balance the incentive for the “little guy” to act on his creative ideas with the potential societal benefit of derivative works.”

            This is the crux of the contradiction. You appear to care about the little guy with an idea. But you don’t care about the second little guy who is inspired by the idea (or perhaps arrived at the same idea independently). The second little guy is not free to use his own hands and his own property unless accompanied by an army of patent attorneys. He has no incentive to be inspired by others (and let’s be honest, aren’t all ideas somewhat inspired by other ideas?) and make a living this way. Like the sound of birds, all demonstrated ideas belong in the public domain from the beginning. Not eventually.

            “Now when I talk about patents, copyrights, and trademarks, I’m talking about the legal (and some might argue moral) frameworks with which we treat ideas.”

            Moral, really? How about not initiating violence or threats of violence against others? That’s not a moral position? Do you agree these two positions are in conflict? Remember, you already agreed that ideas are not property. So if you initiate violence against a patent violator or his property you can’t say that it was merely retaliation for him violating the property of the idea holder.

            “We do this because we believe this protection incentivizes creative efforts in a way that benefits society.”

            Why do you and other patent supporters believe this? As I said to Vicary earlier, there are a few problems I see with this line of thinking:

            1. How do you know how many useful variations on the original invention never will see the light of day because inventors are afraid of getting sued?

            2. If you still believe that bully licenses (patents) on balance encourage inventors to grace the world with more inventions, how do you decide how much encouragement to provide? If a 20-year monopoly encourages invention, then 40 years would maybe result in double the inventions for the public to enjoy? If fines or jail time discourage patent violations and help enrich inventors, the death penalty would do an even better job?

            3. Why is it your position to decide what human activity to encourage and that a little (or a lot) of required initiation of violence to control innocent humans is just fine?

    2. I’m no patent expert, but I’ve always understood that if he owns the patent, no one else can come along and use his designs to go to market. Its much better that HE patents it than someone else who comes along and decides to buy up the available patent and go to market with a product he designed and developed. And it doesn’t stop anyone from building their own, as long as they aren’t selling them, which is wholly in line with the maker spirit.

      1. You could also say about a boy with a school-issued License to Bully awarded for being first in his class, “Much better that HE hits people to get lunch money than having somebody with lower grades with that awesome License.”
        How about the idea of not giving out government Bully Licenses to promote academic success in the first place. Same for (supposedly) promoting inventions and creativity.

        1. Well now you’re arguing against the patent system in general which has merit, but unfortunately this guys has to work within that, and it sounds like you’re deriding him for doing so. To me, patents are great for protecting the little guy (pro innovation), but break down when you introduce giant, established, corporations (prevent innovation).

          So, with this man specifically, i see it like this:
          Without the incentive of a fair chance, why be innovative? Why risk your financial safety on bringing a project to everyone you can reach, when almost certainly someone who can reach more people will put you out of business. Like you said to Charles, his only option there would be to tell no one, and we never would have heard about this in the first place. In that world, the only people to have cool boots are those who can make their own. The only new awesome products to come to market would come from big company R & D, lets say Nike in this case. Some ideas would still come from the general population, but no one would ever take the chance on actually making a business out of a product like this that would require a pretty decent size machine shop and factory to manufacture.

          1. I’m more deriding Make magazine than this inventor. As I said, it’s sad that he’s working “six days a week” to enrich patent attorneys. That’s a lot of cool prototype making gadget money! Make magazine is almost saying, “Hey readers, forget a new 3D printer, spend your money on lawyers instead like this guy does!”

            I agree that giving Bully Licences (ie. patents) to little inventors might (or might not depending on the fees and cost of defending) help them make money. But I think you agree (you said criticizing the whole patent system “has merit”) this is wrong. In a patent-free world, maybe mass-market idea guys like this footwear inventor, could work a few hours per day for bigco’s like Nike. Maybe, with their own little business, they could focus on niche market ideas to start that competitors won’t bother to borrow and work their way up with bigger and bigger production equipment to being a bigco themselves one day. Maybe a lot of inventions would never be seen. But how do you know how many inventions are squelched now because of inventors not wanting to get sued? My idea is simply this: bully licenses are bad no matter how great an activity they supposedly promote.

          2. So what do you suppose a company does when another uses their invention against them, and wins? How is that fair? Especially since big buisnesses have more resources, if patents didn’t exsist, someone else would just steal this guys design, with no justice served.

        2. Agreed! Moreover, a patent holder can always let people or organisation use their patents with proper consent. Without a patent we are never sure where our work is going to be used. Almost every useful invention can be used for good or evil purposes equally. A patent can provide some protection against such exploitations.

    3. Kids don’t need to know about the dark side of the world, but when they grow up and really start make their dream a reality, they need to know.

      If he don’t acquire a patent, he’s gonna pay A LOT more to trolls after the product is made.

      In fact I suspect there are troll-owned patent overlaps somewhere already, and they are already keeping an eye on him.

      1. “If he don’t acquire a patent, he’s gonna pay A LOT more to trolls after the product is made.”
        How do you know how much money he will have to spend to defend his patent? Why do you assume that is going to be less money than paying trolls with no patent? I think you’re guessing. I don’t know the comparison either. But what I do know is that government-granted monopolies are wrong. Let’s get rid of the whole patent system I say.

          1. Why did anyone bother to invent the wheel? Ever heard of first mover advantage?
            In any case, whether there are more inventions or fewer inventions with elimination of the patent system is not important. What is important is doing away with a system that involves initiating violence against the person and property of innocent humans.

          2. Sadly we don’t have many Nicola Tesla here, nobody can be naturally that much ahead of others. To encourage more inventions and R&D we must give them advantage in some way.

          3. Suppose we two inventors are stranded on a desert island each with only a strand of wire to his name. The scene opens:
            Archangel: I’m going to bend my wire into the shape of a fish hook with a double-reversing barb.
            Krolman: How inspiring! I think I’ll copy your idea and add my own twist.
            Archangel: No you won’t. My idea is my property! Put your hands in your lap and stop your wire bending.
            Krolman: But these are my hands. I own them and I can control them as long as I don’t interfere with you and your property. An idea is not property. Unlike your wire, a hundred people can use it at the same time. And you said that we each own our own bodies.
            Archangel: You own and have the right to control your own body until you start using it to copy someone else’s idea. Then they can rightfully control you.
            Krolman: That sounds like a contradiction.

            You basically said that, sadly, bully licences (patents) are required to encourage more inventions — like double reversing barb fish hooks. I think your logic is sad. Here’s why:
            1. How do you know how many useful variations on the original invention never will see the light of day because inventors are afraid of getting sued?
            2. If you still believe that bully licenses on balance encourage inventors to grace the world with more inventions, how do you decide how much encouragement to provide? If a 20-year monopoly encourages invention, then 40 years would maybe result in double the inventions for the public to enjoy? If fines or jail time discourage patent violations and help enrich inventors, the death penalty would do an even better job?
            3. Why is it your position to decide what human activity to encourage and that a little (or a lot) of required initiation of violence to control innocent humans is just fine?
            Speaking of Tesla (and Toyota who just last month released thousands of fuel cell patents), maybe industry already sees what I see: holding patents actually discourages innovation.

          4. So much disrespect to people who do R&D, or even the whole industry I say.

            You essentially means that humanity should only focus on those they can earn back with their “first bucket”, everyone is free to join this so-called fair competition.

            True. One have no rights to control others, they can make whatever they want. But with this stone-age fish barbs concept, we will just stay in stone age.

            It should be up to the inventors choice to share it with the public or not, and about the troll and bullying part, we should fix the game instead of trashing the whole thing.

          5. How about a system where if you don’t intend to do anything with your idea, you can be put in the record books as the inventor but you don’t get a patent awarded? Your name is preserved for posterity (if you care about that), your invention is disclosed to the world and publicized, and others are free to act on it. That would allow “protection of the little guy” while at the same time encouraging derivative works.

            “If fines or jail time discourage… violations…, the death penalty would do an even better job?” I think you know the answer to that. Everything does not exist on a linear scale. It is the same reason we do not hand down 100-year jail sentences for shoplifting. Sure, they would be much more effective at preventing shoplifting, but it’s overkill.

            “Why is it your position to decide…?” It is all of our position to decide these things. Or it should be, in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We discuss and debate so that we can crystallize our thoughts. Then we make them known to our elected officials and put them into laws and policy. Or we modify our laws and policy be re-examining that which is antiquated or misinformed. It is messy and inefficient. But it is the system we have chosen (so far) in this country to live by.

            Who do you think should decide these things? And on what basis?

            One more question, since you bring up violence. Is intentional unfairness violence? Do you support it? Taking someone’s design and profiting from it without compensating him (assuming he wants compensation) is, to me, committing violence towards him. Do you agree?

          6. “How about a system where if you don’t intend to do anything with your idea, you can be put in the record books as the inventor but you don’t get a patent awarded? Your name is preserved for posterity (if you care about that), your invention is disclosed to the world and publicized, and others are free to act on it. That would allow “protection of the little guy” while at the same time encouraging derivative works.”
            If the system voluntary, I don’t see any problem with this idea at all. I can see competing “record books” though. But that’s ok. Just like competing history books today I guess. I don’t quite understand how this would provide “protection” for anyone though.

            “Sure, they (death penalties) would be much more effective at preventing shoplifting, but it’s overkill.”
            What about chopping off a hand for shoplifting instead? The point I’m getting at is this: how does the sovereign (or any one else who likes to control other people’s business) decide what’s the correct level of punishment and encouragement?

            “But it is the system we have chosen (so far) in this country to live…Who do you think should decide these things? And on what basis?”
            A system in which some people control the property of others against their will is a bad system. As I stated earlier in my simple recipe to avoid all human conflict, private property rights are the key. Unless you initiate violence against the person or property of others you should be completely free to do whatever you want with your own body and your own property. If you do violate another’s property, then I believe that a third-party arbitrator should make a judgment about the case and put it into a public record. Violators who do not follow the suggested resolution of the arbitrator will be identified in these records and, in my preferred community, find great difficulty in entering contracts, renting, buying or getting employment with non-violators who don’t want to associate with him. I don’t see any problem with having competing communities with different systems of conflict resolution. Maybe there would be some communities in which initiating violence is perfectly legal. Like the one we live in today.

            “One more question, since you bring up violence. Is intentional unfairness violence? Do you support it? Taking someone’s design and profiting from it without compensating him (assuming he wants compensation) is, to me, committing violence towards him. Do you agree?”
            A cat is not a dog. Unfairness is not violence. I define violence as the violation, or threat of violation, of the person or property of another human without their consent. As I said earlier when I talked about lots of things not being fair, like having a good throwing arm, fairness and unfairness is naturally and beautifully all around us. And no, I don’t think it should be stamped out wherever we can. Check out a book called “Facial Justice” for a horror story about this.

    4. He could have filed for a ‘provisional patent’ which costs very little money, super easy to file, and protects his license on the product for 2 years. During those 2 years, you can file for a full patent, if you’d like. No need to get full patents on items unless you’re actually going to be able to afford it while you’re putting your idea together.

    5. Its to help people who created these products from large corporations who see stuff that they like then recreate it for less cost. In order for someone to use his design, they would need to ask his permission for it. Also I believe that patents allow for a person to have the monopoly for a period of time, not for the rest of their lives.

      1. You might think being granted a licence to sue other people if you think they are copying you helps the little inventor. But what happens when little inventor A sells the patent to BigCorp which sues little inventor B for making something vaguely similar? And why is it the government’s business to help anyone control something that isn’t their property in the first place? An idea or invention, unlike property, is something that can be used by unlimited people at the same time.

  2. Have any of you mega-boot and/or blade runner guys ever thought of how much energy it would take to manage a parachute-free landing in a wingsuit using some contraption like these? Being able to jump out of a plane, soar, land, and run without a chute would be seriously cool. Not that I would try it, of course… =)

    1. One guy jumped out of a helicopter with a wingsuit and landed on a runway stacked with empty cardboard boxes. Impressive and scary at the same time.

      Landing vertically is much more difficult. Wingsuits typically fly at around 100mph from what I understand and have a glide ratio around 2.5:1. So they are falling to the ground at 40mph. Imagine laying on a car going 40mph and the car disappears with your feet aiming at a brick wall, and you only have 12 inches of space to make something that slows you down. Seems pretty difficult. Not impossible, maybe, but very difficult. I’m not gonna try it!

    1. The author points this out himself:

      “I am not the only inventor to design augmenting boots. There are other proto-types and products that use different spring systems, though my invention pre-dates the patents on the most similar ones.”

      Personally, if I were a patent attorney reviewing the claims that a pivoting toe and using elastic bands were deserving of protection, I would reject the claims on the basis that these features would be obvious to experts in the fields of energy storage and design of mechanical systems. Just because you apply for a patent doesn’t mean you get one. And (unfortunately) frequently, just because you get one doesn’t mean you deserve it. Disclaimer: I have not researched Mr. Seymour’s claims so I am only supposing that elastic bands and the pivoting foot design are what are claimed in his filing.

      I am not wanting to take away from the work that Mr. Seymour has done. The boots are very cool, and I would love to try a pair of them. I’d even be happy to buy some from him if he manages to produce them for a reasonable cost (or better yet, make some of my own). I wish him luck in taking his idea from concept to product and hope he enjoys the fruits of his labor and the smiles of happy customers.

  3. Usain Bolt’s peak speed in a 100m dash is 30mph. 25mph doesn’t make you the world’s fastest man. even with augmentation. that headline is garbage.

    1. I wonder how long Mr. Bolt can sustain 30mph vs. 25mph using the boots. Maybe it should have read “fastest average speed over one mile” (assuming he could keep it up for a mile). That’s not a great headline either. How about “Boots allow man to run 2.4 minute mile!”. Sounds good. Go run, Mr. Seymour!

  4. All I see is a less exciting version of Bocks. You can run just as fast on them and you actually have power in your springs. The version you speak of is a crap knock off.

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Keahi Seymour

Originally from Solihill, England, Keahi Seymour tends bar in San Francisco, but his passion is design and inventing. Someday, he wants to leverage these skills to build a low-cost, portable, water distillation and purification device for developing nations.

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