Revolutionizing water guns... and then maybe energy.

by JGordon on Oct. 14th, 2010

This kid is contributing to alternative energy development: In his own way.
This kid is contributing to alternative energy development: In his own way.Courtesy jellywatson
I guess that the guy who invented the Super Soaker squirt gun is also kind of an all-around engineering genius. His company is currently developing a new kind of solar panel that converts heat (instead of light) into electricity. It could be a really big deal, or it could be slightly misplaced enthusiasm (see the "Bloom Box".)

In any case, read about it here. It's sort of exciting technology, and the inventor, Lonnie Johnson, has an interesting story.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

This technology is really neat! Lonnie Johnson's story captured by attention. There's a whole lotta interesting back story about the student Johnson, but the recent history -- a story of perserverence and imagination -- pertains most directly to the new technology in this post. Here're my highlights:

"Johnson is a member of what seems to be a vanishing breed: the self-invented inventor."

When Johnson brought his idea to the Office of Naval Research for funding, Richard Carlin, former head of the Office of Naval Research’s mechanics and energy conversion division, "dismissed Johnson’s brainchild outright." But Johnson didn't give up! Citing a "collective failure of imagination" Johnson instead choose to reframe his technology to avoid "conceptual stumbling block[s]." As a result, the Air Force gave Johnson $100,000 to further develop the project.

posted on Thu, 10/14/2010 - 2:01pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Yeah, my reaction to the article was back and forth between "This is awesome! Energy revolution, here we come!" and plain old skepticism.

I'm just trying to decide if my skepticism is reasonable, because it's largely based on the depressing notion that one person really can't make a difference. The problem of energy is about as systemic as things get, and it's hard to picture a single, tiny company making a tremendous impact. Likewise, there's part of me that wonders how something so apparently simple and elegant could have been missed by the many, many clever people devoting their lives to this sort of thing.

But I suppose that's a failure of imagination on my part. And I guess that if individuals always waited for "the system" (if you'll forgive the cliche) to catch up, nothing much interesting would happen. I'm sure there are bumper stickers out there that could remind me of this.

I love the idea that one person might make a big difference in a big problem, though, and that that person got rich inventing an awesome toy.

posted on Thu, 10/14/2010 - 3:08pm
Shana's picture
Shana says:

I know what you mean, JGordon. I'll be reading about rising sea levels or how reusable bags don't make that much of a difference, and it gets depressing and I have to chill out and read an article about how babies learn language or something uplifting like that.

What can I say? I don't smoke...

But I think so much of perception is how the object is marketed, just like Kelsi was saying with the JTEC. (Which, by the way, is an awesome nickname that you now can't escape.) And at the risk of getting cheesy, you never know until you try.
I feel like there should be a row of hearts and rainbows at the bottom of this message :)

posted on Fri, 10/15/2010 - 10:04am
KelsiDayle's picture
KelsiDayle says:

JGordon and Shana both make great points.

I think it's common for an environmentally-aware person to be deeply pessimistic once they realize the depth of the scars we've made on this planet (been there, done that!). What's extraordinary is choosing hopeful action, even in it's most cautious form. :)

posted on Tue, 10/19/2010 - 10:13am

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