by Cindy Perman
Monday, April 11, 2011
"Kids are natural innovators," said Jon Dudas, who used to work
for the U.S. Patent &
Trademark Office but is now the president of FIRST, an
organization designed to help foster innovations by kids in science
Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST and the inventor of the Segway personal transporter, got his first patent when he was 17 for an insulin pump. "His mom had to sign the papers!" Dudas said.
One of the youngest inventors, Dudas recalls, was just two. "Her parents had sort of sectioned off a place where she couldn't open the cabinet doors. She used suction cups and an extension," Dudas explained. "Her parents thought it was a neat idea -- to use for people in wheelchairs with limited movement," he said. She had a patent by age 4!
Kids have been inventing things for hundreds of years and now, thanks to organizations like the Liberty Science Center, FIRST and By Kids, for Kids they're feeling more inspired and more confident to invent. And, turning their products into sales is becoming more of a reality.
Here are 5 cool and inspiring inventions by kids.
The Inventioneers are a group of six teens from
LondonBerry, N.H., and, while some of them can't even drive yet,
they've invented a device to help curb distracted driving.
It's called the Smart Wheel and it stands for "Safe Motorist Alert for Restricting Texting, Tweeting, Typing, Touch screens, and Touch ups," said Tristan "T.J." Evarts, a 15-year-old member of the Inventioneers. It's basically a cover for your steering wheel with sensors and LED lights that determines when you don't have both hands on the wheel.
The kids, winners in First Robotics' "First Lego League" competition for several years running, have a provisional patent on the device, one of four patents the teens hold on various inventions.
Sometimes inventions by kids are amazing technological
innovations and sometimes they're just plain practical ideas that
make you wonder, "Why didn't I think of that?"
The Popsicle , that staple of summer, was created in 1905 by 11-year-old Frank Epperson -- by accident! Epperson had left a mixture of powdered soda, water and a stick in a cup on his porch overnight -- and it was a cold night. He woke up the next morning and it was a frozen treat on a stick.
He initially called it the "Epsicle," which was quite popular with the other kids at school and later his own kids. They kept asking for "Pop's 'sicle" and that, Jimmy, is how the popsicle was born. He got a patent on it in 1923 and then sold the rights to a bigger company. Today, the brand is owned by Unilever and they sell more than two billion Popsicles every year.
Here's another fun fact: The double popsicle was invented during the Depression so two children could share it and it would only cost one nickel.
One Saturday morning in 1991, eight-year old Abbey Fleck was
making bacon with her dad. They'd run out of paper towels, so he
put it on the classified section of the newspaper. Mom wasn't too
pleased, prompting dad to growl, "I could just stand here and let
it drip dry."
Ding! Young Abbey thought if they could make a rack to hang the bacon, with a dish underneath, they'd never need paper towels. And so, the Makin' Bacon Dish for cooking bacon in the microwave was born. Not only does it save on paper towels, it's healthier because the grease drips out.
Today, the Makin' Bacon dish costs less than $10 and is sold in Walmart stores -- next to the microwaves. Abbey is now 27 and lives in Los Angeles where she works with special children. She's married to a man who sells the Deflecktor, fuel-saving wheel covers for trucks, that her dad invented.
Don't you just hate when you're outside and, even though you're
wearing mittens, the snow gets down the sleeve of your coat?
Most of us just complain about it but one winter's day, 10-year-old KK Gregory was outside building a snow fort and decided to do something about it. She created the first pair of Wristies, a fingerless glove that goes halfway up your arm, keeping your wrists warm and dry. You can wear them with or without mittens.
Wristies were a hit with her Girl Scout troop, so she decided to get a patent and start her own company. Today, they're sold in select stores, on Amazon.com and on Wristies.com.
Speaking of things that warm you up, ear muffs were also
invented by a kid.
The year was 1873 and 15-year-old Chester Greenwood was testing out a pair of ice skates. He was getting frustrated because his ears were so cold. He tried wrapping his head in scarf but it was too bulky and too itchy. So, he took wire and bent it into two round loops, then asked his grandmother to sew fur on them. He connected them with a steel headband and got a patent on his invention -- Greenwood's Champion Ear Protectors.
He sold a ton of them to U.S. soldiers during World War I. To this day, Greenwood's hometown, Farmington, Maine, is known as the Ear Muff Capital of the World. They even have a parade every December to celebrate his birthday -- and his invention.
By the time he died in 1936, Greenwood had more than 100 patents, including a tea kettle, an advertising match box and a steel-tooth rake. "There truly was a lot more to Chester than just being the inventor of ear protectors," wrote Nancy Porter, a volunteer with the Farmington Historical Society.