All that glitters is not green

A blog post by Nina Walsh

Want to know why you’ve never seen a glass razor? And yes, I do mean the kind you’d use on your face.  Well okay, maybe I wouldn’t, but then we all have different views on facial hair, and beards are rather de rigueur, these days, aren’t they?

You will have seen John Logie-Baird’s most famous invention, though, the television.  Connection?  Mr Logie-Baird was the proud inventor of both. He couldn’t help himself – had to be thinking outside the box his whole life.  And perhaps what most defines him as an inventor is the fact that most things he came up with didn’t work.  At least, not for him, at that time.

So, do any of his failures matter at all, when his most famous invention became the basis for modern-day television? These days we consider people who don’t own televisions to be, well, not the norm.  The TV is seemingly ubiquitous and absolutely integral to our collective understanding of the world. Even with his vision, I seriously doubt Logie-Baird could have foreseen all that.

But (and I can’t quite believe I’m about to quote from a Spider-Man comic), with great power comes great responsibility. Television has become both a blessing and a burden, engulfing the world with information overload. Time and technology mean that certain things will go in and out of favour. Let’s face it, burning coal?  Brilliant idea. Asbestos? Sure! And how have so many of us learned both those things are so damaging?  Possibly from seeing the evidence on television. Not John Logie-Baird’s 30 line, black and white image on a tiny receiver from the 1920s, but a large, crystal-clear image beamed straight into our homes, with sound that happens in sync with the pictures, and everything.

And this is what engineers and inventors do: they take risks. They take the detail, dissect it, put it back together in a slightly different way and ask, ‘Why?’

Which is how we get so much ‘new stuff’, and conversely, it’s also by using tried and tested ways of making ‘new stuff’ by tweaking the designs of old inventions that occasionally, we can lose track of the biggest questions. Questions like, ‘How can we reduce emissions on the road?’ get answers like, ‘Take weight out of the vehicles, so they’re significantly more efficient. Use something like aluminium, instead of steel.’ So lots of very bright and well-intentioned people go off and work out how to manufacture a whole car chassis out of what is essentially a far softer metal, in a way that still gives the car’s occupants all the protection required by our (necessarily) rigorous legislation. Good job. Well done. It’s even recyclable, right?

Well, kind of. I mean, a whole car isn’t going to fit into my recycling bin once a fortnight. The problem is, recovering any metals from scrapped cars turns out to be really quite complicated, messy and worst of all, expensive.  So we’re not really doing it. We’re frantically washing out old soup tins every week, but mostly ignoring the big stuff because it’s too difficult.

The good news is that although all primary metals are becoming less and less green to produce, recycled aluminium is definitely as green as metal gets, and that’s an excellent thing. As long as it’s being used on the move, and not just to ‘hold sticky drinks’. Which I think you’ll agree is an extremely valid point, and the answer to one of those ‘right questions’. The manufacturing industry is stuck in a loop of always pushing to produce more, rather than using the abundance of resource we’ve already dug out of the ground. It’s a huge mindset change which thus far, we’ve failed to make.

So John Logie-Baird failed, and failed, and failed again. His glass razor apparently ‘cut it’ a little too well: our famous inventor ended up wearing too much tissue paper on his face. His thermal socks didn’t do too badly, but his industrial diamonds didn’t quite cut it. Somebody else did those better, later on. And as for his inflatable shoes, well, Dr Martens adopted something similar later on, too.

So I say, here’s to inventors everywhere, and failure on a grand scale. Because (and this one’s slightly more high-brow than our beloved Spider-Man) you never fail until you stop trying. We should all be triers. People tell me all the time that I’m very trying…

Now here comes the pitch…

If you’re thinking outside the box, asking the big questions about vehicle emissions and building prototypes of answers you think the world should hear about, then TDAP might just be for you.

The folks at the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) have something called the Technology Developer Accelerator Programme, which is concentrating on accelerating the development of smart ideas with small and emerging companies.

We love a good idea, particularly automotive-based ideas which reduce CO2, secure or increase UK jobs and generally help the UK to prosper.

This could be anything from the next propulsion method to electrification or even light-weighting. It doesn’t even have to be tailored towards a passenger car; it can be anything that drives on or off-road. If you’ve got an idea that fits, we want to hear from you.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could help you become the next BIG thing? You give us your time and commitment, and we support you with expert resources and around £100k of funding.

Inclusive in the programme funding, we bring independent automotive industry experts to help develop you and your company as a business. If you can take care of the tech, we can help you build your skill set and support you in learning how to sell it to the right people. Together we make a perfect match.

It’s a structured and competitive process but the forms are easy and if you’re successful, you’ll get some cash, and learn to speak ‘automotive’ with confidence.

So get on the Technology Developers Accelerator Programme and help us to save the world. What are you waiting for? You’ve got until the 19th December 2018 to express your interest, so get moving – register here.