What's a technology library?

Technology libraries can contain samples and information, teaching designers about new state-of-the-art technologies and how they might be able to apply them -- the guys on Discovery's show "Prototype This!" have the use of one.
Copyright Discovery Communications, LLC

Lots of people have been struck with an idea for an awesome new invention that they're just positive everyone will be clamoring for. And what do they do with it? Usually not much. It remains a good (or more likely mediocre -- be honest!) idea that will amount to nothing, or someone else will eventually invent it, leaving the original lackadaisical innovator feeling burned.

But what about people whose jobs depend on their being innovators and cutting-edge designers? The pressure of constantly cooking up daring new designs that stand out on store shelves can be a little daunting, especially when you have an existing mold that's working pretty well. This is where technology libraries can be handy. Full of interesting new materials and technologies, these libraries can expose product designers to possible opportunities for product innovations.


Technology libraries can kick-start innovations by highlighting the latest cutting-edge technologies, along with tried and true ones pulled from other industries, and offering ideas for how they can be integrated into a variety of popular products. For example, let's take a closer look at one recent technological breakthrough that was the result of years of careful study and could have a huge impact on products of the future.

Researchers recently developed an adhesive material modeled on the properties of geckos' feet -- with four times the sticking power of the little lizards' footpads. Nanotechnology enabled them to create an adhesive patch covered with microscopic nanotubes. Those tiny tubes, like the microscopic hairs covering gecko feet, can form weak molecular bonds with pretty much anything you want to stick them to. And also like the fast-moving gecko, the bond is easily broken when you want to get something unstuck.

A Tokay Gecko shows off the adhesive toe-pads that allow it to race around walls and ceilings. Researchers are mimicking this characteristic to develop a useful adhesive.
Dr. Darlyne A. Murawski/National Geographic/Getty Images

Currently, this new technology is still largely in the prototype phase, but the range of applications it could potentially be used for in the future are seemingly endless -- rock climbing sneakers, wrapping paper, presidential campaign bumper stickers, you name it. But how will information about this material get into the hands of people creating those various types of products? A technology library could definitely open that door.

To get an insider's look at the potential of technology libraries -- and possibly consider what one could do for your workplace -- continue to the next page.


The Innovation Center

Inventables' Innovation Center, pictured on the last page as well, is hung with samples of newly-developed materials that could be incorporated into a company's products.
Photo Courtesy of Inventables

To get a better idea of the potential of technology libraries, let's focus in on one company in particular and examine some of its innovative offerings. Founded in 2002, Chicago-based Inventables has been bridging the gap between vendors and product developers in several ways.

The cornerstone of its approach is called the Innovation Center. Pictured above, the Innovation Center lets product designers achieve a hands-on experience with several sample materials and technologies that they could potentially integrate into unique new product designs. Companies can sign up for a subscription and get an Innovation Center of their own. With it, they receive a product handbook and access to an online database, both of which flush out the details of each sample. The samples and information that Inventables highlights receive updates every three months.


So what sorts of samples does the Inventables team of Technology Hunters track down? How about hydrophobic sand that repels water, luminescent nanocrystals that glow like ectoplasm, silver ion antimicrobial agents, waterproof zippers, porous metals, instant snow -- the list goes on and on. They've got some pretty amazing sounding stuff to share that can really get the wheels spinning, but this isn't the limit to how Inventables affects the innovation process of new products.

Beyond the experience of the Innovation Center, the people at Inventables also offer customized research and consulting sessions for client companies. They conceptualize possible applications of the technologies they offer, and companies make use of these samples and accompanying ideas in a number of ways. For example, they might set up a display in a high-traffic area for people to browse through in their spare time, they might hold group-brainstorming sessions with Inventables' samples on-hand to spur ideas or they might hold open houses for their designers to explore the samples and generate ideas for product applications.

This is an example of what a designer would find on Inventables' online database.
Photo Courtesy of Inventables

Several Fortune 500 companies make use of the research done by Inventables and have Innovations Centers in their offices, which shows the potential impact technology libraries can have on the products people buy day-to-day. Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Microsoft, Palm, Mattel, Radio Flyer, Snap-On Tools and Mercedes-Benz are just a few examples of different companies using Innovation Centers.

On the next page, you'll find links to some interesting examples of cutting-edge technology and other innovative ideas.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Climbing The Walls? New Adhesive Mimics Gecko Toe Hairs." ScienceDaily. 1/30/2008. (8/13/2008) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080129201546.htm
  • Dougherty, Elizabeth. "MIT creates gecko-inspired bandage." MIT news. 2/18/2008. (8/13/2008) http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/adhesive-0218.html
  • "Global 500 2008." CNN Money. 7/21/2008. (8/13/2008) http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/global500/2008/full_list/index.html
  • Inventables Corporate Web site. (8/13/2008) http://www.inventables.com/index.asp
  • Kaplan, Zach. Personal Correspondence. (8/13/2008)
  • "Nanotube Adhesive Sticks Better Than A Gecko's Foot." ScienceDaily. 6/20/2007. (8/13/2008) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070619083554.htm
  • Regan, Keith. "Designing products in the economic doldrums." Mass High Tech: The Journal of New England Technology. 5/30/2008. (8/13/2008) http://www.masshightech.com/stories/2008/05/26/focus4- Designing-products-in-the-economic-doldrums.html