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.
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.