Whitewater Innovation (long) - Mountain Buzz

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Old 04-09-2010   #1
Join Date: Feb 2004
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Whitewater Innovation (long)

I recently had opportunity to speak about kayaking at the “MIT Innovation Lab”- which is an academic and industry think-tank and annual seminar series on how innovation happens. Participants include researchers from companies like Google, Ford, General Mills, Siemens, and academics interested in this field from MIT, Harvard, and universities in Copenhagen and Lisbon. Eric Jackson and Corran Addison were also presenters on paddlesport innovation.

MIT innovation lab professor, Eric von Hippel, describes the new wave of innovation this way: “Creating complex products with limited manufacturer involvement is a growing phenomenon! Imagine product development without manufacturers. Today’s user innovation communities are making that idea increasingly real. Open-source software projects, among others, have led to innovation, development and consumption communities run completely by and for users.”

The central idea is that “open-source” design by users is opening entirely new possibilities in traditional manufacturing. You perhaps have heard of examples from the computer world: the internet browser Mozilla Firefox, Ipod Apps, Google Apps, the e-commerce platform osCommerce, and the highly successful GNU/Linux operating system. Ford motor company’s “Sync” dashboard device is enhanced by user innovation.

This kind of "user innovation community" has a great case study in whitewater kayaking! So whitewater boating is a hot topic of interest for researchers and economists. My role was to show excerpts of my film, “The Call of the River,” highlighting the periods of strongest user innovation: wood and skin boats from indigenous cultures, homemade fiberglass boatbuilding of the 60’s and 70’s, and the squirt kayak to rodeo kayak evolution of the 80’s and 90’s.

Curiously, due to the expense of rotomolded plastic manufacturing, one could argue that the user innovation community in whitewater is much smaller now than 30 years ago. But I can think of lots of innovation that still happens: for example moves on the river still are limitless. Communication among boaters is expanding with new internet tools and applications. In addition, people are taking to the river in more unique ways… standing, swimming. What do you think will be the next frontier of kayaking user innovation?

Eric von Hippelelaborates “These user communities have an advantage over the manufacturer-centered development systems that have been the mainstay of commerce. Each using entity, whether an individual or a corporation, is able to create exactly what it wants. It need not rely on a manufacturer to act as its agent. Individual users in a user innovation community do not have to develop everything they need on their own but can benefit from others’ freely shared innovations.”

At the recent MIT Innovation Lab, following the whitewater kayaking case study was an entirely different case study- the 3D Printer community. Imagine a printer not printing from ink, but printing from a glue gun spitting plastic in three dimensions! You don’t need special glasses to see these. They are actual objects, simply formed on the X, Y, AND Z axis from a machine only slightly bigger than the conventional paper printer on your desk. Break a plastic widget that you need? Download the design (free/open source of course) from the internet and print your replacement part! Visit reprap.org or makerbot.com for examples. The idea is commercially available for rapid prototyping for industry- with machines costing upward of $300,000.

But recently, the 3D user community has lowered the cost to just over $150. At the lab, we saw a handful of example products, including a whistle, complete with the ball rattling around inside. These “printing” machines can even fabricate the parts to build a new 3D printer. The field is currently dominated by some pretty nerdy/ brainy users, but one can imagine limitless possibilities once the process becomes a bit more refined. Will our kayaks be built this way someday?

In a curious twist, the first 3D printer reference I ever heard was from Bill Masters- founder of Perception Kayaks. He patented the idea back in 1987, visualizing a spit wad shooter of plastic. This was well before computing muscle had caught up enough to make the process a reality. So far ahead of his time, Bill was not able to commercially capture the potential of the 3D print process. But he proved that kayakers can be formidable innovators. What innovates in your mind?

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Old 04-09-2010   #2
Golden, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Exciting. I like the 3D printer that can make the parts for a 3D printer. Recursion always makes my head spin... in a good way. Here comes The Terminator!
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Old 04-09-2010   #3
Bellevue, Washington
Paddling Since: 1998
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If you're willing to step out of kayaking and expand into catarafting, there is a lot of innovation still going on. Among the top level boaters there is a lot of gear customization, especially in frames. Because it is not hard to get the tools and materials to weld up a steel frame there are many, my dad and me included, who customize things for ourselves. We have seen frame ideas that started as someone's custom idea make it into commercial production. I think that the people who are striving to do new and harder things are forced to innovate, because the products they want are not commercially available, because there is no market for them. If you have enough drive to accomplish something you will be motivated to make what is necessary to make it happen.

On the subject of the 3D printer, If I had this type of device I could prototype some ideas i have about foot grips for frames, or seats for my cat boat. By shortening the time between successive design revisions innovation would accelerate.
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Old 04-14-2010   #4
travelling, around
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Packrafting is going through an innovation phase as individuals take and modify their boats the manufacturers respond to this by making new boats with qualitatively different designs. It appears that it took individual innovation to get the manufacturers moving, however.
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Old 04-14-2010   #5
Palisade, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2006
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one time I innovated a handy little tool. like a handless harmonica holder that goes around your neck, except it holds a beer, and all you have to do is tilt your head back and suck...hands free!

seriously now, how much are cartridges for this 3-d printer? how bout a roto-molded/printed raft? I guess Boulder Boatworks already has their plastic dory...

really seriously now, I wish I had some innovative ideas that I could make mad scrilla off of, but I just don't. not this late at night at least. maybe tomorrow morning I can revisit this thread and add something worthwile, scientific, well thought out...
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Old 04-15-2010   #6
Boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Jun 2007
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I dig it! I keep meaning to get a plastruder (3D print head) for one of the machines here that runs on the same architecture.

I've been developing ideas for outdoor stuff for a long time now, from motorcycle parts to bike lights to the current line of frame fittings- it all started in my basement on a tiny little hobby mill with CNC control- of course, in order to make it a financial reality I did prototyping for the scientific instrumentation company I worked for, which stemmed into other work for other bio-techs, which really has put us where we are now- with a full machine shop!

When I was starting- everyone I talked to was super excited about making the next bike part, or motorcycle part. The trick is it requires CNC machines to these parts, so people with those tools as thinking about those problems. Wander into a bike store and see if you can find ANYTHING (ok- tires excluded) that isn't 'boutique manufactured'.

What I'm finding out is there's a lot of room in boating... the nature of it makes us all think about improvement and see new solutions; from a cleaner way to combine 3 arial moves, to finding a cleaner line, to keeping the seat in a Jackson boat from sliding back or coming up with a new way to stick a frame together.

We can knock some of them out one off with a welder as Alphacyber said, or I can now take an innovation I make for my frames through Solidworks and into the CNC machines and make as many people ask for! I started with one fitting, and now have a half dozen, with more on the way. I keep seeing un-solved problems, and I attribute that to the fact that not many people with these tools are thinking about these problems- Boats are plastic and rubber, frames are welded- not a lot if cnc machining.

Of course, i'm sure the fabric for rafts is cut on cnc fabric cutters, and the roto-molds are made with bigger versions of the machines I have, but I'd bet (and am often wrong, so who knows) that there are very few, if any, boat manufactures that have the capability to do this in house.

The bottom line is with CNC control (ei 3d printer, or cnc routers) getting as cheap as it is, we are in a really cool spot to see a lot of exciting innovation come to life!
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Old 04-26-2010   #7
Breckenridge, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1984
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Makers Unite

Club Workshop in Denver has some wonderful tools, and the kind of outlook expressed in these posts. Check at Welcome to Club Workshop
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Old 04-27-2010   #8
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creaturecraft.com - pretty cool innovation of about a decade ago.
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Old 04-28-2010   #9
Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2007
Join Date: Mar 2007
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now y'all got me thinking about 3d printing....

i'm going to sketch a model kayak today and see about rapid prototyping it... we have one on campus (Mines) that we can use for cheap as students
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Old 04-28-2010   #10
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