MIT Professor Eric von Hippel discusses how Lego accidentally stumbled across the power of open innovation during the 2008 World Innovation Forum hosted by HSM Global.
The world's greatest thought leaders in the field convene at the World Innovation Forum to provide actionable insights into the central issues at the heart of innovation today -- Marketing, Web 2.0, Health Care, Social Media, Design, Technology, Education, Green.
Eric von Hippel
Eric von Hippel is a Professor of Technological Innovation in the MIT Sloan School of Management, and also a Professor in MIT's Engineering Systems Division. He specializes in research related to the nature and economics of distributed and open innovation. He also develops and teaches about practical methods that individuals, open user communities, and firms can apply to improve their product and service development processes.
In technology, an improvement to something already existing. Distinguishing an element of novelty in an invention remains a concern of patent law. The Renaissance was a period of unusual innovation: Leonardo da Vinci produced ingenious designs for submarines, airplanes, and helicopters and drawings of elaborate trains of gears and of the patterns of flow in liquids. Technology provided science with instruments that greatly enhanced its powers, such as Galileo's telescope. New sciences have also contributed to technology, as in the theoretical preparation for the invention of the steam engine. In the 20th century, innovations in semiconductor technology increased the performance and decreased the cost of electronic materials and devices by a factor of a million, an achievement unparalleled in the history of any technology.
Any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not look much like a human being or function in a humanlike manner. The term comes from the play R.U.R. by Karel Capek (1920). Major developments in microelectronics and computer technology since the 1960s have led to significant advances in robotics. Advanced, high-performance robots are used today in automobile manufacturing and aircraft assembly, and electronics firms use robotic devices together with other computerized instruments to sort or test finished products.
Lego's products are wonderful... for kids. But real engineers have a lot better to play with. If someone wants to build really innovative products, they can get the grown-up version of all of this easily from the catalogs of industrial control and automation companies. One could buy any and all of this for years, and much more... and, to be honest, if one wants to build a lego kind of system with professional components, it really doesn't take more than a couple of days to drive a dozen cheap RC servos (of which one can buy hundreds of varieties these days, ranging from ultra-miniature to fairly solid force, torque and power output) with a simple microcontroller for ten dollars. Throw in the development tools for $50 and you are up and running.
The real problem is that having a bunch of servos do the dance does usually not lead to an "innovative" design. It might lead to nice toys (robotic creatures of all sorts) and some eye catching research into autonomous systems, but from there to a real product is a long, hard and expensive way. As an engineer one would wish that Legos could change that... but, sadly, they can't.