This Guy Turns Kids’ Fanciful Inventions Into Real Products

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Most people who spend time creating cool stuff call themselves designers, developers, or maybe makers. But Dominic Wilcox, who imagines things like robotic cereal spoons and driverless stained glass vehicles, identifies as an inventor. In his mind, inventors generate kooky ideas. Designers make them a reality.

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Most people who spend time creating cool stuff call themselves designers, developers, or maybe makers. But Dominic Wilcox, who imagines things like robotic cereal spoons and driverless stained glass vehicles, identifies as an inventor. In his mind, inventors generate kooky ideas. Designers make them a reality.

Wilcox got his start in the invention game while attending college in his hometown of Sunderland, in the U.K. It was there that a mentor showed him a book of inventions “with a twist,” which is to say there was something strange about each of them. Wilcox can’t remember the book’s title, but it inspired him to start cooking up his own unusual ideas. He’s been at it ever since.

Now Wilcox, who lives in London, is determined to inspire inventiveness in a new generation of kids. His latest project, Inventors!, started as a series of workshops last fall in Sunderland. At each of the 19 workshops, Wilcox showed children some of his inventions—like his GPS-enabled leather shoes—and invited them to draw and submit ideas of their own. Of the 600 drawings he received, he chose 60 to pass on to local designers, who transformed the sketches into real, and occasionally functional, objects.

Wilcox structured the workshops to put kids into an imaginative state of mind. “I tried to get [the kids] to think about problems,” he says. “Maybe they have problems, or they know someone with a problem, like maybe their grandad might have a hard time getting out of his seat.” After that, Wilcox says the classes were pretty freewheeling. He encouraged kids to add arrows and instructions to their sketches, and to think about who their typical user might be, “just to try and eke out as much material as possible,” and improve the odds of an idea becoming a reality. Wilcox paired the 60 selected designs with his small network of Sunderland designers—including a maker organization called Fab Lab, and local university’s advanced automotive center—and let them get to it. The makers met with the kid inventors, and treated them like clients.

Inventors! does not demand that a child’s idea be practical, which is why you’ll see an umbrella for ladybugs, a lunch bag with a timer that tells you when it’s time to eat, and a tennis ball you can program to fly faster. The “Liftolater” is particularly ambitious; the Jetsonian biodome connects via a chute to an underground bunker. “If you want to get away from war,” the Jetsonian’s description reads, “simply get this.” That’s not to say the inventions are all fanciful—the Pringles Hook, designed to help retrieve the bottommost chips in a tall Pringles can, seems rather useful.

Inventors! is clearly a no-wrong-answers kind of program, but Wilcox also sees it as a chance for kids to explore new levels of creativity. A lot of kids, he says, start with similar ideas—a robot that cleans their room, a pen that does their homework; but giving their imaginations room to breath, and taking their imaginations seriously, he says, clears the path to the really eccentric stuff. And that, he says, is the real goal. “Can we make a tennis ball you can adjust the speed of? Potentially yes, in the future,” he says. “I think it’s important to show ideas that are beyond the horizon of what we currently understand. We’ll get there eventually, and these children will be alive when we do.”


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