Motivations for Invention

Tom Zimmerman , IBM Almaden Research

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University November 7, 2003

It is often said that "Necessity is the Mother of Invention". However for me Fantasy is a more fertile parent for innovation. I have spent the past 25+ years hooking people to machines, exploring the interaction of bits and flesh, brains and computation, sensation and experience, entertainment and education. Beyond describing the highlights of my inventions I would like to examine the motivation behind them. I shall discuss the essential archetypes required for successfully deploying ideas (Designer, Engineer, and Entrepreneur), motivation (fun, easy, makes money), criteria for museum exhibits (practical, fun to look at, interactive), and sources of inspiration for teaching science (principles, phenomena, and raw material).

Thomas G. Zimmerman is an inventor and educator, exploring the frontiers of human-computer interaction at the IBM Almaden Research Center. His 15 patents cover position tracking, user input, wireless communication, music training, biometrics and encryption. His Data Glove invention established the field of Virtual Reality, selling over one million units. His electric field PAN invention sends data through the human body, exchanging electronic business cards with a handshake, and prevents air bags from injuring children in the Honda Accord. His New Zealand airport deployment of 802.11b WLAN equipped PDAs enabled passengers to self check-in and board. Mr. Zimmerman promotes science literacy with appearances on Discovery TV Canada and interactive exhibits installed at the Exploratorium, National Geographic Society and Great Lakes Science Center. He received his B.S. in Humanities and Engineering and M.S. in Media Science from MIT.


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