Today, InnoCentive and Popular Science are pleased to announce that we’ve joined forces and will be offering our Solvers and Popular Science’s audience of readers a new opportunity to engage in open innovation with the Popular Science Pavilion, to be launched in May of this year. The potential of combining our global network of over 250,000 Solvers and Popular Science’s audience of passionate, creative and curious readers is something we’re very excited about. We asked Jacob Ward, West Coast Bureau Chief of Popular Science magazine and the Bonnier Technology Group, to share his thoughts on what the partnership will mean for Popular Science.
To look back through the archives of Popular Science magazine is to read the history of innovation. Our magazine was founded in 1872. We’ve published writing by Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur and Isaac Asimov. We’ve covered the invention of everything from the telephone to the cell phone.
The common thread among all these stories is that individuals, or small groups, identified new scientific or technical challenges and came up with solutions to them. And to look across the breadth of the challenges we’ve covered, the fact that an individual or single institution managed to solve them is astounding.
In the May 1949 issue of Popular Science, our writers covered the struggle to get out of Earth’s gravitational pull. In the February 1959 issue, we wrote about the challenge of building aluminum car engines that would do away with the heft of iron or steel parts without, well, catching fire. And in the January 1981 issue we covered the attempt to create a single-blade turbine system for windmills—an effort to simplify construction that in the end produced too much noise and not enough power.
All of these projects obeyed what is soon to be an outdated mode of innovation. Each project involved a very narrow and isolated path from challenge to solution: one person bumps into the problem, and he or she develops, alone or with the help of their coworkers or friends, a solution.
But now the rise of technology has allowed us to reinvent that model. Popular Science is now able to actually facilitate—through our new pavilion, powered by InnoCentive and the power of distributed networks—the innovations that drive the future.
Imagine how different the history of innovation might have been if the people identifying the challenges could have posted a public call for solutions. Those rocket scientists who invented the step-rocket system of jettisoned boosters might have put out a call for ideas and pursued another line of thinking. The space program might have gone to the moon via some other form of propulsion entirely. The car companies that struggled mightily and expensively to create a self-cooling aluminum engine could have been saved the engine-fire headaches of the 1970s if they’d been able to ask the thinking public to solve the problem for them. And the wind-turbine industry could have created an inexpensive and enduring prototype for harvesting wind energy as early as 1980, using the designs of some garage tinkerer who’d been toying with windmills on his own.
The Popular Science pavilion will be a place for companies, universities, think-tanks, government agencies and other institutions to put their hardest and most critical problems in front of our enormous audience of amateur inventors, professional researchers and everyday dreamers. We’re confident that adding those readers to InnoCentive’s global Solver community will allow even more problems to be solved. And in the process, Popular Science won’t just be covering another innovation—it will have helped, in some way, to provide it.