Letter bombs (23): Ingenuity
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 30, 2012
READERS e-mailed links to two articles, both of which are Japan-related and are based on the theme of inspiration and ingenuity.
A pair of twins has invented a timesaving device for housewives in rain-prone areas as well as people on the road — a portable electric “fan hanger” that can dry wet clothes efficiently, rain or shine.
Drawing inspiration from a fictional device in the Japanese manga series Doraemon — the title character’s bamboo propeller — Tsai Kai-yu (蔡凱宇) and Tsai Kai-fan (蔡凱帆), both students in creative product design at Far East University in Greater Tainan, came up with the innovation by integrating fan blades with a clothes hanger.
For those not hip to Japanese manga, Doraemon is a robotic cat sent by a boy in the 22nd century to help his great-grandfather, still a boy in the present, prevent future disasters that befall the family. It began as a print comic in 1969 and became a series that eventually reached 45 books by 1996. Two television versions have been created; the first for a single season, and the second for a program that ran for 1,787 episodes from 1979 to 2005. It is as well-known in Japan as Peanuts is in the United States, and it is almost as popular throughout East Asia.
Doraemon has a fourth-dimensional pocket that contains all sorts of gadgets and tools from the future that he uses to solve Nobi Nobita’s contemporary problems. One of the most well-known is a bamboo copter with twin rotors that the cat puts on his head for convenient transport. And now the copter is a portable clothes dryer in Taiwan:
Tsai Kai-fan said the senior students often expressed grievances about how they had to wash and air-dry their clothes in hotel rooms because of event requirements, but still had half damp outfits by checkout time the next morning.
“Then we reached an epiphany after seeing Doraemon’s bamboo propeller, and started to experiment with the device, which can speed up the drying time of wet clothes and is powered either by batteries or electricity,” the pair said.
Experimentation showed that their brainchild could save about two-thirds of the time needed to air-dry clothes, compared with the natural drying method, and is effective regardless of weather conditions, they said.
The pair’s invention has been flown to the US for the 2012 Invention and New Product Exposition, the US’ largest invention show, on behalf of the their university.
Chen Yu-kang (陳玉崗), a professor in the school’s department of innovative design and entrepreneurship management, said that if the electric fan hanger could be mass-produced, its production costs could be greatly reduced.
“Then, with a price tag of about NT$299, the product would stand a big chance of becoming a hit in the market, as well as creating substantial business opportunities,” Chen said.
That’s not as expensive as it sounds — In American dollars it’s the equivalent of a sawbuck.
On the other end of the design sophistication scale is the subject of an article sent by PB in Bradford, England, about the new 4 World Trade Center building in New York designed by Maki and Associates of Tokyo. Traditional Japanese art is known for its understatement, and now that concept has been extended to what will be the sixth-tallest building in the city of skyscrapers when it’s finished next year:
From some angles, at certain times of day, 4 World Trade Center almost disappears from the downtown skyline…To achieve this effect, the Maki firm designed an especially sheer curtain wall over the steel framework. Glass facades often look cheap because developers will pay only for windows so thin that they bow slightly, creating a quilted effect. The thicker the glass, the flatter the plane of the facade. “It’s not absolutely perfect,” Mr. Sassa said candidly about the curtain wall at 4 World Trade Center, “but I think we’ve achieved something of high quality.”
The article content reminds me of one of the reasons I became interested in Japan many years ago:
“We like the idea of the building dematerializing,” said Osamu Sassa, the project architect for the Maki firm. It is headed by Fumihiko Maki, 83, who won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1993, but has been little known in this country until recently. “A lot of inherently good qualities of design take time to appreciate,” Mr. Sassa said. “Subtlety extends one’s appreciation.”
The Japanese architects insisted on a level of detail and near-perfection that frequently perplexed and frustrated their American counterparts.
And a third:
(N)ot all of their many subtle touches were purely in the interest of aesthetic clarity.
For example, deep notches were created in the two broad angles of the tower’s parallelogram shape to help define the edges of the facade. “The added benefit,” Mr. Sassa said with a smile, “was that it increased the number of corner offices.”
If you like the bamboo copter idea but don’t need a portable clothes dryer, you can always get the toy.