User-Driven Innovation: What it Means and Why it Works

User-driven innovation is a very interesting emerging phenomenon, one that is explored thoroughly in Eric von Hippel’s illuminating book, Democratizing Innovation. Von Hippel is a Professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and has been involved in the research and theory of user-driven innovation for about two decades now. In his book, he casts light on several aspects of user-generated innovation, from the reasons why users are driven to innovate, how they go about doing so (both independently and collaboratively), how these innovations are shared and disseminated, and how manufacturers can benefit from user-generated innovations. Here are short summaries of some of these ideas:

Why do users innovate?
The short answer is that users (here referring both to individual users as well as user firms) innovate because most products and services available in the commercial market only partially meet their needs. These mass-produced items and services are generally made by manufacturers who attempt to design for the largest possible segment of the market, which often means that users’ needs are only partially met. This induces them to make modifications that transform the product or service to better serve their needs.

Another big reason why users innovate is because they tend to enjoy the process of innovation. Von Hippel illustrates this with the example of people who like crossword puzzles. Most people who like solving the daily or weekly puzzle would emphatically resist being shown the answer key; it is the process of solving the puzzle that makes the experience an enjoyable one, not just having the answers. This is especially the case when the user is passionate about a certain activity. For example, surgeons regularly produce innovative new instruments based on their experience and knowledge, and snowboarding enthusiasts have come up with numerous modifications and innovative designs that are suited to their specific needs.
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Recycle Plastic Bottles, Use as Lightbulbs

Via Fast Company: Students at MIT, in an effort to design lighting solutions for homes not connected to the grid, developed this brilliant new “lightbulb,” made only of a used plastic bottle, water and bleach.

The simple technology can be installed in less than an hour, lasts for five years, and is equivalent to a 60-watt bulb. It works simply: The water defracts the light, letting it spread throughout the house instead of focusing on one point. The bleach keeps the water clear and microbe-free.

Watch the video on how this works here

Read more:The World’s Cheapest Lightbulb Is Made Of Just A Plastic Bottle

India’s Top Innovators Under 35

Technology Review released the 2011 awards for India’s top innovators under 35 years of age. Ajit Narayanan, winner of the “Innovator of the Year” award, created a voice device for people with speech disabilities, while Alefia Merchant, winner of the “Humanitarian of the Year” award, created a new method for screening for eye disease in children. Read about these and 16 other innovations by young Indians.

Since 1999, the editors of Technology Review have honored the young innovators whose inventions and research we find most exciting; today that collection is the TR35, a list of technologists and scientists, all under the age of 35. In 2010, we announced the India TR35 list that recognizes the outstanding innovators under the age of 35 for their continuing work in India that has the highest impact locally and globally. Here we highlight innovators in India whose work–spanning medicine, computing, communications, electronics, nanotechnology, and more–is changing our world.

India’s 2011 TR35: Top Innovators Under 35

Solar-Charged Fuel May Mean the End of Batteries

Researchers at MIT have discovered a new fuel that can store solar energy as heat. While they are yet to develop an efficient process to convert the heat to electricity, the scientists predict that these solar-fueled nanotubes could outdo lithium batteries in energy production.

When a photoactive molecule absorbs sunlight, it undergoes a conformational change, moving from the ground energy state into a higher energy state. The higher energy state is metastable (stable for the moment, but highly susceptible to energy loss), so a trigger—voltage, heat, light, etc.—will cause the molecule to fall back to the ground state. The energy difference between the higher energy state and the ground state (termed ΔH) is then discharged. A useful photoactive molecule will be able to go through numerous cycles of charging and discharging.

Kolpak and Grossman managed to find the right balance between ΔH and activation energy when they examined computational models of azobenzene (azo) bound to carbon nanotubes (CNT) in azo/CNT nanostructures. According to their calculations, placing azobenzene on carbon nanotubes will stabilize both the ground and higher energy states.

Read More: New fuel discovered that reversibly stores solar energy