I’ll Take That Drink To Go!

Inventors draw and sketch as part of their process of working out an idea. Drawing moves the idea from the inventor’s mind to the paper, making it seem more possible. Sketches and drawings can also convince others that something will work—before it is actually built or manufactured. This makes them a particularly important part of the patent application package.

A great example of this critical supporting material is found in the A. Bernie Wood Papers in the Museum’s Archives Center. Arthur Bernie Wood (1921-1986) was an advertising designer, consultant, and inventor actively involved in the development of the restaurant franchise industry in America during the 1960s and 1970s. Particularly notable is his work in creating, promoting, and merchandising the new fast-food corporate image of McDonald’s (read more about Wood in the finding aid to his papers).

In addition to his work for restaurant chains, Wood also held a number of patents, including one for a “Beverage Cup-Holder for Motor-Vehicle Doors” (U.S. Patent 3,128,983). Today we take cup holders in vehicles for granted—I think my minivan has ten cup holders, perhaps more. But this indispensable feature wasn’t common in the early 1960s. Involved as he was in the growing fast-food industry, it might seem obvious that Wood would wonder where drive-thru patrons might put their drinks as they drove off with a sack of burgers and fries. Wood stated in his patent, “Apart from the floor of the vehicle there hardly is a level place where on to set a cup without fear of it being upset.” While other solutions to this problem were already available, Wood believed he could do better.

What makes Wood’s patent interesting to me is not the idea of a cup holder itself, but the amount of archival documentation supporting it. Patent “jackets” are specialized folders that contain standard information such as patent number, actions, references, assignment, application serial number, and fees paid. The jacket also typically contains correspondence with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, foreign patent and trademark offices, the inventor/designer, company attorneys, and other company officials; as well as drawings and photographs. In Wood’s case, the patent jacket contains substantial sketches and prototypes that trace the evolution of his idea for a practical cup holder.

Wood’s sketches and paper prototypes provide insight into his inventive process and help us understand how he worked out his idea. He created numerous paper templates and annotated those with measurements and directions on how to fold and assemble the cup holder. The images seen here include pencil sketches, which were first transformed into paper templates, and then into finished patent drawings. The black-and-white image shows the beverage cup holder in Wood’s car.

 

We don’t know if Wood’s cup holder was ever manufactured or if the patent was licensed. But I feel certain that Wood would have loved my ten cup holder minivan.

Follow A. Bernie Wood’s invention process–from sketch to patent to beverage on the go–below:

Try It: Fresh Paper

Note: “Try It” refers to a step in the invention process – testing your product. This post is not an endorsement of any product.

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw a post about a new product that promised to keep fruits and vegetables fresher longer. Since I do a good part of my food shopping in the summer at farmer’s markets or in the produce section of my local grocery store, I was intrigued.  I love all the fresh produce of summer but I get frustrated when I buy things only to have them go off a few days later. Curious (but skeptical), I clicked on the link and was introduced to Fresh Paper, marketed as “a dryer sheet for produce.” Basically, it’s a small paper towel-like square made of edible, organic, and compostable ingredients that inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi that make produce rot. According to the article I was reading, you simply place fruits and vegetables on or near the square of Fresh Paper and your produce will stay fresh 2-4 times longer.

Kavita Shukla. Image from Cartier Womens Initiative.

I loved the sound of this and decided to do a little more research, not only on the product but about who was behind it. I learned that Fresh Paper was invented by Kavita Shukla, a young woman who first had the idea for her invention when she was a middle school student. She was visiting her grandmother in India and accidentally swallowed some water while brushing her teeth. Concerned that the water would make her sick, her grandmother mixed together a tea with the Indian herb fenugreek. Shukla drank the tea and didn’t get sick, and thinking like a true inventor, began to wonder about what else this traditional spice could be used for.

Skukla in high school. Images from Lemelson-MIT.

Shukla hit upon a possible use when she was grocery shopping with her mother and noticed that nearly every package of strawberries contained a berry or two that was already rotten. Could her grandmother’s herbal mixture help solve this problem? Shukla began working on her idea and in 2002, after a summer as the Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprentice, was awarded patent number 6,372,220 for her “Fenugreek Impregnated Material for the Preservation of Perishable Substances.” (This was actually Shukla’s second patent. Her first, received in 2001, was for a “Smart Lid” which has a built-in device that alerts users when the container is opened or leaking.)

As I learned more about Shukla I was struck by the similarities between her story and that of other inventors the Lemelson Center has studied over the years:

  • She began inventing and exploring the world around her at a young age. She didn’t become an inventor as an adult; she has practiced inventive thinking and ‘doing’ skills throughout her life.
  • The invention wasn’t the result of a single “Eureka” moment. The incident in India inspired her, but it took years of study, experimentation, and scientific understanding to take Fresh Paper from idea to market.
  • There were setbacks along the way. Shukla first wanted to start a non-profit to distribute Fresh Paper but with few resources, it was challenging. It wasn’t until years later that the opportunity to work with a partner came along and she was able to take the idea to market.

My package of Fresh Paper.

Today, through her company Fenugreen, Shukla sells Fresh Paper to individual consumers and at grocery stores and farmer’s markets throughout the U.S. But she is also thinking about how Fresh Paper can be used to keep produce fresh in food banks and how farmers in the developing world might use the product to extend the life of their crops once picked. As much as 25% of the world’s food supply is lost to spoilage, and Shukla hopes to use Fresh Paper to address this problem.

A tomato on Fresh Paper. So far it has lasted a week!

A week ago I received my order of Fresh Paper in the mail. I have been using the sheets with my produce at home and they seem to be working. But more than being satisfied with the product, I am impressed by the young inventor who created it and her vision for using invention to impact and improve the lives of people around the world.

Sivowitch Law of Firsts

Eliot Sivowitch

Elliot Sivowitch in the electricity collections, around 1970. Photo courtesy of Hal Wallace, NMAH.

The invention process is seldom straightforward. People always seem to want to know who invented something first, but we don’t often have such definitive answers. Elliot Sivowitch, one of my very favorite colleagues at the Museum, summed up the messiness of invention in his typically witty “Sivowitch Law of Firsts”:

 

 

Whenever you prove who was first, the harder you look you will find someone else who was more first. And if you persist in your efforts you find that the person whom you thought was first was third. Someone will appear on the scene who was more first than you thought was first in the first place. [1]

With great sadness, we learned today of Elliot’s passing. Hal Wallace, curator of the Museum’s electricity collections, wrote:

Elliot first came to work at the U.S. National Museum in 1959. He left to work at the Library of Congress for a year and returned to the Smithsonian in 1961, retiring in 2000. Elliot spent his career in the Electricity Collections as our expert on radio and television history. Since retirement he had continued in an emeritus capacity, working with researchers, answering public inquiries, and assisting museum staff in identifying and cataloging objects. During his long career he helped move the collections to the new National Museum of History and Technology (now NMAH) and brought in many significant additions of radio and television material. That our radio technology holdings and archives are among the finest in the world is due in no small measure to Elliot’s expertise.

Elliot earned a Master of Arts in history from Syracuse University in 1957 with his thesis, “A History of Radio Spectrum Allocation in the United States: 1912-1926.” He participated in exhibitions both large and small over the years: Information Age, Person To Person, Patent Controversies in the History of Radio, and Transistors at Fifty to name just a few. He influenced the work of a host of fellows and visiting scholars during his five decades of service to the museum. An amateur radio operator (K3RJA), he was instrumental in the establishment of the Smithsonian HAM station, NN3SI. An excellent violinist, Elliot used that talent to give demonstrations of acoustical science to visitors. He was a member of the Audio Engineering Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Elliot’s friendly nature was as welcome as his expertise was invaluable.

I first met Elliot in the 1980s, about a dozen years before I came to the Smithsonian. I was doing research on the early history of television and remember very well how generous he was with his time and knowledge. Over the years, I learned to turn to Elliot not only when I needed help with research, but also when I just needed a good laugh. Elliot had the best giggle on earth—a surprising contrast to his deep radio-announcer’s voice. I already miss that giggle, and the amazing brain and kind soul behind it.

[1] Quoted in Ira Flatow, They All Laughed: From Light Bulbs to Lasers: The Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives (New York: Harper, 1993), p. xv.

Inventing an Exhibition

At the Lemelson Center we often talk about how we need to “live our mission” and “be innovative” in our work. So not only do we study invention and innovation, but also we apply inventive and innovative approaches to our research and outreach activities. We aim to be creative, solve problems, take risks, practice flexibility, share ideas and communicate clearly, be interdisciplinary, and collaborate well, always striving to do things as a team in new and different ways. In the larger educational world these approaches are among the 21st Century Skills being promoted to help today’s youth become the inventors and innovators of tomorrow.

As the project director for the Center’s Places of Invention exhibition, I am struck by how much the exhibition development process uses those invention skills and mirrors the invention process generally. For the Center’s Spark!Lab we have distilled the invention process into a series of phrases, which are featured in our Inventors’ Notebook—Think It, Explore It, Sketch It, Create It, Try It, Tweak It, and Sell It. These also happen to be key steps along the path we are traveling to create the Places of Invention exhibition for 2015.

Developing museum exhibitions is a more time-consuming and complex process than most people would probably think, and the Places of Invention (POI) exhibition certainly has a longer history than most. The moment of conception, at least in terms of Lemelson Center scholarship, really began with our first symposium, “The Inventor and the Innovative Society,” back in 1995. As the Center grew and evolved, we continued to research inventors and innovators, study the invention process, and examine the relevance of place and culture, which led to the 2005 “Cultures of Innovation” conference at the National Museum of American History.

In 2007 the Center hosted the first Lemelson Institute at which “an interdisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners met at the Lemelson Archives on the shore of Lake Tahoe to examine the relationship between physical spaces and creativity. What is it about a particular place that excites a creative mind and makes it a ‘place of invention?’ How do creative people shape the spaces in which they work? What combinations of elements make one place a hotbed of innovation while a similar place may founder? These questions and many more were discussed at the first Lemelson Institute through case studies of creative people, new and existing spaces, and innovative regions.”[i] The resulting Institute report provoked us to decide that the topic could be further explored and creatively disseminated to a wider audience through a family-friendly exhibition in the Lemelson Hall of Invention at NMAH.

In 2009, the Lemelson Center’s POI team, with assistance from grant writer Carol Inman and museum evaluator Randi Korn, developed our initial exhibition concept into a National Science Foundation grant proposal, which was thankfully awarded in September 2010. This funding allowed us to move onward from “Think It” to “Explore It”—we could hire a museum evaluation firm and an exhibition design firm to help us develop our intellectual and historical content into an interactive and hopefully highly engaging physical exhibition. During summer and fall 2011 we worked with Randi Korn and Associates, Inc. to conduct front-end evaluation with museum visitors about the POI exhibition concept and initial content ideas.

Finding, reviewing, selecting, and contracting an exhibition design firm took place over about a six-month period. In March 2012 we officially hired Roto to help us with what the Smithsonian calls the “10% design phase” of an exhibition project. During this stage of the collaborative process, the Lemelson Center/NMAH team and the Roto team are working together closely to develop the exhibition content areas and interactive components, discuss possible objects, images, and tone and voice of the exhibition text, and create floor plan options. These current activities constitute the “Sketch It” and the beginning of the “Create It” steps of the invention path.

When the 10% design phase ends in September 2012, we will be ready and eager to move onward and upward through the “Create It,” “Try It,” and “Tweak It” steps during 2012–2014. We hope you will join us as we travel along this path. When the final product is ready to go on the market, as it were, we certainly hope it will attract and serve a diverse array of excited museum visitors when NMAH’s West Exhibition Wing reopens in 2015. Stay tuned to this blog for more reports on the exhibition invention process between now and then!


[i] Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Places of Invention: The First Lemelson Institute (August 16-18, 2007): p. 2.

The Color of Invention

Mrs. Consumer contemplates a new paint job for the family car. From Motor (Aug. 1926). Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Choosing the right color can be important (just ask Sir Gallahad in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). But just what is color?  On the surface, this seems a simple question. The answer, however, isn’t so obvious. Colors fill the world, yet they aren’t in themselves tangible things that can be held in one’s hand. Colors are imbued with meanings, though they possess no inherent significance. Color, states art historian Manlio Brusatin, is “a perception and elaboration of our brain.”[1] In both the physical and psychological sense, colors are inventions.

How do we study this ethereal thing we call color? What are the major research themes, and how do we ground those in history? These were a few of the questions discussed at a fascinating conference on “Bright Modernity: Color, Commerce, and Consumption in Global Perspective,” organized by Uwe Spiekermann and Regina Lee Blaszczyk and held at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., last week. Dr. Blaszczyk is a longtime friend of the Lemelson Center—she is a former curator at the National Museum of American History, a former Lemelson Center Fellow, and the recipient of a Lemelson Center Travel to Collections Award. She is also a scholar immersed in the study of color; her upcoming book, The Color Revolution, is being published in the Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series with MIT Press and will hit bookstores this fall.

In 1997, the Lemelson Center presented a symposium on "The Colors of Invention." Here participants get a behind-the-scenes look at items from the Museum's textile and costume collections. © 1997 Smithsonian Institution.

The scholars invited to contribute to “Bright Modernity” came from across the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific Rim. Their presentations were equally wide-ranging, spanning 16th-century Venetian textiles to the psychological implications of pink. The conference participants took on the heroic invention story of William Henry Perkin and his creation of aniline purple, popularly known as mauve, as the “first” synthetic dye (experiments with aniline dyes in France predated Perkin’s work, we learned).  They also went beyond the traditional research focus on dyes and the chemistry of color to explore its myriad applications in fashion, art, printing, lighting, architecture, and more.

The General Electric Company facilitated the color revolution with incremental improvements to Mazda-brand light bulbs. Brighter lights made consumers more aware of color in their surroundings. Ladies’ Home Journal (Nov. 1926).

For example, we heard how Michel-Eugene Chevreul , Albert Munsell, Smithsonian ornithologist Robert Ridgway, and board-game maker Milton Bradley all tried to impose order on the world of colors and instruct others in their proper uses. We contemplated the meaning of colors as a kind of shorthand for social, political, or cultural values. We discussed the important role of color mediators—the color forecasters, fashion leaders, and tastemakers who influenced the introduction of new colors into the marketplace. One of the speakers even alluded to the smell of color in a talk about the production of natural indigo in colonial India. I chaired a session that looked at architecture as art and art as mass media, with talks about the application of color to buildings in the German Democratic Republic to reflect the “joyful but disciplined” GDR citizenry, and on Life magazine’s success with issues that disseminated reproductions of famous works of art. Through all of the presentations, the speakers emphasized the importance of supporting their arguments with evidence from archives and museum collections.

“Bright Modernity” was an inspiring example of cross-disciplinary thinking and collaborative exchange. Clearly, everyone involved was intrigued by color, something that is so ubiquitous that we might ignore it, but that still has the power to signify so much, and to have so much agency. For me, though, the one actor missing from many of the discussions was technology, and more specifically, invention. We at the Lemelson Center have seen many instances of the back-and-forth between inventors and consumers, but questions surrounding how and why new colors are created were underexplored at the conference. Still, “Bright Modernity” broke new ground in highlighting the people working between the lab and the marketplace, and in looking at color through the lenses of consumption, media, and culture.

Margaret Hayden Rorke was the most influential "color forecaster" of the 1920s and '30s. She built her fashion career by bringing the feminine viewpoint to the design process. Woman’s Journal (Oct. 1929).

“Color,” wrote Faber Birren, a noted 20th-century color technologist, “is in the blood, an essential part of the psychic make-up of an individual.”[2] We have invented technologies to create, define, and reproduce colors and psychological ways to turn them into symbols. In myriad ways, colors shape our existence. They are malleable mixtures of perception, concepts, data, and creativity, where a single hue can embrace “Mood Indigo” and blue Jell-O. The talented scholars at “Bright Modernity” combined rigorous historical methodology with interdisciplinary themes to unravel some of the mystery of this intriguing concept we call “color.”

 

 

 

 

[1] Manlio Brusatin, “Colours in the Web-age,” in Patrizia Marti, Alessandro Soro, Luciano Gamberini, and Sebastiano Bagnara, eds., Proceedings of the 9th ACM SIGCHI Italian Chapter International Conference on Computer-Human Interaction: Facing Complexity (New York, ACM, 2011), p. 11.

[2] Faber Birren, Selling with Color (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1945), p. 5.

The Inventive Spirit, Alive and Well?

People are naturally curious about the world around them…right?

They like knowing how things work, what makes it tick, and how it could be made better. There are even those brave souls among us who really enjoy the challenge of a taking on a “do-it-yourself” project, or taking things apart.  To them I say, “bless you, for you are truly gifted!”  And, apparently, in good company…

 

Then…

In the early ’90s the Smithsonian partnered with PBS’ Discovery Channel to bring a weekly series on INVENTION into our homes. The series featured then National Museum of American History director Roger Kennedy, who at the beginning of each segment presented viewers with a historical perspective on American invention and innovation through the lens of art, music, aeronautics, physics, politics, and pop culture, to name a few.

In preparing for the shows, Kennedy often worked with a team of curators to review script content for historical accuracy and identify artifacts from the collections to showcase during his monologue segment. He liked the idea of sharing the familiar (pacemaker, light bulb, sewing machine) and not-so familiar (velocipede, toothkey, backscratcher) objects from the collections with the public and believed it was important for viewers to know that inventions of the current day derived from what came before. As one Baltimore Sun reporter wrote at the debut airing of INVENTION, “The series both celebrates and kids us about our almost-religious belief in ‘American know-how.’ ‘Invention’ is one of those smart shows that can make us smarter about ourselves and our history.”

The Smithsonian hosted the INVENTION series for about five consecutive seasons; I believe at the time it was the only show of its kind. Coincidentally, right around the time the show was ending, the creation of a new Smithsonian endeavor was on the horizon—in 1994, the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation was established at the National Museum of American History.

Now…

Fast forward some twenty years later and once again we see American ingenuity and that “can-do” attitude brought to us front and center in a host of reality TV shows, on not one, but several cable and public television networks. I think the line-up has been pretty impressive—shows like American Inventor, a reality television series based on a competition to be named America’s best inventor; Everyday Edisons, ordinary people with simple solutions for everyday problems; Invention Hunters, two “invention seekers,” hunting high and low across America in search of the next great food invention, and Invention USA, in search of the next breakthrough invention. Every idea has the potential to change someone’s life… or even the world.

I think when you can capture the attention of a 12, 14 and 16 year-old (as is the case in my household), who seem to pay attention to nothing more than sports and social networking, but will make a point of dedicating at least ten minutes of their busy schedules to catching an episode or two of any one of these invention reality shows, then I believe you’ve clearly got something good going here.

What’s the appeal I ask? The draw for the young people in my life seems to be the shows’ common purpose—connecting inventors with investors. In the words of my niece, “I like it when their inventions get selected, because it means someone else believes in their dream too.” They also seem to like the product testing, in particularly my nephews, who are often the ones talking at the TV saying, “why did you build it that way” and “they should of used duct tape”.  (Future inventors, hmmm?)

So I ask you, do you believe American ingenuity still exists?

Well, if the host of invention-themed shows on cable and public television networks over the past five years are any indication, then I think by all accounts the inventive spirit truly is alive and well.

Re-Discovering the Lost Art of Tinkering

My wife Emma took this picture of her broken dresser with the missing middle drawer.  It’s a scornful reminder of my mechanical ineptitude.

An un-repaired dresser with missing drawer. It mocks me. (Photo courtesy of Emma Hintz)

One day last year, the middle drawer started sticking.  I attempted to fix it, but it was a bad scene – mangled metal tracking and ball bearings rolling all over the floor.  Emma quickly sized up my limited abilities and put the broken drawer out on the curb on garbage day – it would end up in a landfill.  Eventually, Emma will lose patience with this two-drawer dresser and it will get discarded too.

Maybe it’s a cliché that a bookish historian like me is not so mechanically inclined.  But this episode got me thinking about the lost art of tinkering, sustainability, and what it might mean for future generations of inventors.

The history of invention is filled with stories of young inventors honing their mechanical abilities by fixing broken stuff.  For example, as a young girl, toy inventor and GirlTech CEO Janese Swanson learned to repair her family’s broken appliances because they lived on a tight budget.  She discovered that tinkering was fun – she later took apart an old mechanical typewriter and re-arranged the keys so she could type in her own secret code!  This kind of tinkering is basic training for inventors.  Through tinkering, budding inventors come to understand the properties of motors, gears, and electrical circuits.  They sharpen their manual dexterity and what Eugene Ferguson has called the “mind’s eye” – the ability to envision various technical configurations in the inventor’s imagination prior to actually building them.

We used to be a nation of tinkerers – just ask two of our former Lemelson Center Fellows.  As Kathy Franz has observed, tinkerers reinvented the early automobile, developing new accessories to customize their famously standardized and mass-produced Ford Model T’s.  Similarly, Kristen Haring, has described the fraternal technical community that coalesced around tinkering HAM radio operators between the 1930s and 1970s.  In both of these examples, tinkering was more than just a technical matter.  It was a hobby, a means of self-expression, and the genesis of new social communities.  Tinkering was not just practical – it was pleasurable.

Since then, it has become more difficult for the average person to be a successful tinkerer.  This isn’t entirely our fault.  In the 1920s, Ford’s competitor, General Motors, famously adopted a strategy of planned obsolescence, in which the firm introduced the now familiar “annual model change.”  Thus, instead of tinkering and fixing up your old car, consumers were enticed to trade up and buy a new car.  This strategy now permeates the world of personal computers, software, and consumer electronics.  If a laptop computer or cell phone lasts more than 5 or 6 years, it’s a dinosaur.  And good luck trying to get Microsoft to support Windows XP or any operating system more than one or two generations old.  As our technologies have become more complex while changing more rapidly, they have also become more disposable.  As a consequence, many of us never learned the importance of tinkering (see Hintz, chest of drawers).

This does not bode well for our economy or the sustainability of our planet.  If changes in our patterns of consumption have discouraged tinkering, then we are denying future inventors both the opportunity and the raw materials for their hands-on training.  Plus, when people like me do not repair their broken things, they end up in landfills while straining our supply of natural resources to produce their replacements.  It’s something of a Catch-22.  Our policymakers encourage investments in research and innovation to help us dig out of a looming environmental crisis.  And yet, that quest for relentless innovation, the drive for more and more new things, discourages the very culture of tinkering that would train the next generation of inventors who will be expected to invent us out of trouble.

Fortunately, our society is rediscovering the lost art of tinkering.  In our current era of fiscal austerity and environmental awareness, consumers are now more inclined to fix their broken things, rather than buying replacements.  A series of grassroots “fixer collectives” have sprung up all over the world; for example, in Amsterdam, the Dutch government has underwritten bi-monthly “Repair Cafés” where the mechanically challenged can have their appliances repaired free-of-charge by volunteer tinkerers who just like to fix things.  Web-based businesses like RepairClinic.com now stockpile and sell discontinued appliance parts and provide troubleshooting guides to help DIYers fix their household items.  And a half dozen Tech Shop franchises have sprung up in major cities, in which aspiring inventors can pay a monthly membership fee to tinker with the shop’s tools and equipment.  Meanwhile, in the realm of sustainability, the ethos of tinkering is gaining wider cultural traction, as the traditional three Rs have been supplemented by a fourth (Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-REPAIR).  There’s even a children’s song about it.

Kids and families are encouraged to tinker in Spark!Lab. (Photo by Kate Wiley)

Here at the Lemelson Center, we try to foster this attitude among our visitors, especially in Spark!Lab.  We want our visitors to get their hands dirty, to try things, to break something and re-build it, to experience the pleasures of tinkering.  In our own way, by providing an environment where tinkering can flourish, we are helping build a nation of future inventors.

 

But these lessons are obviously lost on me.  Just ask my wife, whose clothes are in a pile on the floor.

Creative Financing

In light of economic challenges across the country and in my own community, I find myself drawn to news about ways to finance small business ideas and entrepreneurial ventures. In the latest edition of Technology Review, Kickstarter, a fascinating internet platform for financing startup projects, is highlighted as one of the 10 most important technological milestones reached in the past year. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website that allows the public to pledge funding for a variety of creative startup projects. If a particular hosted project reaches its target fundraising goal in pledges, the project is funded and the donors receive a variety of products and perks in return. A similar site is TechMoola.com, whose latest highlighted project is a low-cost cervical cancer test for women.

These funding platforms are captivating because they allow entrepreneurs to tap into a new market of supporters and engage them in new ways. While these opportunities for startups are indeed exciting, they are not without critics. Many have voiced concern that this concept of publicly financing projects will attract crooks and scam artists. There are also concerns about data breaches on these sites. Just last month, a data breach at Kickstarter.com exposed info on about 70,000 projects before they were ready for release. As these sites and many others attempt to navigate through both the risks and benefits of crowdfunding, we can only hope that the outcome is an explosion of new ideas, new technologies, and greater interaction between innovators and the public they look to serve.

Have you ever supported a crowdfunded project or tried to have a project funded in this way, through Kickstarter or any other venue? Share your story in the comments!