If you watch enough Shark Tank you’ll realize that everybody has their own million dollar idea. Most ideas are terrible but people get stuck on them because it’s their baby.
Then there are the people who have awesome ideas, but they know nothing about business so they don’t succeed either. The people who really win big in business know that even the best idea possible is worth very little when poorly executed. What really defines your business is how you carry out your plan.
Ideas without any follow through are worth less than a Zimbabwean dollar.1
Sitting on your couch thinking about stuff is easy, so I find it funny how excessively protective some people are of their ideas. Most people won’t even discuss what letter of the alphabet their million dollar idea’s name starts with unless an NDA is signed in blood beforehand. Of course legal protection has its place but the truth is that sharing your ideas openly can have far more benefits than risks.
The feedback you get from discussing your project openly is much more valuable than the small risk you take of someone stealing it and using it. While ideas are easy to come by, good execution is tough. Turning your idea into a tangible product or service and then selling it on a large scale at a competitive rate while still making a profit takes immense effort. There is a negligible chance that anyone you disclose your idea to will have the skill, time, energy, money, and interest to take full advantage of it and compete with you. Particularly if you have a head start already.
If you choose not to share your idea openly you take a very real risk that you will put effort into something that no one will ever want. The feedback you get in the early stages of your design can be invaluable for shaping your idea before you start dumping too many resources into it.
If you share an idea at the early stage and someone does steal it then you have lost exactly zero dollars and zero cents. Which reminds me, the guy with his face on the US nickel said:
“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his (candle) at mine, receives light without darkening me.”
So with all this talk about disclosing ideas I’d feel like a hypocrite if I didn’t mention what I’m working on right now. You’re currently reading this article via one idea, though I’ve already discussed the plan for EngineerDog before.
At the moment I’m designing a custom universal test machine that I can use for mechanical testing on 3D printed objects. I’ve seen a few other folks perform basic testing before, but their methodology and equipment were questionable at best. If I learned one thing from working at a testing laboratory for a few years, it’s how to test shit correctly. My intention is to determine certain mechanical properties of printed objects that have never been tested before.
Aside from that I’ve made a habit of recording my ideas in the note app on my phone. I do it so often that I end up with pages of shit to sort through later on. Some of these ideas are good, others well… some of them are good anyway. I do little experiments to help me choose which ideas are worth bigger chunks of my time, but even so, it would be impossible to follow through on every passing whim. So I thought why not share those ideas too? Who knows, maybe my silly idea is just a couple tweaks from being your million dollar idea. Here’s a few:
Consumer Grade Automated Assembly System: Consumer grade automated manufacturing is hot right now with the abundance of 3D printers, CNC mills, lathes, laser cutters, egg-bots, and open source software for all of the above. DIY and the maker movement is driving a lot of innovation and it’s awesome to see. So what’s next? I think automated assembly is a plausible possibility.
People are learning to build all kinds of prototyping equipment at home and then they turn around and sell their products on the internet. After a while many of these smart people will want to start working ON their business instead of IN their business. They will need to automate production to be able to keep up with demand or to reduce labor costs. Then all of a sudden we’ll start seeing a market for small scale machines designed and built with off the shelf parts at affordable prices; things like CNC packaging equipment, smart conveyor systems, diy vibrating sorters, bowl feeders & part counters, and robotic arms built for simple repetitive tasks (drilling, gluing, taping, painting, etc). And the best part is that the time is ripe now for developing these machines.
Drink Tracking Coaster/Glass: I’m imagining a device that uses weight or a capacitive liquid level sensor to keep track of how many alcoholic beverages you have consumed. It could come in the form of a coaster or even a beer stein. The drinker would have to press a button to indicate whether they are drinking beer, wine, or hard stuff unless some serious science geeks were to use special sensors to determine the concentration of alcohol in the glass. With all the open source embedded system designs out there now, it wouldn’t be difficult to shove an Arduino and a force sensor into a hockey puck shaped case to test the idea.
Universal Pipe Manifold/Plumbing Kit: Every time I try to get a hydraulic plumbing job done I find that I don’t have all the parts I need and I have to stop work to go on a part run. There are too many different pipe fittings for anyone to consider stocking every variation, but I think it would possible to design a kit or manifold that would effectively give you a coupling ‘from anything to anything’ and get you by in the short term.
Mountable Exercise Device for Office Chairs: Modern technologies have provided us a reprieve from the brutal labor based jobs of our ancestors. Unfortunately, our gadgets have created a new problem for those of us with white collar jobs, who suffer health problems from sitting motionless at work for excessive durations. The http://www.gymygym.com workout chair is a neat solution, but I already have an office chair and for $800 I’d rather take my chances with heart disease. I can’t imagine it would be very difficult to design a set of devices that mounted to a standard office chair that would do the same thing as the gymgym but at a significantly lower price.
Automatic Dryer Duct Heat Diverter: There is no such thing as an energy star clothes dryer because drying clothes is such a perverse use of energy (in the winter). Dryers take warm conditioned air and warm and humidify even more before dumping it outside. There already exists a product that lets you manually switch your dryer to vent inside the house over the winter so you save all that delicious warm air, but it is really inconvenient to use; particularly in the spring and fall seasons when you might be using AC one day and the heater the next.
The wise people of the internet have done many experiments with air to air heat exchangers but they always turn out to have a 20+ year payback period because heat exchangers are so expensive and energy is so cheap. I think the best solution would be to modify one of those manual heat diverters with a cheap micro controller, a couple temperature sensors, and a servo so that it automatically vents to the appropriate place. If you get the parts cheap enough you could get the payback period down to a reasonable couple of years.
Poop Extruding Underwear2: Have you ever taken a poop so impressive that you just HAD to show someone? (link SFW, I swear). Well now with poop extruding underwear you can leave behind a photo-worthy pile of excrement, every time. This device could be made using tight fitting briefs with a shaped hole of plastic in the back side to create amazing shapes.
Imagine the Possibilities…
Vacuum Toy Box: A vacuum cleaner permanently attached to a box specifically for the purpose of cleaning up Lego’s and other small toys/parts, just suck ‘em all up and your done! You could make the whole think look like a cute little elephant or some shit like that.
Flyswatter with Sticky Disposable Face: For a long time there was a 5 inch scorch mark on the wall at my Mom’s house where I killed a spider with a blast of flaming hairspray. I know it sounds like a stupid thing to do in the house but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let that big ass spider out of my sight to disappear somewhere. I hate spiders. I hate squished spider guts. I hate spider anything so burning it seemed like the best thing to do at the time. Anyway I think a flyswatter with a sticky disposable face would have been perfect for this situation. Bonus points if you can remove the sticky face without getting your hands close to the spider and double bonus points if you can flush the disposable face so you don’t have to think about the spider hiding in your trash can.
Dog Mounted Computers & ROV’s (Remotely Operated Vehicle): I’ve seen remotely operated cars, boats, submarines, and air vehicles of all types but I’ve never seen an ROV mounted to a dog. Dogs are already an intelligent all terrain vehicle, why not take advantage of that? It’s not a stretch to imagine training a dog to respond to audio signals emitted from a machine on his back, so what if Fido had a GPS and you could direct him wherever you wanted? You could add a telepresence robot while you’re at it so he can take you with him. For that matter you could add a credit card too so he can pick you up some KFC while he’s out.
We use dogs to assist disabled people but what if you could mount a robot to Fido’s back that could keep a tray perfectly balanced, activate door opers via RFID, or articulate a simple grabbing arm. Use Fido to open the fridge and robot to grab or indicate the thing you want while you sit in bed.
Many assistance dogs have a trained response to help when their owner has a specific problem, like a seizure. It would be easy enough to train a dog to bark in a special way that activates a ‘life alert’ signal on his collar.
Military and police dogs are used for protection, persuit, and bomb detection, how useful might it be to provide these dogs with a strap on remotely operated non-lethal weapon or fire extinguisher?
Automated Insect Farming: As time passes it likely that western society will become more open to the idea of consuming insects for food (entomophagy). The argument for eating bugs is economically, morally, and environmentally sound. The only reason Americans don’t do it already is because bugs are icky. However, if feeding our ever growing population becomes problematic or just too expensive, bugs will be an immediate go-to solution. (Starving people aren’t usually picky eaters.) I for one am open to allowing bugs into my diet under certain conditions.
Having said that you probably think I’m some sort of weirdo but to be clear I’m not interested in eating raw bugs just like I’m not interested in eating raw cows or chickens. When you eat beef it is usually in the form of boneless ground meat patty heavily seasoned and fried beyond all recognition. If you were to put an insect through the same cooking process and serve it up as something that looks and tastes nothing like an animal then the stigma disappears.
As it is there already exists a handful of startup companies in the US developing insect farming and selling protein bars. If you can take it one step further and automate the farming process, then you would have effectively created a little money farm. Insects are small and raising them isn’t that difficult (especially since you don’t have to worry about animal rights activists), so automating something like a cricket farm seems like a plausible project to me. There’s definitely good money to be had in farming, Just no spiders ok?
Multi-Vitamin Suppository3: We all want to get the benefits of taking daily multi-vitamins but some people don’t like to swallow large pills. Perhaps this product is what they are looking for.
Good News, it’s a Suppository
So there you have it, there’s
11 9 good ideas that a skilled engineer could take and run with. So what are you waiting for? Oh yea, doing shit is hard. Thinking about doing shit is easy though, so what kind of million dollar ideas are you thinking about working on?
1.’ Ideas and execution’ image via pickcrew.com. Just crediting the image, I don’t care who they are.
2. My wife- “What possible use could a device like this have…”
Me- “Ruining snapchat and asserting my dominance over strangers in public restrooms.”
3.My wife- “What’s wrong with you Michael, that’s a terrible idea. You’re not going to put this on your blog are you?”
Me- “You sound agitated, did you forget to take your vitamin today?”