Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Design Innovation...

In this blog article I talked about design innovation in elevator technology. I have been to the Marquis several times in the past year, and am yet to see any marked improvement in the travel times. I think this technology is useful in office buildings with heavy traffic at peak times. Since Marquis is a hotel, I never found peak traffic necessitating the new logic. I always had to wait through at least two cars before my 'designated' car arrived. It is a pleasant departure from the usual elevator technology, but needs to be wetted out in other usecases before implementing it.

Another design innovation I recently stumbled upon is in the field of timepieces. We are all familiar with the mechanical (with the escapement and all) as well as the quartz watch movements, and of course, the digital watches with their digital number readouts. Apart from going crazy with LEDs and Barcodes (which Tokyo Flash does), how would you innovate on the display of a timepiece?

Urwerk takes the cake in creating a watch that combines both the traditional analog display (hour/min hands) with numbers, and coming up with an extremely complicated watch. The main goal in creating a timepiece is to minimize the number of moving elements, while increasing the accuracy of the instrument. Urwerk has succeeded in increasing the number of moving elements, and adding to the complexity of the design which trying to create a piece that watch aficionados drool over.

UR-202 is an automatic self-winding watch that uses the classic ratchet mechanism to wind itself. Where it is different is the way it uses pneumatics to control the swing of the rotor (see animation video to learn how). The other area where it is different is in its unconventional display. Even though, at first glance, it looks alien, the display is quite simple albeit the complex mechanism (with cams and all) to make it happen. The biggest disadvantage of this display is that you need to be able to read the number to tell time. In conventional watches, the location of the hour/min hand itself is sufficient to tell time. In the UR-202, the hand position alone doesn't tell time since there are three hour hands (with four faces each)! Go figure... Of course, this means the UR-202 can never be a timepiece for the blind.

All in all, the watch is a genius mechanical marvel (an expensive one, at over $100k) worthy of sitting in a museum. This is a classic example of design innovation for the sake of design innovation. This watch does not address or solve any of the problems faced by the classic timepiece, nor does it make it simpler.