Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brainstorming for Toyota

Yesterday I talked about the Toyota "Ideas for Good" contest looking for interesting ways to use their technology and make the world a better place.  All you need are a great idea, a 750-character description, and an optional photo.  But how do you come up with that good idea?

To help with the brainstorming I starting thinking about different ways to look at the problem, and about the different things the judges are looking for.  Maybe these will help you brainstorm some great ideas too!

  • Think Animals, not Humans: All of these technologies are designed to help humans, but instead of keeping the car's interior temperature controlled for human comfort, could this be benefit animals instead? A couple of possible ideas are installing a solar-powered ventilation system on a barn or stable roof to help keep the interior temperature-controlled without outside electricity, or installing it on a train roof instead of a car roof to keep circus animals comfortable when traveling between cities.
  • Help a Group with Special Needs: The goal of the project is to do more than sell cars...Toyota wants to show how they can help make the world a better place.  So while the technologies help a large swath of people would they benefit some people even more, such as those with disabilities?  A few ideas are using the Parking Guidance System to train guide dogs for the blind (who must perform a similar task for their handlers), or using the interactive nature of the Touch Tracer Display to help people with limb muscle problems in rehabilitation therapy re-learn everyday motions (including driving motions).
  • Focus on What the Technology Does, Not How it is Used: The Solar-Powered Ventilation System keeps people cool, but what it actually does is to circulate air without outside electricity.  So think of other places requiring air circulation, such as coal mines removing dangerous methane or landfills removing natural gas (methane again) from the soil.  Also, think of the Touch Tracer technology that can follow small hand movements and display them visually on a separate screen.  This could be a useful analytical tool for studying drunk driving, helping young children learn handwriting, and helping people rehabilitiate their fine muscle control after a disease or an accident.
  • Who Else Uses Similar Technology: If this is an improved technology, think of the original technology and where else it is used.  For example, the Hybrid Synergy drive could be used for other types of engines such as lawn mowers. Although a smaller engine, they can be very wasteful and put our large amounts of both carbon dioxide and noise pollution, and small improvements could make a significant climate impact.  The Hybrid drive could also be placed on subways or trolleys, helping them regenerate power during braking and reducing the need for external power sources.
  • Keep it Fun: The judges are looking at creativity as one of their main criteria, not only for innovation's sake but so Toyota can make their technology exciting in future marketing (remember, it's all business).  So think of the "Fun" aspects of the technology.  For example, instead of studyng football head trauma or automobile accidents, try using the THUMS technology to study riders on roller coasters, or launching into space on a rocket ship.  Both of these involve complex biomechanics but also have a certain excitement the judges and Toyota are looking to promote.
Hopefully this has given you some new ways to look at the problems and inspired some brainstorming of your own.  Feel free to run with these ideas.  Although the contest only allows submissions from individuals working together through this forum can help us all develop, improve, and refine all our exciting ideas.  Just start with a comment below and let the group brainstorm begin!

THUMS: Special Olympics Training Tool, Roller Coaster

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