Do you have an amazing idea for a game-changing invention but have no idea where to begin? Inventing may sound like something that only a select few genius scientists can do, but inventing is for everyone. All you need to do is follow seven simple steps.
The 2021 Spark!Lab Dr. InBae and Mrs. Kyung Joo Yoon Invent It Challenge asks kids in grades K-12 to come up with an invention that makes sports more fun, fair, safe, or accessible for everyone. Over the past decade, we’ve seen amazing entries designed to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters, help elderly people, end world hunger, and help the environment. How can you improve the world of sports? It all starts with one spark: an idea!
Step One: Think It
Think of a problem that you’d like to help solve and begin to imagine your solution. Every invention starts with a problem– what’s yours? Start focusing on your home and community, then see if that problem applies across the country or world, too. How could solving your problem help others improve their lives? Shawn Springs saw a problem in his beloved game of football: players were injuring their heads and getting concussions. He wanted to know if there was a safer way to design a helmet.
To give a silly example, let’s say you love to play fetch with your dog, but wish the ball didn’t get so slimy in his mouth when he brings it back to you. It makes it hard to get a good grip on it and throw it! As you think about your problem, you realize that making it easier to grip a ball might be helpful to a lot of people, not just dog owners.
Step Two: Explore It
Now’s the time to start exploring solutions to your problem! You already know that you want to make it easier to grip a ball when throwing it. Has anyone else ever tried to solve this problem before? What solutions have they come up with? Do you think you could think of anything better or that approaches the issue in a different way? Now is the time to do some research! Read books, magazines, and newspaper articles, search the internet, and interview people who might have experienced the problem you’re trying to solve. Make sure to keep track of your research so you can share what you learned when you complete your Invent It Challenge entry!
Maybe you start off planning to make tennis balls with a more textured surface that’s easier to hold onto, but you realize that this would make it harder for actual tennis players to play their sport. Maybe you look at the idea of creating special wraps for balls that people can use. Oh wait, those could come off in dogs’ mouths and harm them. Finally, you settle on a unique idea nobody’s ever thought of before: sleek gloves with a grippy surface that makes it easier to get a hold of a tennis ball– even if it’s soggy. That will help people who have difficulty using their hands as well as dog owners!
Step Three: Sketch It
Your brilliant invention can’t just live in your head! You need to sketch it out so it’s easier to picture a finished version of the invention. Draw a picture of your special tennis ball grip glove and make sure to label all of the parts. Maybe it’s a cloth glove, pieces of rubber potholders, a pattern made from pinpricks, and super glue to hold it all together. You can use pencil and paper, computer programs, and more. It might be helpful to make multiple sketches of your invention– from the front, back, top, bottom, side, inside and outside– to make it clearer how it works. The more detail you put into your sketch, the clearer it becomes!
Step 4: Create It
Now it’s time to physically create your invention! See, it’s not so intimidating when it’s only Step 4 instead of Step 1, is it? You don’t have to create something totally new from scratch. You already know what you’re working with. The good news to new inventors: you don’t have to create a 100% working prototype for the Invent It Challenge. Create a model with detailed information about what the real version would look like if you don’t have access to all of the resources. Watch your vision come to life as you build your model, showing the size, shape, and form of your invention. Make your first prototype out of simple materials you can find around the house, so that if you make mistakes, you won’t be ruining anything expensive!
Step 5: Try It
This is the moment of truth– time to test out your invention and see how it does! For our ‘tennis ball grip glove’ idea, imagine you’ve grabbed your dog and headed outside to play fetch. Is it really easier to throw the ball? How is the invention’s usefulness, durability, mechanics, and safety? Perhaps you notice that the bits of rubber you glued to the glove start to fall off after repeated throwing, or that the glove you’re using is getting soaked by the dog’s saliva. We’ll keep those problems in mind later.
You can also ask others to test out your invention and see if they get similar results. Does your grandma have arthritis in her hands and struggles to grip a tennis ball? See if she has an easier time gripping it! What about your 3-year-old cousin, whose hands are too small to easily hold a tennis ball? Will a child-size model of your glove work well? Your best friend’s dog slobbers even more than yours. Does the invention still work? Record all of your experiences and your test subjects’. Or, if you don’t have a working prototype, survey members of the community about how they would feel about using your new invention.
Step 6: Tweak It
Now it’s time to improve upon your original model with the experiences or feedback from your ‘test it’ stage. You found that the superglue didn’t hold the rubber to the fabric glove very well and that the fabric glove got slippery. What about using waterproof gloves and your dad’s sewing machine to create version 2.0? Maybe your friend recommended the product come in a variety of sizes and colors, or that you add a velcro strap to stash the tennis ball so the two never get separated in storage. Do these tweaks improve your product? Just add a few last-minute touches before the final stage of the Invent It Challenge!
Step 7: Sell It
You have an amazing invention, but how to convince people that they need it? It’s time to sell it! Create a short commercial, poster, or flier explaining the benefits of your invention. Film yourself playing catch with your dog, show before and after shots of your three-year-old cousin trying to hold the ball, use your art skills to draw an ad, create a commercial from a dog’s point of view, write a song about it… the sky’s the limit! What commercials and ads catch your attention and convince you to buy new products? And remember to give your invention a memorable name! What would you call the tennis ball glove invention? FetchMate? Grip Glove 5000? Slobber Begone? Something better?
We can’t wait to see what you create! Submit your invention to the Challenge website by April 27 for a chance to win a trip to DC and other cool prizes. Happy inventing!