One of the pleasures of my job at the Yukon Technology Innovation Centre comes from what happens when I tell people what I do for a living – giving financial and other assistance to people who have inventive technology ideas.
At least 10 times a month, I think, I hear somebody say, “You know, I have always had this idea for an inventionÃ‰.”
Some of those ideas, of course, are impractical, and some are not commercially viable, but an impressive number of them actually have some promise, and get me thinking about interesting problems.
A recent case in point was a conversation with my friendly morning bus driver.
Having known me for several years, this woman was already aware of what my day job was, and this occasioned her to talk about an idea she had for an electrical device – a device she could envisage, but admitted she did not have the engineering background to actually create.
What she had in mind was a safety device for older people, or people with attention disorders, that would prevent stove-top fires from occurring in their kitchens.
It could take the form of some kind of device that could be attached to their pots and pans, so that, if they remained hot for an unreasonable amount of time, or became unreasonably hot, the attached device could turn off the fuse that ran the heating range.
I had never heard of such an idea, but it sounded sensible to me, though I immediately wondered about how this “attachment” to a pot or pan would work.
More than a decade ago, my mother was a resident in Greenwood Place, on Lambert Street.
Suffering from an illness that made her distracted, and also from a longstanding fear of house fires, she never cooked in that place.
She lived mostly, and unhealthily, on sandwiches, which were easy to make, and did not involve using a stove.
That was one reason my bus driver’s suggestion struck a nerve with me.
My coffee-break activity for that day, then, was a search on Google and on the United States Patent Office database about devices that would help people prone to stove-top fires.
Surprisingly, there were very few entries.
What I found was one American product (which is about putting out stove-top grease fires, not preventing such fires), and one Canadian product, which seemed to be more in line with what my bus driver friend had in mind – a device called the Stove Guard, at www.stoveguard.ca.
Let me make it clear that what follows is by no means an endorsement of this product, which I know only from what I have read on its website.
I have no idea how well the product works, only that it uses long-established technologies in interesting ways to address a common problem.
I talk about it here because it has some interesting features, some interesting market potential, and represents a good example of how to create useful, innovative products.
Basically, the Stove Guard system uses two inventions – a power-timer switch for stove tops, and a motion sensor – to make sure a stove range is not left unattended for a dangerous amount of time.
On a basic, conventional stove, the setup is pretty strait forward. You pull the stove out and insert the Stove Guard’s plug into the stove’s four-hole socket in the wall, then plug the stove into that plug-in.
A sensor wire connects from that plug-in to a motion sensor device, which you then mount onto a nearby wall or under a cupboard.
The motion sensor tracks activity in the vicinity of the stove when the power is on.
If it senses no activity, after a pre-established amount of time, it begins a countdown of a few minutes, then interrupts the current on the stove and shuts it down.
(It is important to note that the system is smart enough that it shuts down only controls the 240-volt power to the stove, not the 120-volt power, so your stove light and digital clock will not be powered down, just the ranges and the oven.)
There is another version of the device that works on electric cook tops as well, but that one requires special work on the part of a certified electrician.
Both versions of the device are priced at $359.95, plus a $20 shipping fee.
As I said, I cannot vouch for how well the system works, and I would certainly recommend doing some further product research before making a purchase decision on it, but the basic idea of this product looks to be pretty sound, and the price pretty reasonable.
It’s usefulness to people with attention or memory difficulties is obvious, but its value in other areas is of interest, too.
I talked, for instance, with the manager of a local hotel, which features some suites with kitchenettes.
The presence of stoves in those rooms means extra insurance costs, which might be ameliorated by installing Stove Guard technology.
What impresses me about the product, from a professional point of view, is that it does what most really useful inventions do: It takes two pre-existing, proven technologies and combines them in an innovative way to solve a genuine problem.
Now, if only somebody would come up with a similar device that would solve my addle-headed problem of never remembering if I turned off my clothes iron.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.