Many years ago, I met Ralph Osterhout. We were working on a project to develop an infrared training and aiming device for golf putting. Ralph is an interesting, larger-than-life person. At the time, he had recently transitioned from Tekna, a company he founded to create cutting edge scuba diving gear. When I met Ralph he was at Machina, designing cool products for Sharper Image and he was just starting to design toys. Now, Ralph is using toys to design non-toy products for military, security and communications applications.
Toys have inspired many scientific and technology products. Jeremy Levy, a physicist from the University of Pittsburgh patterned nanoscale transistors after the Etch-A-Sketch. Michelle Khine, a UC Irvine biomedical engineer created micro fluid labs on a chip using Shrinky Dinks as a model. The next time you see a new product, think about a toy that might have inspired its creation.