History shapes the future in the Inspec Archive

The Inspec Archive (Science Abstracts 1898-1968) contains a wealth of information describing the origins and development of scientific and technological breakthroughs that offer solutions to today's problems. 

Frugal innovation

The rise of frugal innovation that has seen the introduction of the nano: a £1400 car produced by Tata Motors, a water filter that uses waste rice husks, a clay-solar refrigerator, a micro windmill mobile charger and many other products and methods. These innovations are yielding simpler, lower-cost solutions that aim to avoid adding ever more functionality to provide low cost products and services focussed on performing a specific task.

This reverse, or constraint based innovation requires a back to basics approach to provide simple effective solutions. The Inspec archive (science abstracts) that contains over 873,700 records dating from 1898-1968 is the perfect place to rediscover sleeping beauty innovations. Forgotten works that were never developed currently lying idle in the archives may offer an old simple solution to a modern problem. For as long as a problem exists a neat simplistic solution is timeless.

As modern problems present themselves an old solution can prove to be the way forward.

The following examples highlight some recent developments that are employing historic ideas:

Energy harvesting

Interest in energy harvesting is an idea that arguably dates back to the waterwheel. Scientists and engineers driven by the need for lower carbon footprints are rethinking the possibilities for salvaging wasted energy such as the heat loss from buildings, the movement of the human body or the vibration of a machine. Harvesting also enables devices such as sensors that are free from batteries, and therefore maintenance free, to be placed in remote or hard to reach places for remote sensing and implantable medical device applications.  

Search the Inspec Archive to gain knowledge of a vast range of energy harvesting methods and technologies. Find papers describing piezoelectric materials and devices that are powering today’s sensors and portable electronics.

The Archive also contains a wealth of material describing thermoelectric materials and generators that are currently being researched to turn the vast amount of waste heat emitted from our power stations and industrial facilities into useable power.

Thermoelectric technology is also being explored by vehicle manufactures to power internal systems, such as the air conditioning and power steering in place of traditional systems that reduce the fuel economy.   

Fuel cells

A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts a source of fuel into electrical power. Unlike a battery the chemicals inside a fuel cell are constantly replaced so it can continue to operate for as long as a source of fuel is available. There are many different types available, and with the only by-products being heat and water they are currently gaining a lot of attention as a zero emission power source. 

The first fuel cell was demonstrated by Welsh scientist and barrister Sir William Robert Grove in 1839.  The Inspec Archive contains records describing the early work (Accession No.: 1901A00670, 1907A00546, 1914A00365) and particularly the period from the late 1940s and throughout the 1960s (Accession No.: 1960B02210, 1962B09216, 1965B02490) when a renewed interest in fuel cell technology was sparked by the Gemini and Apollo space missions.

Wireless power transfer

Wireless power transfer of electricity without the need for power cables is gaining recent attention as a solution for powering mobile devices and appliances in the home and office. Various different methods of wirelessly transmitting power have been investigated throughout history. The most notable early breakthroughs were made by the Nineteenth-century physicist and engineer Nikola Tesla.

In 2008 Intel reproduced Nikola Tesla's original 1894 implementation and Prof. John Boys group's 1988 follow-up experiments by wirelessly powering a nearby light bulb with an efficiency of 75%.

The Inspec Archive contains many records describing the origins and development of this technology (Accession No.: 1923B01093, 1924B00197, 1966B18039).

Regenerative braking

The regenerative brake allows energy recovery within a vehicle that is lost during braking by converting its kinetic energy into electrical or mechanical energy that can be reused.

The regenerative brake for electric locomotives was adopted in the 1930s and in modern times has found application in electric vehicles, where over 70% the electrical energy used during acceleration can be recouped, and in conventional internal combustion engine vehicles that use a flywheel or compressed air to store mechanical energy for subsequent acceleration. 

The Inspec Archive contains records describing the early implementations of regenerative braking technology applied to road/rail vehicles and machinery. (Accession No.: 1908B00798, 1919B00757, 1925B00072, 1925B01154, 1943B01879 & 1965B03673).