Wade Sun is the inventor of the Disc Eraser™. I have been reading his comments here at AmericanInventorSpot.com for some time and I thought he had some great advice to share with fellow inventors. So I contacted him about two weeks ago to see if he would be interested in being a guest blogger and writing an article to share what he had learned going through the invention process. Luckily, he said yes.
When we discussed ideas for article topic, he suggested an article illustrating how he brings his invention to a finished prototype with a plastics molding kit and a little creativity. He could use it as a vehicle to share his 13 rules of invention success. Well, Wade has really done a remarkable job with the article I asked him to write. In fact, he provided so much information, that it could not be shared easily in one article. So here is Part 1 of a 4 part series on his 13 Rules of Invention Success:
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On TV, cool! But where’s my name, and my 60 seconds?
One common struggle that many inventors have is building a working prototype. Unless you are very crafty, or have access to a fabrication shop, it seems impossible to actually build a working prototype yourself. You may hire professionals or students to do it, but most of the fun and learning comes when you build your own prototype. You will also encounter and solve a lot of problems up front, which can be costly mistakes when it gets manufactured later on. I will share my journey of taking a patentable idea from my head (the intangible “invention”) and turning it into a finished prototype by testing and plastic casting at home.
For many small to medium sized inventions, plastic is the preferred material in terms of functionality and durability. If you need a unique plastic part for your invention, you can probably learn to make one yourself by following my example. I discovered how to shape and form the parts that I needed by using a plastic molding kit, which is available in specialty plastics crafts shops. I used Quik Cast, a 2-part liquid that mixes and hardens in a couple hours and cures overnight. And TAP Silicon RTV mold compound, which you design a mold to cast your custom plastic parts in. Background(the discovery):
I have always been a computer guru and like to record data and back up documents and files onto recordable CD-Rs. I’ve burned hundreds of CD-Rs and DVDs, storing all kinds of files (music, doc, jpg, video, xls, tax, etc.) on the discs. As time passes, I no longer need them, but can’t throw them out because they contain personal information. My old discs pile up and I need a way to securely dispose of them, but don’t want to pay $150 for a CD shredder. The problem is universal. At my workplace, people also store company information/archives onto CD-R and then break them by hand when no longer needed. I’ve seen and tried this also, and it’s difficult, dangerous, and messy to do.
RULE #1 INVENT FOR THE MARKETPLACE.
After doing some deeper research, I determined that there must be a safer/better solution to dispose of unwanted CDs. The issue of data security will only escalate as the internet and IT age continues to expand, so this has great future demand. You see that prices of CD/DVD burners and spindles of blank media dropping all the time; they are becoming very popular. When you see a trend, that usually means opportunity! Future vision!
RULE #2: BE AN EXPERT IN YOUR FIELD OF INVENTION
For example, during my AI audition, Doug Hall claimed to be an “expert” in this field and was the only judge that voted against me. His last reason, among many, was: “CDs and DVDs will soon become old technology and obsolete. Hard drives are the new technology!” In reality, the exact opposite is true. I worked 7+ years for a Hard Drive company and things are rapidly going downhill in that industry (I was laid off in 2004). Optical disc and flash memory technology are going to replace hard drive technology because of reliability and manufacturing cost/capabilities.
You will surely encounter people who challenge your invention, so you better be able to back it up! There are many Doug Halls in this world. Now, let’s get back to my discovery. I had borrowed a CD from the library that was scratched & skipping. So I decided to “polish out” the scratch by using household toothpaste. After doing that, the CD did not play at all! I was puzzled and bought a Skip Dr, a motorized re-surfacing device, to fix the CD. By using it, I realized that even the fine grains in the toothpaste would cause interference with the laser pickup from the CD. That is why I ‘ruined’ the CD by polishing it with toothpaste instead of restoring it. I did further research and found out that the polishing apparatus removes only 1/1000 of an inch in order to resurface the CD! That is pretty thin, much thinner than I had expected, and evidently finer than the polishing grains inside toothpaste! I had scratched the surface with my toothpaste, and actually many iterations of the Skip Dr were required to restore the CD surface to make it readable. On the box, it said that Skip Dr was unable to restore scratches off the foil layer (the actual data is physically missing) or deep scratches on the clear underside of the CD.
RULE #3 BE OBSERVANT.
After some thought, I tinkered with the idea of scarifying the CD surface to make it unreadable. I made deep cuts with a blade and tested to see if a CD could be read, experimenting with different patterns and locations of my cuts. I knew I was onto something, so I recorded my progress and drew sketches inside my inventor’s notebook.
RULE #4 BE THOROUGH.
Some CD-Rs would flake metallic particles when I cut the foil layer. I used a sharp razor and found that I could extract a clean “strip” off the surface, which looked incredibly cool and prevented the CD from being read by any computer or CD player. The best path seemed to be going across the whole surface of the disc (as opposed to merely radially out) because data is stored in concentric rings, and this would break each track twice instead of only once.
Geometrically, the skew would take out more data than going straight out/perpendicular (Can you tell that I got an A+ in my Geometry class? Hehe...) But I encountered a new problem: on some CD-Rs, especially CD-ROMs, the foil layer would not come off. As a result, the disc could still be read. I concluded that different manufacturing processes use different adhesives for the foil layer.
Thus I had to think of a creative way to disable a CD even though the foil layer stayed on. I used some wood putty to hold together 4 razor blades and also serve as a handle for them. I made sure the blades were well aligned. After the putty hardened, I tested my new scarifier on a CD, and it worked! Code name: QuadBlade. Putty + 4 blades. The disc was unable to be read. A NO DISC message displayed on one of my DVD players. I tested different discs in every computer and CD/DVD player I could find, and none were able to play these scarified discs. Even though the foil layer stayed on, my blade was actually making a wider strip due to stacked multiple blades.
Technically speaking, instead of removing only bits of data, which can be corrected by the Reed- Solomon Error Correction Code, I was removing chunks and bytes, thereby rendering the CD unreadable! I also tried it on a CD’s bottom clear side, and saw that it was completely clean, that no waste material was created, and nothing flaked off. The scratches were deep enough to prevent any polishing or restoration of the surface (remember my toothpaste incident?), so it is also secure to scarify the bottom side instead of the top foil side.
For DVDs, the top side has covering, so scarifying the bottom side would now work for DVDs. In summary, I had discovered a new way of disabling a CD, and after more patent research, saved a lot of money by drafting my own utility patent application (I almost became a patent agent, working under a patent law firm).
RULE #5 RESEARCH BEFORE APPLYING FOR A PATENT.
Consumers would prefer this method to breaking by hand because it is much safer, and is quicker and more practical than shredding. I found patents and publications that were issued featuring all kinds of apparatus, including the process of microwaving CDs and punching holes through them. Ridiculous as they may sound, that shows the problem is out there.
If I could implement my method into a small, hand operated tool, then I’d have a clear competitive advantage over all the methods of disc destruction. I had discovered a quick and neat way to destroy CDs. Now, I had to design a product to implement this. What would people think? I took these unreadable discs to a Data Recovery company to see if they could retrieve the data off of them - and they could not. Many people are surprised by the simplicity of my invention. Some skeptics don’t believe it works...they should try it out for themselves, then they will see. My new technology ad, thanks to QuadBlade.
Part 2 of Wade Sun's 4 part article on his 13 Rules of Invention Success will be posted here tomorrow.
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Copyright 2006. SunZag Creative Products. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the author.