American Inventor: Episode 9
In this next-to-next-to-last episode, the final inventor in the final four was chosen, and this time, mentor and inventor Doug Halldid the choosing. He mentored the following inventors: Joe and Jenny, the makers of the Flush Pure toilet seat; Sharon, the inventor of the Restroom Door Clip; and Janusz, the creator of the Spherical Car Seat.
Joe is a magician and his wife Jenny is his assistant. After Joe's mother died from respiratory disease, he was inspired to create the Flush Pure, a toilet seat that filters bacteria from the air. When Doug met with them, he told them to visualize the bacteria problem with photographs, and to work on their presentation, lightening up on Joe's comedy and bringing Jenny forward.
In their focus group, people didn't understand the product or the need for the product at all. When their design firm presented their first prototypes, Joe just lost it. He felt the seat was too small, the filter too small and the hole in which you change the filter too big. He said they weren't being listened to and just went off on one of the designers, who walked out. (They later went back and apologized.) They then met with a presentation coach; the goal was to make the presentation serious and not "slick," and to give Jenny a voice.
Sharon is from Huntington Beach, California. A mother and grandmother, she admitted at one point she wanted to win the $1 million prize so her husband could retire early. For Sharon, Doug advised her to make a bathroom survival kit. The focus group agreed, thinking the product is too weak and should be packaged with other stuff. She hired--and then fired--Patton Design because she felt their design ideas were too "left field." She liked her new design firm better. They came up with a simple eyeglass case-style packaging.
Finally for mechanical engineer Janusz (my favorite), his tragic story has already been introduced. His infant daughter died seven years ago, and since then, it's been his mission to save other children with his car seat design. The pain and drive in his eyes was both heartbreaking and inspiring. Doug told Janusz that he needed to find the very best tech geek to prove the physics, and to come up with a name that would demonstrate this new category of car seat and to also show the emotion behind the product.
His focus group didn't get his product either--they thought it was too big and that the design "sucked." They didn't seem to understand the safety concerns. Janusz then presented his design team with a gigantic goal: To create a conceptual design for presentation and a test model to prove the seat works. During the four weeks, it was a worry that not only would it not get done, but that the test model would look too significantly different from the final design, even though the concept and physics were alike.
Joe and Jenny showed photos of what I like to call "poo air"--basically, the cloud of invisible bacteria released from a normal toilet vs. the barely-there amount released by their filtered seat. They did testing in a bachelor pad apartment. They hired a biological testing firm that company swabbed the bathroom and checked for bacteria levels. They then cleaned the bathroom, installed the seat, and checked for bacteria again 24 hours later. Bacteria levels were down.
Frankly, my boyfriend and I had a few problems with this method. Who knows how long it had been since that bathroom had been cleaned previous to the testing? It could've had months' worth of grime, which could explain the high levels of bacteria. And, in the too much information department, how do they know the bachelor went number two in that 24-hour period?
The judges expressed different concerns. Marketing expert Mary Lou Quinlin wondered if they could change consumer behavior since, for the seat to work, you must close it before flushing it. And ad guy Ed Evangelista didn't "buy" this "alien germ" that is being secreted by toilets everywhere. Doug, however, thought they did a great presentation on a "difficult subject."
Next up was Sharon. She turned her restroom door clip into an entire Restroom Survival Kit. Flushable wipes, toilet paper, a seat cover, antibacterial wipes and two clips were all neatly contained in the kit. In her testing, they put an entire bathroom stall in the Santa Monica Promenade mall. The kit didn't always work. The clip is supposed to allow you to hang a purse from it but it wasn't strong enough for all purses. Still, Sharon asked 200 women if they'd buy it and 52 percent said yes.
Ed thought there might be too much in the kit. I think she got led away from her initial design. Her new kit was neat, and probably would sell, but I missed the simplicity of just the clip. I imagined it a cheap impulse item at the drugstore, or a really great promotional item for women- or hygiene-oriented companies.
Last up was Janusz. He showed his concept seat, which looked great, but still seemed very large. His demo was a crash-test dummy test. Upon impact, the seat did a full 360-degree rotation, which looked scary. But the dummy data showed the seat could save infant's lives at 60 mph. He called it the Anecia Survival Capsule, after his late daughter. Entrepreneur Peter inquired about the size, and Doug questioned if they could bet on a product that still needed so much done to it.
Doug told Sharon she went "beyond [his] expectations," and told Joe and Jenny that their challenge was to "connect the dots, from the mist to what it means to people." He called Janusz's product a "real technological wow" and said that that something will go wrong with the development and put it at a standstill, but Janusz will always find a way around it.
The winner is Janusz, as it should be. The product is absolutely revolutionary, though the red tape he needs to cross to get it to market is mind-boggling. His invention, to me, is the one that will truly meet the expectation of changing the world. And I've never watched such a dedicated person in action; he mechanical engineering smarts and personal drive will make this invention a reality no matter what.
Next week, America gets two episodes: A recap of the final four (Erik's Receiver's Training Pole, Francisco's Double Traction Bike, Ed's Word Ace, and Janusz's Anecia Survival Capsule), and finally, the chance to vote for our favorite!
Should I go out on a limb and guess the winner? I believe Erik's and Francisco's inventions are unfortunately too niche for the general population. Sports people will get the training pole, and young men, teenagers and kids will see the possibilities of the bike, but will other people? The Word Ace is easily understandable for anyone; any family could anticipate buying this product. But Janusz's car seat, to me, will reign supreme. His motivations are so pure and inspiring, and who can argue against saving infants' lives?