As you know, I followed ABC's first season of American Inventor for Inc. and spent most of my time blogging about the crazies and their crazy ideas. You may remember me rooting for one contestant in particular, Janusz Liberkowski, who I thought was actually worthy of the title "American Inventor." The winner graced me with the pleasure of an interview on Monday about his invention, his experience on the show, and his advice to other aspiring inventors.
Your invention, the Anecia spherical safety seat, was the only device featured on the show that could potentially save lives (by nesting two spheres that rotate perpendicular to the force of impact). I was rooting for you from the beginning based almost solely on the degree of importance I thought your product has. Would you attribute your winning to this as well?
Janusz: I think this was the major factor. I think America understands that the life of our children is the most valuable and most important. Not because this is my invention but because that's our future.
I know that you suffered a tragedy that served as the inspiration to find a way to prevent the death of other children in car accidents, but what made you think of the inner revolving shell of the car seat?
JL: I can't recall the first moment. It just came slowly. The beginning thought was to build a car body in such a way that the safety capsule would be in the skeleton. Upon impact, the safety capsule would be released from the rest of the body of the car.
What was your process in developing a prototype?
JL: That was just a model. I brought animation in the presentation to show how it worked. I've built many prototypes. My job was introducing products to the market. (Janusz was responsible for mechanical packaging of digital cameras.) It did not cost too much: a couple thousand dollars. I would never put my family in jeopardy to develop the product. My lab is my garage. You saw a yellow thing made from heavy foam and two spheres. It was difficult to cut them because this plastic is the same used for bulletproof glass. I used an igloo-shaped doghouse with foam inside. It took 2 days to put all the materials together. I was in a hurry. I said I'm going to bring a working model [to the audition]. In the last moment before the plane left I was just painting. I was pleased; [the model] was exactly what I was planning.
What do you see the next incarnation looking like? What are some of the improvements that you want to make?
JL: The first product will be for zero to seven or eight months old. I need to have a first product for most vulnerable/youngest children. Next will be for bigger babies: eight months to one and a half years old. We'll assemble inside of the car and anchor the basket with the baby that you are putting inside. Same idea is here: you have two spheres inside. I will try to make as similar as possible to artist vision of the seat. In the process of developing anything you have to make a compromise between safety and beauty. The vision I will try to go with, but engineering will have to be there. For me, the most important part is the safety of the baby.
Do you have other inventions you are considering?
JL: I have already had eight patents: four for the company I worked for; four are private. Interconnection systems for electronic devices. Very high tech. Three of the privately held patents were multichip modules. The last one was a new kind of roller skate that is similar to stopping on ice by putting your ski perpendicular to movement, kind of like how the safety capsule [motion]. My roller skate rotates so you feel like you are skiing. My first patent in the US was in October 1986. all four [that I patented for the company I worked for] were bought by Intel: fiber optic connecters for telecommunications switching systems.
I have a list of inventions I haven't built yet. The next invention, after I finish this seat in a couple of years, is one for triplets. I want to reach all those people in the U.S. that have children. Also, I have an idea for very sick people who can't move that are lying in bed that have sores that will not only massage them all the time but will not give them sores. It will give nurses the opportunity to clean the person in the bed. You won't have to remove them from the bed. I saw once a friend's father who spent ten years in a bed it was terrible. I will never forget his conditions.
Would you do the show again?
JL: Of course! It was such fun. I met a lot of people. One thing we had in common was the passion for our idea. I'm open to new experiences. I'm enjoying changes. You have to enjoy the changes and not put the bubble around you, this paradigm of routine around your day. I'm the guy who likes to explore where no one was before. This show let me learn how TV works. I learned how to make a commercial. And I like this a lot. This I discovered even about myself. Everybody, everything changes constantly. Our life is temporary.
Do you have advice to give to other inventors?
JL: When I have an idea about something, there will be a lot of criticism. We don't like to change anything. We all create bubbles that give us safety zones. We know where to go and what to do. We've created a routine to be in this safety zone. We don't want to change. But we are all inventors: you will have ideas and not go there. You'll have an idea about an improvement, but then think "if I go to my boss and tell him that I have this idea he will criticize me, and if this will not work how will I look?" and we go back to our shell. Just never give up. There will be a lot of kicks because it is easy to criticize.
Have you quit your day job? What's the next step in your life?
JL: I quit during the show. The network obligated me to not tell anyone where I was or what I was doing. I asked for leave of absence and they said no. I was the only mechanical guy, responsible for all the mechanical stuff. I didn't have any other choice but to put them in that position. I hope I will stick with Evenflow. We just need to discuss the details.