The Wheel and Other Timeless Classics Re-Invented

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There’s a reason why some of the most ancient inventions have remained mostly the same over time. These inventions already work so well — and there's no use trying to optimize an otherwise flawless creation.

But that isn’t always the case. Take, for example, the Edison light bulb, which is only recently being phased out and replaced with higher-quality lighting options and more efficient LED technology to meet new energy standards.

It took about 45 years after the invention of the tin can before the can opener was introduced. In the meantime, consumers had to improvise with unsuitable tools such as chisels and knives to pry the containers open.

As these examples illustrate, just about anything can be made better.

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The Flare Pan


The art and science of cooking has changed a lot over the many centuries humans have been preparing meals. While our ancestors in ancient times cooked over an open fire, we now have advanced stovetops and ovens that allow us to control with precision how much heat is generated to fry, roast, simmer and bake. But the cookware itself — that remains largely unchanged.

Take the frying pan, for instance. Unearthed artifacts from as far back as the 5th century B.C. revealed that the Greeks used frying pans that were not much different from what we fry with today. Although there have been some advances in materials with the introduction of stainless steel, aluminum, and non-stick Teflon, the basic form and utility are virtually unchanged.

The simple frying pan's longevity doesn’t necessarily mean it’s optimal, as University of Oxford professor Thomas Povey observed while camping in the mountains. At such high altitudes, getting a pan to heat up takes significantly longer as cold winds can cause up to 90 percent of the heat generated to dissipate. This is why campers often resort to lugging around clunky, heavy-duty camping stoves.

To solve this problem, Povey, a rocket scientist, took advantage of his expertise in developing high-efficiency cooling systems and designed a pan that better takes advantage of the principles of heat exchange to prevent much of it from being wasted. The result was the Flare Pan, which features a series of vertical fins that jut out along the outer surface in a circular pattern.

The fins absorb heat and channel it along the side to be evenly distributed across more surface area. The built-in system prevents heat from escaping and thus allows foods and liquids to warm up much faster. The innovative design has received an eco-friendly design award from the Worshipful Company of Engineers and is currently sold through UK-based manufacturer Lakeland.

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The Bottle With LiquiGlide Technology


As a container for liquids, bottles get the job done, for the most part. But they don’t always work perfectly, as glaringly evidenced by the residue left behind by thicker liquids. This sticky dilemma is probably best personified by the universally frustrating effort to getting ketchup out of a ketchup bottle.

The root of the problem is that substances with a high viscosity don’t flow very easily unless a strong force is applied to them. That’s where the breakthrough LiquiGlide technology comes in. The slippery non-stick coating uses nontoxic, FDA-approved materials that allow thick and sticky liquids to slide off effortlessly. The technology can be easily integrated into bottles of any kind and is reusable, potentially saving millions of tons worth of wasted plastic containers.

When researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began working on this formulation, they didn't have ketchup bottles in mind. They were actually searching for a way to prevent ice formation on windshields. Video demos of the technology uploaded on YouTube quickly went viral and ended up on the radars of some major manufacturing companies. In 2015, Elmer's Products became the first company to use the technology to improve their squeezable glue bottles, easing the frustrations of Kindergarten teachers everywhere. 

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The Leveraxe


Chopping is a very straightforward process. Drive a sharp wedge with enough force that pieces of wood start to split. The axe was designed long, long ago purely to carry out this task and has done so quite admirably. But can it do better? Surprisingly, yes! 

It’s taken centuries, but someone has finally figured out a way to improve the mechanics of breaking wood. The Leveraxe, invented by Finnish woodsman Heikki Kärnä, makes for more efficient chopping by combining the prying power of the crowbar with the precision of the traditional axe.

The secret is a simple tweak to the conventional blade so that the head is weighted to one side. When a lumberjack swings with downward force, the unbalanced weight causes the axe to twist slightly upon impact. This rotational “lever” action helps to further pry the wood apart and also dislodges the axe.

Kärnä’s videos demonstrating the chopping prowess of the Leveraxe have been viewed millions of times. The redesigned axe has also received widespread media coverage by the likes of Wired, Slate and Business Insider, and was given generally favorable reviews.    

Kärnä has since debuted the Leveraxe 2, an updated version that weighs less and is much easier to swing. Both models can be purchased through the company website.

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The Rekindle Candle

Benjamin Shine

The Rekindle Candle, designed by artist Benjamin Shine, is a candle that does more than just light and burn out. Comprised of wax and a wick, it functions much the same way as ordinary candles, with one notable exception. The Rekindle Candle is designed to be reused again and again.

This is made possible by a clever glass holder, which share's the candles exact dimensions. As the wax melts, it drips down an opening at the top of the holder until it fills up and solidifies, forming the shape of the original candle. A wick positioned at the center of the holder allows it be lit again once the recycled candle is removed.

Unfortunately, the Rekindle Candle is not listed for sale yet, but the concept is proof that even the most basic candle design can be improved. 

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The Shark Wheel

Shark Wheel

The wheel is such a perfect invention that it inspired the adage “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” meant to discourage any attempt to improve something that doesn’t need to be improved. But software engineer David Patrick, seems to be up for that challenge. In 2013, he invented The Shark Wheel, a circular skateboard wheel with a sine wave pattern along the surface that reduces the amount of ground area it comes in contact with. In theory, less surface contact equals less friction and faster speeds.

Patrick’s invention was put to the test on the Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet program and was found to allow for a faster ride and decreased rolling resistance on various surfaces. In 2013, Patrick launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for the Shark Wheel on the site Kickstarter. He also appeared on the TV program Shark Tank.

For now, the Shark Wheel is sold as an upgrade for traditional skateboarding wheels, particularly for improving performance scores and times during competitions. There are plans to adapt the design for luggage wheels, roller skates, and scooters.

The Reimagining Mindset

Rarely is an invention perfect right off the bat. What these re-inventions remind us, though, is that sometimes all it takes is simply bold and imaginative thinking to re-invent the wheel.
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Nguyen, Tuan. "The Wheel and Other Timeless Classics Re-Invented." ThoughtCo, Jan. 2, 2018, Nguyen, Tuan. (2018, January 2). The Wheel and Other Timeless Classics Re-Invented. Retrieved from Nguyen, Tuan. "The Wheel and Other Timeless Classics Re-Invented." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).