Donald Hings and his invention, the walkie-talkie.
In 1937, Canadian inventor Donald Hings was the first to develop a handheld two-way radio transceiver, now known as the walkie-talkie. While he was filing the patent for the device, Canada declared war on Germany, and Hings was sent to Ottawa to develop the device for military use. This led to the development of the C-58 Walkie-Talkie, which sold 18,000 units for infantry use. Hings was later awarded the MBE and the Order of Canada for his contribution to the war effort.
After the war, Hings started his own electronics R&D company. In 1986, he began to apprentice his grandson, Guy Cramer, teaching Cramer about his approach to innovation, invention, and creative thinking. By the time he reached retirement, Hings held 55 patents, and was posthumously inducted into the Telecommunications Hall of Fame.
What Makes a Great Inventor?
This image shows a prototype of Quantum Stealth in action, obscuring an object.
Today, Hings’ grandson Guy Cramer is an inventor, and runs a small company called Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp., which specializes in military camouflage patterns. Cramer recently filed patents for a new product he calls : a plastic sheet material which bends light around a subject, obscuring it from view. Cramer calls it practical invisibility technology, and notes that the name ‘quantum’ was selected for the name of the product in reference to the light interference patterns generated by diffraction gratings like in the double-slit experiment, which Cramer believes is a phenomenon closely related to the function of his product.
Since 2012, Hyperstealth has been working with the US and Canadian Militaries to develop Quantum Stealth for the battlefield in a variety of applications.
spoke with Cramer to find out more about his inventions, his advice for fellow inventors, and what his grandfather taught him about innovation.
Diagram example of the refraction of a ray passing through a lenticular lens. (Image source: Wikipedia/ Soulier)
Quantum Stealth works via lenticular lenses, the technology commonly seen in plastic-coated 3D-effect trading cards or movie posters. In a lenticular lens, rows of cylindrical lenses refract light according to the viewing angle. Cramer found a way to arrange layers of these lenticular lenses such that ‘dead spots’ are created at certain standoff distances behind the material. When viewed from the front, the object behind the material is not visible, but the background is. This creates the illusion of invisibility.
Cramer has released videos and photos of Quantum Stealth version 1, a prototype which demonstrates the light-bending characteristics of the material, but at a much lower optical clarity than what Cramer claims he’s achieved with later versions. His later versions also reduce standoff distance.
“Version 1 is not the patentable version of Quantum Stealth,” explained Cramer. “These lenses have been out since the late 1920s. You can't patent something that's already been out there. We have subsequent versions which manipulate the lenses. For example, by putting the lenses back to back in the same corresponding orientation, whether it's vertical or horizontal, it creates a material with a negative refraction index.”
A Demonstrator holds a 'riot shield' prototype showing the effect of a prototype version of Quantum Stealth.
“We’ve got some scientists saying this isn't perfect invisibility,” said Cramer. “Well, no, but I'll take partially imperfect invisibility where no one can see me behind the material from a particular set of angles and utilize that, rather than waiting around for another 20 years for someone to come up with the material that might be able to do what they're talking about.”
In addition to ‘invisibility,’ the material’s light-bending properties have other applications, developed and patent pending by Cramer. These include uses as a holographic image display, as a solar reflector, and as a laser-scattering device that works via diffraction.
Quantum Stealth as a Solar Reflector
Experimenting with the lenticular lens material’s light-manipulating properties, Cramer placed the material on a mirror, as well as a diffraction grating, and used it to reflect more sunlight into a solar panel. Because the lenses diffuse the light, this reflector directed the light into the panel without creating hotspots that damage solar cells, which happens with reflectors made of plain mirror. In addition to directing additional light to the panel, Cramer’s reflector worked at a variety of angles, up to 40 degrees in any direction. This is significant as it may allow a stationary reflector to work effectively throughout the day without using motion systems to track the sun.
“As the sun goes across the horizon, the big cost in a lot of these solar panels systems is the tracking that takes place. Nearly any moving part will break down and require maintenance. So, the solar application according to me and according to the patent attorney, are likely going to be the biggest things to come out of all four of our patents.”
Check out Hyperstealth's
(Explaining the other two patent-pending applications would be a whole other story for another day—feel free to check them out on Hyperstealth’s website.)
Cramer on Innovating and Tinkering
Guy Cramer, President and CEO, Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp.
Quantum Stealth is certainly impressive, but what’s really impressive about Cramer’s work is his capacity to innovate and find creative solutions. For example, one challenge for Quantum Stealth was preventing reflections on the surface.
: Do you think the anti-reflective issue is a trivial problem to solve? Is that easy?
Cramer: We used a bug screen. The same screen you use on your doors at 2000彩 to keep bugs out can reduce the reflection down by 35 to 40 percent just by placing that on top. It shows the proof of concept. But there are also anti-reflective coatings that exist that take a reflection from 8 percent down to half a percent. So that'll have a substantial influence on the material in outdoor applications.
E: Is it common to use bug screens? Where did you get that idea from? Was that your innovation or is that common?
C: No, that was my innovation. About twice a year I'll go to the hardware store and I'll just go up and down the aisle looking at different items and then try to figure out my head, oh, where could I use them? And again, that was my grandfather. Don't wait for the multimillion dollar solution, right? Quite often these things are off the shelf. So we put that in the patent, that bug screen ability, but we also put in there that a coating would likely do a better job, but it doesn't mean you couldn't use both in tandem.
A Multidisciplinary Approach to Innovation
While Cramer doesn’t have a degree in engineering, he’s well-read and has a broad foundation of knowledge in a wide range of disciplines. Cramer believes that because inspiration and innovation can come from anywhere, it’s important to have a broad base of knowledge, so that when a potential solution to a problem presents itself, you have the background to be aware of it.
“My grandfather would have me go down to the library and read university textbooks on biology, chemistry, physics, cosmology, astrophysics, you name it. He said, ‘Guy, if you want to learn anything new in this world, you need to know a little bit about everything, because science doesn't work in just one field. Big discoveries are going to be coming from multi disciplinary scientists out there.’ That’s what my grandfather did over his lifetime: he gave himself a bit of knowledge in all of these areas. That helped him to innovate.”
Cramer explained that he uses creative thinking to develop interesting discoveries into workable inventions. “With my grandfather, we did a lot of research and discovery. So, you make a big discovery and you may think that's all there is to know. And then all of a sudden you find twelve other things that branch off of that. And that's exciting to me. That's what keeps my brain going, thinking about how do we improve it? How do we make it better?”
How to Get Your Invention Made – Patent Advice
There are a lot of makers and garage tinkerers out there, but finding funding, manufacturing, marketing and selling your product are significant challenges on the path from invention to commercialized product. Drawing on his success developing and selling camouflage patterns, as well as his experience developing Quantum Stealth, Cramer shared his advice for fellow inventors looking to commercialize a product.
Consider Manufacturing Challenges
For some inventors, manufacturability is a blind spot when developing their ideas. Some assume finding the best manufacturing processes, partners and even materials will be a relatively easy problem to solve, especially relative to the challenges of product development and design innovation. However, in many cases this could not be more wrong. Many a would-be inventor has been stymied when they’re unable to determine a cost-effective way to produce their product at scale.
Hyperstealth’s camouflage pattern business has provided Cramer some insight into the manufacturing side of things, but he’s still working to find the best way to manufacture Quantum Stealth.
“I'm a one man operation here. We have this low overhead business model in which I can design these camo patterns, then I do prototype runs here on a textile machine I've got in the back, and I can send those to a manufacturer, and they'll emulate what I've done. So no longer are they having to go through the ramp up stage where they're trying to get the colors nailed down and they're trying to get the pattern scale figured out and all those different things that you would normally have to do. Now we send them the samples, with the computer file, and it’s much faster.”
With Quantum Stealth, the sensitive nature of the technology and the precise tolerances required for the optical effects mean that Cramer will need to work closely with manufacturing partners to ensure quality.
“What we want to do with the light bending material is the same type of model as we use for the camouflage patterns. We're going to license this out to the manufacturers,” explained Cramer.
“I don't want to learn how to make lenticular lenses and employ a bunch of people when I can partner with expertise of manufacturers that have been doing that for decades.”
“However, I'm working with the industry right now because they've never done a double sided lens and we are trying to figure out what is needed to do so. I've learned just in the last two weeks is that there are quite a few companies that are producing lenticular lenses that can't tool up to do [one of the Quantum Stealth versions] which is surprising to me. So, I have to fly down and show my partners what I have with my prototypes, so that their engineers can then figure out what the best way to do that. For example, when you shift the layers of version two material by a millimeter, it completely changes the outcome of the optics and dead spots. So, it's very critical right now for me to work hand in hand with them to make sure that it gets done properly and it doesn't fail at this stage.”
Secure the Intellectual Property First
“Until you have that intellectual property, you don't really have anything,” said Cramer. “You need to go to the patent office and secure the copyright, the trademark, or the patent.”
According to Cramer, a provisional patent is the best first step: it provides twelve months of security, and can be followed up with a nonprovisional patent, which is a larger investment. “And take out a PCT on it, which is the Patent Cooperating Treaty. And that allows you to follow up with filing patents in the 153 member countries. So yes, if I can give anybody any advice about a new technology that has never been seen or they haven't heard of it before, that’s to secure it with a provisional patent.”
However, Cramer warned of risks related to patent filing, and advised that a patent attorney is worth the cost. “You have to be smart about what happens in the process. So, read and learn about the rules, regulations. The government has tried to make it easy, but if you get to the patent stage where you actually need a non-provisional patent, go to a professional, go to a patent attorney, don't do it yourself,” he explained. “You're going to shoot yourself in the foot if you do it yourself. A patent attorney will also protect you from patent claims and other legal issues. So, you can do the provisional by yourself, but you really need a patent attorney beyond that.”
For more on Quantum Stealth, visit e.