Our InvENtor Spotlight for March is on Robert Harker! Robert has been a member of the Edison Nation community since 2012 and is an active Insider!
Where is your home town? Where do you currently reside?
I was born in Canada, moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida when I was in first grade and now have lived in Gainesville, Florida for the past 38 years.
What is your professional background?
In the Navy, I was a jet mechanic and inspector. I studied computer and electronics technology in college on the GI bill and got a Bachelors of Science in Electronics Engineering Technology from FAMU. I now work as an Engineer for the University of Florida on superconducting magnet systems and RF electronics.
How did you initially hear about Edison Nation?
I first heard of Edison Nation in 2012. I joined then but I didn’t enter any inventions back then because I wasn’t convinced that EN was the right fit for me. After limited success at another invention site, which did not pan out, I was reminded of EN after hearing of Robert Pontius’ recent success here and decided to come back and dive all in. I have recently joined as an insider and entered two of my inventions, which I’m at stage 3 on both.
What inspired you to start inventing?
I had very special teachers in my high school electronics and metals shop class that challenged us to be creative. It was there where I built a mini wet-submarine out of an airplane wing tank in metals shop. I never finished that one because I ran out of money, graduated and joined the Navy. It’s a good thing because I might have drowned myself in that contraption.
Do you find that invention ideas come to you or do you have to go after them?
Ideas just come to me when I’m doing related things and sometimes I have dreams that show me ideas. These ideas and notions are not worth much until I start to act. I just start writing, drawing and designing. I used to only sketch but now I like to use 3D software to model my prototypes. Sometimes I start the invention process sketching and modeling in 3D.
When did you come up with your first great idea?
One of my greatest inventions was a solar chimney power controlled ecological habitat … a type of solar powered mechanized farm. I calculate that it would generate 100 MW of electricity as a byproduct. The main products would be pollution mitigation, fresh water, clean air, farm fresh cash crops and quality habitat.
Have you ever collaborated with another inventor(s) on a project? If so, how was that experience for you?
I have collaborated with dozens of other inventors since I used to have an Invention & Innovation Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UF. There, we would do invention related projects from solar chimneys, to giant snake robots, to hybrid electric vehicles. More recently, I have collaborated on many consumer inventions with another invention site. This site has changed its direction radically and I no longer believe it is a good fit for inventors with more developed inventions. I am not too familiar with collaboration and teams at EN but would love to explore those areas. The difficulty with collaboration is getting the ideator to admit that their idea is not an invention until it is designed and “reduced to practice.”
What are some general industry trends you have noticed recently?
Trends I have noticed lately is that tools, once only used by scientists and engineers, are now widely available to the average person. The maker movement has exploded and given everyday people the means to create marvelous creations that would otherwise be un-makable. You don’t even need to own your own 3D printer … simply go to many libraries and print your parts there for little or no cost.
You have been an EN member since 2012, can you provide us with some details around your experiences and journey to date?
In my work with UF, I sometimes have ideas that are part of my job. Those I have to disclose to them and share both the risks and rewards. Other ideas I have developed as inventions outside of my work and with those they are mine alone. I have been working with another invention platform that was somewhat successful until they burned out and went bankrupt. They have since emerged from bankruptcy but with wildly different terms of service. They dropped their royalty rate from 30% to 1.5% and have not come close to producing their former product output. Not only did I lose a decent royalty payment when they went bankrupt but now all the previous contributions I have made over the years are paid now at the lower rate. I saw the 50/50 split of EN and how you are making inventions into products and realized that I have been missing out.
What advice would you tell others embarking on their own invention journeys?
Keep good notes and learn to draw and even better to 3D model. Don’t brag about your ideas and inventions because you start a one year trigger from public disclosure whereby you must file for patent protection or forever loose that right. Be very careful who you tell and show your creations to unless it is done under the terms of a non disclosure agreement. Make a record of all disclosures and stay organized. If patenting SEEK PROFESSIONAL COUNSEL. Do your research; uspto.gov, patents.google.com, lens.org are great resources to find whether your idea has been invented yet.
There almost ALWAYS is prior art of your invention in some related way. It’s better you find it and disclose it to the patent examiner than to have them find it or worse waste time and money on an idea already patented..
What would you consider as your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
My greatest invention was my biggest failure because it was a mega-project beyond the capability of many corporations or countries for that matter. I learned that some people and political thinking will not consider alternative energy projects period. I learned the new science of environmental accounting methods, whereby one can prove the feasibility of any energy project by considering all sources of embodied energy memory. I learned that science is not enough to convince the powers that be … it takes political will.
What are some other fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share with the EN community?
I have an 11 Tesla superconducting magnet in my office. I have a patent for a new kind of 3D scanner. I drive a 32 year-old corvette everyday to work.
Have you ever thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”?