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One Invention Leads to Another

When Henry Ford created the Model T circa 1908, his aim was to “build a car for the great multitude…[that]…will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for… constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. …No man making a good salary will be unable to own one — and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

Along with the indisputable accomplishment of these goals came many corollary achievements: the refinement of the assembly process of modern mass production, the establishment of a minimum wage and the eight-hour workday, the beginning of the aftermarket supplier industry, the establishment of the left-hand drive standard for North America, and the creation of an international dealership distribution network. “The automotive engineering that produced the Model T pioneered the “Built Ford Tough” truck and the single-block motor with a removable cylinder head that became the basis for most modern engines.”

In short, the Model T transformed cars from novelties into necessities and in the process launched an explosion of the collateral invention in many areas of human endeavor. Fast forward a century and this symbiosis between automaking and collateral invention continues as evidenced by two recent stories that have caught media attention: Toyota’s robotic leg brace, and Ford’s “Motor Dreams” baby crib controlled by a smartphone app.

A dive into the first story also reveals that Honda, too, has contributed to the development of robotically assisted leg braces. Toyota’s contribution appears to be not so much on the technological as on the service model front. These devices—motorized braces that fit around the knee and lower leg helping wearers to bend and straighten their joints—are expensive, unaffordable to many rehabilitation hospitals, but Toyota has decided to allow facilities to rent this equipment meaning “more should be able to meet the initial costs and the monthly premiums.”

Honda’s launch of rental service for its walking assistance system in 2015 may have paved the way for Toyota’s new service model for its Welwqalk WW-1000 system. Whatever the sequencing, today, around the world people with severe mobility loss in one or both legs from any number of causes have greater opportunity to regain some level of upright mobility from inventions related to the developments in robotic car manufacturing and assembly.

Ford’s baby crib originated in a collaboration between Ford of Spain and Espadaysantacruz Studio on an advertising campaign for Ford’s C-Max models. It shows the skilled craftsmanship behind a crib that in addition to looking modern, sleek, safe, and comfortable also simulates the driving conditions that, as millions of parents have learned, help lull babies to sleep.

Controlled by a smartphone app, the crib reproduces a car’s rocking movement, engine sounds, the start-and-stop of traffic, and the intermittency of street lighting. While the intention is to raffle off the prototype crib, demand for the real thing may prompt a whole new production line.

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