VTT’s Vice President Tauno Vähä-Heikkilä writes in his blog post about how accidental innovations can generate solutions that benefit the entire humankind. The writer points out that innovations that were created for space use years – even decades – ago, are solutions that nowadays help the daily life of an average consumer.
What do superglue, post-it notes, and the microwave oven have in common? You guessed it: they were all invented by accident.
Three important points: first, even though all of these were invented by accident, they needed the proper circumstances in order to emerge. In other words, there had to be investments allocated in the research.
Secondly, nowadays the potential by-products are taken into account already when planning the research projects. The process of expanding research results into wider usage is called technology transfer.
Space projects are huge efforts in terms of man hours and needed technologies. Often the most expensive technologies are first applied to satellite-based instruments in order to get the best performance out from sensors. It takes a long-term engineering development and qualification process to get new technology into an operating satellite.
High-end technologies are typically too expensive to be used in consumer related products right away after applied to space instruments. This brings us to the third and final point: technology transfer takes time. The road from space to consumer segment can take 10, 20, or even 30 years. Steps between space and consumer products often include professional, industrial and infrastructure applications. During that time technology also becomes cheaper which makes it more suitable for consumer products.