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The Future of Technology Past

Futuristic eyeball from


At the Imagination Factory we love learning about new technology and how it can be implemented into products that make a difference to people's lives. We enjoy the challenges of understanding how things work, how they'll be used in context and creating novelty for our clients so that they can benefit from their intellectual property.

But recently we've been looking back as much as to the future. What if some of the best solutions to the problems people are facing were solved tens or even hundreds of years ago? Not only does it make for some fascinating research but it also makes commercial sense because technology that has already benefitted its original inventor for the period of the patent is now available and open for re-use.

a patent relating to a steam pump

extract from a patent relating to a steam pump

A project we worked on in the early days of The Imagination Factory, harnessed solar power to drive a steam pump in order to provide irrigation in the developing world. It was part of an InnovateUK funded programme in collaboration with the Department for International Development.

During the process of applying for this funding we spent many hours considering what technology would be most appropriate to meet the challenging cost target and the rigours of the sub-Saharan environment that the design is intended for.

As it turns out we travelled back to the dawn of steam where, in1698, simplicity ruled over efficiency. In doing so we found the perfect pump for our needs but as you can imagine nobody makes these anymore. So we designed something around the principles that make this pump so ideal for our application and will be making a test rig soon.

This plunged us into a world of steam powered machines that we already have some experience in but are rapidly realising is a rich source for additional inspiration.

It's not surprising that the Steampunk science-fiction sub-culture has become so popular. There's rich imagination in the combination of Victorian engineering and harnessing untapped or renewable energy sources.

A truck from Mad Max

Amongst other activities it seemed like a good excuse to watch Mad Max: Fury Road, winner of 6 Academy Awards. We were struck by the prospect of a dystopian future where people are held in oppression through the scarcity of water and fuel. The film-makers obviously had many hours of fun creating the various vehicles, weapons and other technology used by the various characters. But it struck us as slightly odd that the future imagined in the film still relies on fossil fuels for power. Especially when it is based in a desert environment where there is an abundance of energy from the sun. We hope that this depiction of the future proves to be wrong and that designers, industrialists and financiers continue to work together to harness the abundance of resources around us in a way that leaves a healthy planet for future generations.

It's time designers helped to rewrite history by ushering in the abundance of solar energy instead of the scarcity of the fossil fuelled industrial revolution.


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