Innovation and Invention
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2` Public Transport systems
4 New IC engine Concept Mk 3
5 Aerospace advanced propulsion systems
8 New dome construction Technique
10 Power Generation Mk2
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Medical joint implants replacement technology
is this the UK's most prolific and brilliant inventor? tony Cuthbert's revolutionary ideas could transform our world. so why aren't they being put into practice?
Last Monday, tony Cuthbert woke up in his reMote weLsh Cottage with an idea. He opened his laptop and tapped out;Hear is an inventoin for a new chuck deavice, using an aloy with a low liuqifactoin temprature;
Inventors normally guard their ideas and try to patent them before talking about them, but Tony, who is dyslexic, doesn't care who knows about Monday's little inspiration. "Having new ideas isn't a problem for me. I come up with a moderately interesting invention every day and a really good one about once a week" He says this without arrogance and with a touch of surprise, as if talking about someone else. "It may be something to do with my dyslexia, but I seem to think differently from other people."
At the age of 65, Tony cannot remember how many bright technological ideas he's had, but he reckons it must run into many thousands, "most of which I've forgotten". Michael Laughton, professor of electrical engineering at London University,
By Tony Edwards
phoTographed BY Tony Edwards who's spent the last 25 years scouring Britain for out-of-the-way inventors, says Cuthbert is unique. Tony is the most prolific and gifted inventor I've come across. Given the right backing, he could surpass Edison's record of a thousand patents.
So how many Cuthbert patents are there? "I've no idea," says Tony. "The documents are somewhere in my work-shop assuming the mice and squirrels haven't eaten them." At our request, he agreed to count them;for the first time. There are 72. "There should be three times that many, but I must have lost some," he says with a shrug.
The rewards for technological creativity are notoriously fickle: Dyson's vacuum cleaner has made its inventor a multimillionaire, but the designer of a simple cardboard milk carton is worth billions. If there were any justice, Tony Cuthbert would now be in that league, for his Clutchless Gearbox alone. And then there's the Cuthbert Turbine, the Cuthbert Metal Separator, the Cuth-
The word about Tony soon spread far beyond Wales to no less than the Ministry of Defence, who have sometimes called upon him for advice. "They sit me in front of 50 or 60 high-powered scientists or engineers with PhDs and degrees, and say, "Tony, we've got a problem with a bit of kit, can you help?" One day it could be what they call novel power sources another day radars, or Chieftain Tanks.
"I've always been able to offer at least a couple of solutions."
And yet Tony lives on the breadline, with just three dogs for company and a state pension his only income the classic struggling lone inventor.
One of Tony's problems is that some of his inventions are so revolutionary they can threaten existing technologies, says Professor Laughton. “That makes it difficult for him to convince the various industries he has tried to interest. Dyson had precisely this problem with his vacuum cleaners and finally had to manufacture the machines himself.
But Cuthbert is not in the entrepreneur mould. just an inventor he says disarmingly."Also, Dyson focused on a single invention, but I have so many different ideas, I cannot concentrate on any one of them long enough."
at school, Cuthbert had been the classic classroom dunce. Profoundly dyslexic, he was bottom of the class in everything apart from science. "More suited for manual labour than mental work," said his final report when he After 18 months he had risen to chief electrical officer at 19, the youngest in the fleet.
"As I had no qualifications, they had to apply for a dispensation to employ me in such a high-powered job," he says. "But I seemed to understand instinctively how things worked. Whenever there were any electrical problems on board, I knew how to fix them. That's how I got the job so young.
He stayed with the Merchant Navy for 20 years, until severe arthritis forced him into early retirement. He bought a tumbledown cottage in a tiny ravine in mid-Wales and set up his own consultancy. He quickly became famous as a local Mr Fixit. If a firm has a technical problem, I can normally offer them two or three solutions within a couple of dayfor almost any kind
But Tony's not content with solving other people's problems. "I find my mind constantly bubbling over with ideas for new inventions," he says, but not trivial things like a new corkscrew. "I like to grapple
with the big stuff."
are fond of engines they have lots of little bits to improve on. But Cuthbert is not a tinkerer.
"There have been only two basic engine designs one by Otto and Benz, the other by Wankel neither very efficient" he says, "so I decided to try and redesign the perfect engine from scratch."
It took him a few months to come up with a novel concept an engine with just two moving parts (a typical car engine has over 100). The heart of it is a pair of wave-shaped discs that rotate when energised by a series of spark plugs. It's a cross between a car engine and a turbine," he says,"and up to 100 times more powerful than either."
He first offered the design to Britain's Perkins Diesel Engine company, whose engineers were initially enthusiastic, but soon rang Tony with bad news. "They told me their finance people had ordered my engine to be dropped, as it would be detrimental to their business" he says. "I guess it was a competitor to their existing products."
Cuthbert had a different reply from a major US aerospace contractor. "They
said they didn't think the turbine would work," he says, "but I heard that one of their subsidiaries was investing thousands in developing it." Cuthbert handled the snub diplomatically. "I didn'tget heavy with them, but offered to help them build it all I wanted was a few hundred quid a month. But they refused. So I got a lawyer involved and they stopped work on it.
But another US company recently got hold of the Cuthbert Turbine idea and is now marketing it. Cuthbert just shrugs. "Oh,
well, no matter; in the meantime, I've come up with a better concept an engine with only one moving part" he says. "And in any case, I've got plenty more ideas."
tony has got used to seeing others develop his ideas. Take his patents for an advanced power-steering system and a protective device for mobile-phone radiation. "I tried to interest manufacturers in these years ago. Now, someone else is doing them." But why isn';t he making money? "I couldn't afford to keep up the patents," he replies.
In Britain, the intellectual property rules are quite inventor-friendly at least initially, as it costs nothing to file a patent. But that dispensation lasts only a year, after which the fees are upwards of £10,000 to keep it going. That's why most inventors need to find investors, but that takes salesmanship.
Lots of people think Tony's a mad professor, with ideas coming out of him in torrents, suggests Mike Glossop of Ferrofluidics, a company Cuthbert has done work for. I might use the same term myself, but as an endearment. He's both an old-fashioned experimental physicist and an extraordinary lateral thinker
Indeed, Tony is no amateur. While his own cottage is spartan to the point of eccentricity, he appears to have spent every penny on his workshop. an Aladdin's cave of spectrum analysers, frequency counters, oscilloscopes, strain gauges, suspension wires, strange liquids, magnets, bicycle wheels and metal sheets and rods. "I've used them all in thousands of experiments," he says.
It was while playing around with magnets and aluminium strips that Tony came up with an invention for skyscrapers: the Cableless Elevator. His idea was that the lift car would float in free space, held aloft by magnetic repulsion against the metal walls of the shaft. A magnetic motor drives the lift up and down. It could revolutionise the way skyscrapers are built, says Dr Gina Barney, a UK expert who's examined a working model. "Its ability to go horizontally and vertically is sensational."
But are any manufacturers interested? Well, yes and no," says CuthertbTwo major lift companies thought it amazing, but said they'd already invested heavily in a different but less-elegant system and it would be difficult to change.
The idea doesn't end with lifts."In principle, the concept could be used to convert the UK rail network to high-speed magnetic levitation, or maglev, trains," says Cuthbert at a fraction of the cost of current maglev systems.
So, is he working on it ? ;"No," he says excitedly, "because I've come up with a propulsion system that's better even than maglev." "Watch this." He presses a button and two coin-sized discs are flung forward, causing a metal plate to shift position. It doesn't look work, go to readersdigest.co.uk/magazine"much," he says, but this is a real breakthrough. It appears to break Newton's Third Law of Motion, but it doesn't; it just modifies it. With that, you can float off the ground, travel anywhere even get to Mars in a few hours"
But for the moment, Tony's sights are set on a couple of more earthbound ideas: a leak-proof, deep-sea electrical connector and a bladeless, cordless lawnmower."The technologies are already out there" he says, but no one's put the concepts together before."
How did the US philosopher William James define genius? The faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.
Ľ To see a short film of Tony Cuthbert at www.readersdigest.co.uk
updated byHRJ 19th-10-08