Example 2 – saving lives
Problem: working on high rise buildings is a dangerous business. High-rise buildings require an inspection periodically. The people who do these inspections normally use the same window washing rigs as the people who wash the windows. Local laws generally require these inspections every 4 to 6 years. Inspectors are looking for cracks in the façade, leaks around windows, or defects that could lead to chunks of building material falling on people at the base of the building. 20 to 30 people each year are killed using these window washing rigs. A company in that business came to us with the problem. These rigs consist of a platform, a support mechanism on the roof, and cables to lower and raise the platform. The typical failure mode is one cable failing, dropping one end of the platform, and “spilling” the workers off the now vertical platform. The simple answer to the problem would be to use thicker cables. But that only delays the problem, not solves it. After evaluation of all of the factors affecting the safe deployment of window washers, we came up with a new approach. The ultimate solution is to keep people out of harm’s way completely. That means they should never be on a platform at all. In particular, the building inspectors, constantly fearing for their safety, are prevented from doing a thorough job because part of their attention is diverted to their equipment.
We ultimately came to the conclusion that an inspector could do a far better job looking at very high resolution pictures, or video, provided by a mechanism that worked its way down the side of a building under the control of that inspector. United States patent number 7,035,758, issued April 25, 2006 was the result of our efforts on this project. That patent was the forerunner of the now common drones which are used in a multiplicity of jobs aside from being extremely popular toy today.