2012-10-17

Co.Exist

Crowdsourcing Applications For Unused Technologies

Scientists do a lot of work that ends up fruitless. Often new discoveries sit unused on the shelf. But what if there was a place where regular people and investors could contribute ideas for bringing new technologies to the masses? Welcome to Marblar, which takes science out of a vacuum.

If you’re a writer or an artist looking to turn an idea into a reality, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter provide capital, but also, thousands of eyeballs to absorb the idea, evaluate whether or not it’s a good one, and lend support. But if you’re a scientist, there aren’t as many avenues to connect with the collective brain power of the crowd. After developing new technologies, scientists typically only work with a small group of people to attempt to turn that discovery into a product with real-world applications. The result is that 95% of the fruits of scientific research end up sitting around unused.

What if there were as much openness in the world of scientific projects as in the world of artistic ones? If as many eyeballs could regard a technology to evaluate its worth as they do a new documentary or magazine, perhaps there would be a higher success rate for bringing new ideas to the masses by commercializing them.

This is the question at the heart of Marblar, a new web platform aiming to connect scientists with a curious audience of thinkers who could collaboratively dream up new uses for unused technology. The project is the brainchild of 3 Ph.D. students at UK universities--Daniel Perez, Mehmet Fidanboylu, and Gabriel Mecklenburg. “We love science, and I almost cry when I think of how much money and thought goes into these incredible innovations, and that they don’t make it to the real world,” writes Perez on the Marblar site, explaining his motivation for starting the website.

The platform hasn’t launched yet, so it’s hard to tell exactly how it works. Descriptions on the site describe researchers posting their projects, the community responding with possible applications, and the person with the best ideas winning points and prizes. Ultimately, the inventor can do whatever he or she wants with the idea, and chooses whether or not to act on the crowd’s wisdom.

In a beta test sponsored by a venture capital group, the founders say they were able to connect a scientist who had figured out an enzyme-free method for combining DNA with several possible applications suggested by participants in the challenge. Now it’s possible that those ideas will turn into companies, given the fact that investors will already on board.

“Only about 5% of money put into the U.S. research community is ever recouped through commercialization of its products,” the founders write. Perhaps projects like Marblar raise that statistic a bit.

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