Chattanooga Inventors Share Their Creations
Inventing is a beautiful, often grueling process that requires a host of skills— imagination, creativity, resilience, determination, and perseverance, just to name a few. Great inventors put hours, days, even years of work into their products in order to get it just right. And it’s all because they’re driven to provide solutions to important questions or improve the inventions of their predecessors. Chattanooga is home to many inventors who have developed innovative products ranging from tactical tomahawks used in Afghanistan to wireless sensory devices for iPhones. The following six inventors are just a sampling of the creative people who serve to enrich our community and the world with their inventions. Driven by their vision to advance human ingenuity beyond the previous generation, they have forged on to meet with both acclaim and success.
By Rashad J. Gober | Photos by Med Dement
Dr. George Yu | The NODE
A Georgia Tech grad, entrepreneur, and founder of Variable Technologies, Dr. George Yu spent the last three years as a contractor for NASA Ames Research Center developing a poisonous gas sensor for smartphones. Following this monumental feat of engineering and driven by a self-proclaimed desire to “one up” himself, Dr. Yu recently got started on a new idea: making a consumer-friendly wireless “node” to act as an extension of a smartphone, with various sensors giving users a “tool belt of sorts.” After much trial-and-error and eight generations of the device, the NODE prototype was finalized.
So what does it do, exactly? The NODE is a “souped-up Wii-like nunchuk” about the size of a roll of quarters, with two sensory modules on either end that send information about things—like physical motion, temperature, humidity and light—wirelessly through Bluetooth to an app on your phone. Essentially, the NODE is an accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, barometer, thermometer, lightmeter, and heatmapping device (just to name a few) all in one.
For example, you could point the NODE at your steaming cup of joe on the table, and its temperature would appear on your phone. Or for that matter, you could do the same thing with your sick child across the room. Want to know your elevation while hiking in the mountains? No problem. And these are just a small sample of the NODE’s potential applications.
Even with the device’s complex engineering blueprint, its primary philosophy is simplicity and userfriendliness, Dr. Yu explains. When going through the evolutionary device-refining process, he says he strived to create a product that was versatile and made economic sense. “[That’s] the only way you can change lives and make a difference,” Yu says.
NODE was released in early August, and the final assembly for the device is taking place in Chattanooga. But it’s unlike Yu to be satisfied with another helpful invention; he’s currently working on ideas for new sensory modules to increase the versatility of NODE. Air pollution, carbon monoxide, and radiation sensors are all in the works.
Mark & Jennifer Evans | Knobby Knife
Mark Evans of Soddy-Daisy has been an avid dirt biker since he was 13 years old. Not soon after he ventured into what became his lifelong hobby, he discovered a critical problem—dirt bike tires can be a real hassle. When knobs wear down from riding, tires lose grip on the terrain, decreasing acceleration speeds and causing the rider to slide unsafely. Then replacements typically cost $60-120, and changing the tires can be tricky and somewhat dangerous, too….
A natural-born engineer, Mark toyed around for years with various ideas on how to save time and money on dirt bike tires. His “aha!” moment finally came while he was speaking with a relative at a family reunion. He delved into various prototypes and plans, and just a few months later, the “Knobby Knife” was born.
The Knobby Knife is a powerful, 100-watt heating tool that reaches over 500 degrees of heat while cutting rubber. Its patent-pending blade—made locally— allows dirt bikers to sharpen their tire knobs around three to five times. Several happy customers have even said that the Knobby Knife makes a tire better than one fresh from the factory.
When the Knobby Knife was first released in June 2009, the Evanses sold 100 knives in three days. Now they have sold nearly 10,000 units across the globe— shipping to places like New Zealand, Israel, and Oman. Even with this large demand, production and distribution remain a family affair. Mark says the whole family—kids and in-laws included—help out with large orders.
Though Mark and the family have been encouraged to move operations to China to cut costs, they’ve decided to keep manufacturing local. Jennifer describes the whole process—from production to distribution—as a “total God thing.” “I think it’s cool that in a little town called Soddy-Daisy, we’re making something that is being shipped all over the world.”
Ryan Johnson & Richard E. Carmack Jr. | Tactical Tomahawk
When Ryan Johnson started blacksmithing at age 12 because he wanted “ninja tools,” he probably had no idea that his skill would eventually help people across the globe. His fascination with tomahawks began at age nine, when his father brought home one book on Revolutionary War weapons and another on Indiancraft by legendary Boy Scout guru, Ben Hunt. This infatuation turned into a skill as Ryan paid his way through the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga by crafting historical tomahawks, simultaneously gaining international acclaim for his work.
In 2001, Ryan was contacted by a master sergeant in the Air Force to create a tactical version of a tomahawk he had already produced, a copy of a French and Indian War-era spike tomahawk. The requirement was simple: it needed to pierce Kevlar and not break. No other tomahawk manufacturer would even attempt the project, but Ryan used his expertise in historical tomahawks to find an efficient design. From there, he tweaked the design by using new materials to make the structure seamless and efficient.
The tomahawk’s handle was made to provide electrical insulation, while each individual line on the Tomahawk was specifically designed to allow for optimum use of force, inertia, and energy.
Ryan’s commitment to precision and versatility paid off—the tactical tomahawk was taken by several of the first 300 troops deployed to Afghanistan. When demand from military personnel rose exponentially, Ryan joined forces with family friends Jeff and Richard Carmack in 2005 to form RMJ Tactical. Since then, by using CNC machinery and skilled craftsmen, the business has increased prduction and improved quality. Still, every blade is sharpened by hand.
Today, the folks at RMJ Tactical are deeply passionate about providing an efficient tool for their customers, especially one that can save the lives of military personnel. Richard tells of one man whose son was trapped by heavy enemy fire in Afghanistan for three days in a concrete building, along with his unit. Armed with the tactical tomahawk, he chopped through the concrete walls, and the unit escaped to safety.
Richard Hardin | Flight Hub
Any aviation enthusiast knows the frustration that comes with sorting through hundreds of wires while upgrading an airplane instrument. When you have to take out the front seat and solder and splice through different wires—all while upside down—installing a simple radio (which should take around an hour) can become a week-long ordeal.
If anyone was going to engineer a simple, yet profound solution to this problem, it would be Richard Hardin. Problem solving is in his genes—literally. The son of an inventor, Richard received his first soldering iron at age five, and was later given his own corner in his dad’s company’s engineering lab, where there was always something for him to take apart when he dropped by after school.
Around a year and a half ago, Hardin began putting pen to paper to work out a solution to the wires problem. His true moment of insight, he says, came when he was fumbling to keep up with charging his kids’ electronic games. Imagining a “plugand- play” or “hub” environment for organizing the charging of different Caption Caption Caption Caption Caption Caption Richard Hardin The Flight Hub games, he realized the same concept would work for a physical connection between different aviation instruments. After some tweaking and development, the “Flight Hub”—a plug-and-play avionics signal routing platform that can diagnose instrument accuracy—was born.
With the help of The Company Lab and their 48-Hour Launch entrepreneurship program, Hardin’s Flight Hub went almost immediately from concept to market. Today, he says enthusiastic financial investments and stories from those who use his product are some of the most encouraging parts of his success. He’s also proud of the simplicity and sustainability of the Flight Hub—“As other technologies come and go, [the Flight Hub] is the common thread that can make it all work together.”