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OC Masters of Invention

Silicon Valley may garner the most attention for its influential technology, but locally we've created several inventions that have changed the world.

Building a Modern Zepplin – Aeroscraft
At a 72-story World War II-era hangar located near The District at Tustin Legacy, an impressive project was taking shape. What at first glance looked like a movie prop was actually an innovative aeronautical experiment. Los Angeles-based Worldwide Aeros received a $35 million contract from the Pentagon and NASA to build a 230-foot long zeppelin. And Orange County, specifically Tustin, was chosen as the site where Aeros would construct and test this 38,000-pound prototype.

Unfortunately, on the morning of October 7, the hangar’s roof unexpectedly collapsed. The accident caused immense damage to the building’s structure, leaving a gaping 25-foot by 25-foot hole in the ceiling. What's worse, the airship was also damaged. “Our initial visual estimates show that the vehicle is potentially repairable,” says John Kiehle, Worldwide Aeros’ director of communications. Which is great news, since those lucky enough to witness the test flights can’t wait to see the Aeroscraft take off someday soon.

Once it’s completed, the Aeroscraft ship will have the capability to carry 66 tons of cargo (that’s the equivalent of eight African elephants or 26 SUVs). It will also take off vertically, similar to a helicopter. That means there’s little need for a long runway, and the craft can land anywhere – even on water. Maneuvering it on land without a ground crew and requiring a third as much fuel as a traditional cargo-carrying airplane, it's truly the zeppelin of the future.

CARRY ON :: aeroscraft.com



Blizzard's co-founders Allen Adham (not pictured), Mike Morhaime and Frank Pearce started a virtual gaming phenomenon called 'World of Warcraft.'

WoW – Blizzard’s World of Warcraft
When Blizzard Entertainment, an Irvine-based video game developer, first released a PC-based interactive game called World of Warcraft, no one – not even the game’s creators – could have predicted how popular or influential it would become. In November 2014, World of Warcraft (or WoW as it's often referred to by its loyal players) will celebrate a historic 10-year anniversary. There aren’t many games that can boast such an achievement. It’s been parodied by TV shows like South Park and has led to a phenomenon where users dress up as their online gaming alter-egos. Just last month Hollywood also paid homage by announcing a full-length motion picture version of WoW called Warcraft. The starring roles were offered to Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol’s Paula Patton and Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell. With millions of users still plugged in, this game remains OC’s most popular virtual creation. But, Blizzard didn’t stop there; the entertainment company also recently released Diablo III and Starcraft: Heart of the Swarm.`

STAY PLUGGED IN :: blizzard.com



Tom Morey

Boogie Woogie – The Boogie Board
Tom Morey knew that when he caught his first wave on a borrowed surfboard in Laguna Beach in 1952, he was destined to be in the ocean. Although he grew up in Detroit and graduated from USC in 1957 with a degree in mathematics, Morey knew that the water was his true home. He gained respect as one of the first sponsored pro surfers. But, before he created the world famous Boogie Board (also called the body board), Morey tried a more traditional path.

He took a day job working as a process engineer in composite materials at Douglas Aircraft. But, he just couldn’t shake his love of surfing. So in his spare time, Morey began experimenting with different inventions. In 1964, he founded his first company and the following year coined it as Morey Surfboards. Not long after, he created the Boogie Board.

Although he sold the patent in the 1970s, Morey still made waves by inventing new toys for ocean lovers. His most recent creation, the MoreyRollo, is like a Boogie on wheels that literally rolls you into the water. In 2005, Morey was honored with a star on the Huntington Walk of Fame and was later inducted into the surfing Hall of Fame. Although it’s been more than 40 years since Morey first created the Boogie, every time you visit a beach you’re likely to see one floating in the surf.

BOOGIE DOWN :: tommorey.com


Rip Curl's Flash Bomb wetsuit

In a Flash – Rip Curl’s Flash Bomb Wetsuit
For three years in a row Rip Curl’s Flash Bomb wetsuit has won industry awards. Not only is it known for being an entirely new concept, but it is also regarded as the world’s fastest drying wetsuit. While it dries quickly – we’re talking 15 minutes fast – this innovative suit also offers surfers great mobility.

But, this product didn’t just hit the shelves immediately. The Flash Bomb spent two years in development before Rip Curl felt confident enough to release it to the public. And that patience paid off.

“We take a lot of pride in our R&D,” says P.J. Elbing, Rip Curl’s director of technical products. “We do in-field testing in the water and more in the lab.” Translation: that equals to 20 experienced surfers in the water for four to six hours a day. The end result is approximately 200 hours in the ocean. These designers aren’t just looking for a quick-drying suit; they’re testing for optimal stretch, performance and durability. But, it’s a pretty competitive market. “I can tell you what we think surfers want,” jests Elbing. “They’re looking for the minimal amount of restrictions with the highest amount of warmth.” Which means the wetsuit of the future will feel as if you’re wearing nothing at all.

HANG 10 :: ripcurl.com



Alegria Fresh's vertical farming

Finding Fresh Food – Alegria Fresh
Erik Cutter believes in fresh food. With his biology and oncology background, Cutter also believes that food heals diseases. In 2009, when his brother’s son became seriously ill, Cutter started experimenting with growing fresh, healthy food in an urban environment. That was the beginning of Alegría Fresh. Using just two square feet, Cutter’s system supports around 40 plants. Instead of growing produce in neat rows that stretch for miles, Alegría Fresh’s approach is to plant vertically. It’s what Cutter calls agriculture urbanism. “It means producing a lot of food in a small space,” he says.

Rather than planting with regular soil, an all-natural fiber called coir, which is made of ground coconut husks, is used. The amazing thing about coir is that it isn’t dirty at all. After grabbing a handful, Cutter dusts off his palms and, with a few taps, there’s no residue left.

On just small plots of land, Cutter and Alegría Fresh are growing the most flavorful lettuces, strawberries, basil, chard, cauliflower, and beets. They like experimenting with even more rare plants. Some, like the herb papalo, even boast medicinal properties. “It’s also known as Mexican Viagra,” says Cutter. Papalo contains Vitamin A, which is great for the skin, and improves vision, immune function, and, as Cutter mentioned, reproduction. “Most people don’t realize how nutrient-dense fresh food really is,” says Cutter. “A lot of people don’t know that romaine lettuce actually has protein and potassium.”

The farms in Laguna Beach and Irvine’s Great Park aren’t Alegría’s only accomplishments. Partnerships with restaurants like Bluewater Grill and donations to the OC Food Bank are another way of giving back to the community. Plus, with OC’s great weather, Alegría harvests 52 weeks out of the year.

Another great supporter of Alegría’s vision is former California Secretary of Agriculture A.G. Kawamura. “We’re all trying to create a legacy,” says Kawamura. “This is 21st-century agriculture, and we’re all apart of the renaissance. It’s all starting on what is now known as the Great Park, but this land was the prized lima bean field of James Irvine.” Together, we're growing Cutter's dream, one plant at a time.

BRING OC BACK TO ITS ROOTS :: alegriafresh.com



Rosendin's solar panels

The Sun Also Rises – Rosendin’s Solar Division
Solar panels are sprouting up all over the county. From residential rooftops to expansive solar farms, it looks as if OC has fully embraced this alternative energy. One company in particular is extremely proud of this “greening” movement. Rosendin Electric’s OC-based office in La Palma (just minutes away from Knott’s Berry Farm) features an innovative department: an award-winning solar design team. David Lincoln manages the division and has no problem touting it as a solar industry leader when it comes to innovation and installation. From school districts to international airports, Rosendin’s solar projects are making huge headway in this thriving industry.

At first it’s hard to notice the solar panels at the Tustin Metrolink parking structure, but if you drive to the roof you’ll definitely feel the benefits immediately. The solar panels provide shade for the cars parked underneath while simultaneously capturing valuable sun rays. The energy gathered offsets the structure’s lighting requirements and other electrical demands. At first glance, the project seems like a small change, but it’s just a start to developing self-sustaining buildings.

Another innovative pilot project was when Rosendin installed solar power systems at five OC government-owned sites. The locations varied dramatically. From the Social Services Agency & Sheriff’s Communication facilities to the Katella Peace Officer Training Facility to the Collins Yard, each site significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions. By using solar power instead of the traditional utility (in this case electricity), the county reduces its overall costs and, more importantly, its carbon footprint. How do solar panels reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Typically, the traditional utility is comprised of 70% fossil fuels, which are generated from coal, oil and natural gas. The solar installations offset these energy needs by generating approximately 60 to 80% of each building’s electricity. Over the next 20 years, this enterprise, coined the County of Orange Pilot Project, is estimated to save OC $4 million to $6 million. If it’s as successful as Rosendin and OC officials hope, then there will be many more iterations.

“In the future, there won’t be just one energy source,” says David Lincoln, “but we’ll begin to see a combination of several, which will include solar, wind turbines and many others. This is just the beginning.” With more projects, the technology will get better and more efficient. Also manufacturers will produce components at a fraction of the cost, thus making alternative energy a feasible option for everyone.

STILL SHINING :: rosendin.com



The owners of Newport Beach-based Stacked restaurants

Have It Your Way – Stacked’s iPad Ordering System
The owners of Newport Beach-based Stacked restaurants had a brilliant idea. Everyone is using some sort of screen these days. Whether it’s a smart phone or a tablet, we’ve all grown accustomed to scrolling before selecting. Why shouldn’t our food be just as customizable and easy? That’s why Stacked’s co-founder, Paul Motenko, who helped BJ’s Restaurants expand nationally, decided that his new endeavor needed an updated ordering system. Awarded for its cutting-edge approach, Stacked lets customers create their own American favorites like burgers and salads on an iPad. Each table features its own tablet, and diners are encouraged to take the reins.

It’s not only impressing diners, but other restaurants are also taking note. In 2012 the National Restaurant Association Chicago food show recognized Stacked as an industry leader and awarded the restaurant an innovations award. Other eateries have tried using devices in the past, but Stacked is recognized as the industry’s first successful adopter. But, using an iPad isn’t the only innovative idea sprouting from Stacked. Pre-ordering is another new concept.

Order your favorite items online in advance and receive a “preorder code.” When your group arrives at Stacked, input your preorder code and voilà! Your order instantly pops up. Also, if you’re in a hurry, you can pay for your meal before it even arrives at your table.

The one downfall is that there currently aren’t any OC locations. The closest is in Cerritos. But that’s going to change in the future, too. Motenko and his team are scouting locations in OC. So, we locals will get a chance to order from iPads soon enough.



Photo By ED OLEN

Hydrogen-powered vehicle

Zoom-Zoom – The National Fuel Cell Research Center’s Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles
If someone said that on one tank you could drive your car 300 miles before filling up at the next station and instead of emitting toxic exhaust, what comes out of your tailpipe is water vapor, wouldn’t you want this car of the future? That’s exactly why the National Fuel Cell Research Center at UCI is developing hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles.

Forget foreign oil. This new experimental technology takes wastewater from the Orange County Sanitation District in Fountain Valley and converts the sludge into electricity and hydrogen. The electricity helps power the treatment facility, while the extracted hydrogen is fed into a high-pressured tube that funnels into a fueling station. There, the fuel cell hybrid vehicles, which use the Toyota Highlander frame, fuel up using a pump and nozzle that look exactly like what we see at the gas station. “That’s what we’re all looking for, an experience that mimics what the consumer is used to with the current gas models,” says Dr. Shane Stephens-Romero, manager of research development and external relations at the National Fuel Cell Research Center. So instead of waiting hours for a battery to recharge, using hydrogen allows you to “fill up in about five minutes, which is what most people are accustomed to,” he says.

In the future, Stephens-Romero predicts that the hydrogen pump will be just another option at the gas station. “You’ll have traditional gas, diesel and then hydrogen all available at the same place,” he says.

How can you get one of these magical cars? Well for now, local lawmakers and influencers are the first to test out this new technology. But, the rest of us won’t have to wait too long. Stephens-Romero speculates that starting in 2015 the first wave of hydrogen-powered vehicles will hit the market. “Toyota and Honda will be the first, then other manufacturers will follow like Mercedes.” Also, forget about the slow acceleration that most drivers complain about when they test the Prius. This hybrid has oomph. “The hydrogen adds to the car’s torque; that’s what you feel when you accelerate,” says Stephens-Romero. Translation: You’ll have no trouble getting from zero to 60 in this eco-friendly car.

FUELING FOR THE FUTURE :: nfcrc.uci.edu



Allergan's Botox

Defying Gravity – Allergan’s Botox
More than 10 years ago, an Irvine pharmaceutical company called Allergan Inc. created Botox, the famous anti-aging compound. Since then it’s been praised by countless celebrities and glorified on reality shows like “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” But, this nonsurgical solution for ridding frown lines isn’t just for those of us trying to shave years off our faces. In 2010, the FDA approved Botox to treat chronic migraine headaches. And, this past July, Allergan reported that sales of Botox jumped 11.2%, to $513 million. So it doesn’t look as if minimally invasive cosmetic surgery is leaving the OC anytime soon.

But, Allergan didn’t just stop with Botox. The company is constantly inventing. Other new FDA-approved creations include Natrelle, an implant designed to mimic the breast’s natural slope. It also promises to hold its shape and soft touch over time. Allergan is also just one of three companies in the U.S. to manufacture breast implants.

Worried that your lashes aren't long enough? Allergan also developed a cure for that. Lastisse, which was FDA-approved in December 2008, is the only treatment for increasing your upper lash’s length and thickness. So whether it’s your wrinkles or your lashes, Allergan plans to keep you looking good, indefinitely.

WRINKLE-FREE :: allergan.com


Dr. James Caillouette's orthopedic inventions

Healing Hands – Dr. James Caillouette’s Orthopedic Inventions
For more than 22 years, Irvine Hoag Orthopedic Institute’s surgeon in chief, Dr. James T. Caillouette has experimented with the latest and greatest hip and knee replacement inventions. As a worldwide consultant for DePuy/Johnson & Johnson, he’s made a point to stay ahead of the curve. He not only practices as an orthopedic surgeon, but also holds 11 patents (with one more pending) for various biomedical products and methods. But, resting on his laurels isn’t in this doctor’s near future.

Caillouette is continually developing. “For me, it’s a creative outlet,” he says, “and I enjoy the process of creating something new and working with great, smart people.” It’s one thing to have the vision, but actually seeing his thoughts transformed into usable products is another. “It’s rewarding to find engineers who take your idea and translate it into a product that works. That’s an interesting part of my practice,” says Caillouette. “But, when you have the opportunity to effect change in a positive way, that’s the best part for me.”

In an industry where technology and devices are constantly changing, Caillouette is most proud of one of his first inventions. “At the time, it was a very unique idea,” he recalls. “Product cycles are finite; things come and go.” The doctor is happy to admit that his first “experiment” is still being used 20 years later. "Prior to this, the only tools were a mallet and chisels," says Caillouette. "This device and tools [that we created] reduced the risk of bone fracture and the length of time required to remove the cement… that holds hip and knee implants in place during revision or 'redo' surgery."

Caillouette is also proud of his work developing a brand-new total knee regeneration surgery. “It’s Johnson & Johnson’s largest R&D project,” he says. The team – comprised of 30 orthopedic surgeons and several engineers with varying degrees of expertise – worked together and invested more than 10,000 hours of surgery-testing time. “We got together and collectively said, ‘Let’s take all our knowledge and combine it.’ It’s been a huge effort.” But the result is definitely something that all the surgeons, engineers and product developers applaud. “A lot of this was breaking new ground,” says Caillouette. “Each step brought new challenges, but it’s gratifying to see how the patients react to the new implants.”

Now what’s next for this OC inventor? He plans on changing the current model for hip replacement. “We use various implants that are ‘off the shelf,’” he says. The surgeons then fit the implant to the patient. In the past there have been attempts to make custom implants, but those have gone wrong for various reasons. “Now we’re creating a hybrid model that marries digital imaging with a new manufacturing technology.” This surgeon realizes that there are limitations to what we consider state of the art. And, he plans to surpass them.

MOVING FORWARD :: drcaillouette.com

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