I’ve been looking forward to starting this series for a while. And now that I have “patent pending” status, I can.
So what have I been working on? It’s a new take on cages for hockey goalies. For those not familiar, the cage covers a goalie’s face -- allowing him/her to see out while preventing pucks from getting in.
My take on the cage incorporates my belief that flexibility and tension are underappreciated in modern engineering. If I’m right, my net-like “cage” should deliver significantly better visibility without affecting safety.
How did I come up with the idea?
It sounds a little cliche to say that I woke up with it one morning, but as far as I can remember, that’s what happened. Somehow overnight, from a primordial soup of thoughts, desires, whims, and recent experiences, a cohesive idea emerged.
It’s impossible to know the exact ingredients of the soup, but I can pick out a few. The first was my love of hockey. I grew up as a fan of the game despite being from southern California -- the product of The Mighty Ducks movies and a dad who grew up in Toronto. And a few years ago, I upgraded to actually playing the sport instead of just watching.
The second ingredient was my desire to have my own business. My sabbatical thus far has allowed me to rediscover my love for engineering and fulfilled my creative urges. Now, I’m looking ahead and hoping to sustain this way of working.
The third ingredient -- the catalyst -- was my brother asking about how bullet proof vests work. Despite my interest in flexible structures, I’d never really thought about them. Modern bullet proof vests are made of Kevlar, a synthetic fiber incredibly good at absorbing energy, and function like a net, spreading the impact over a lot of material.
My sleeping mind must have thought, if armor has evolved from big, clunky pieces of metal to light fibers, why not try to use that concept for hockey equipment?
It was a fun idea, but I didn’t immediately commit to working on it. Plenty of ideas stagger out of the primordial ooze, but most don’t survive long.
In this case though, a week passed and the idea continued to have legs, eventually moving out of my head and onto paper. I sketched out a concept with a minimal frame, like an old-school football facemask, with a net filling in the gaps.
Even this simple sketch helped mature the idea, giving my mind new images to idly chew on. The more I considered it, the more I liked it. So I decided to add another dimension. I made what was essentially a 3D sketch, a quick prototype, using spare fiberglass for the frame and thread to visualize the net.
By this point, I was convinced that this challenge was interesting enough to take on. But two questions remain. First, will it actually work? And second, if it works, will anyone buy it?
Up until I successfully sell a few of these things, I won’t be able to answer either question definitively. But my confidence is growing as my design evolves and as I get feedback from goalies. Over the next few posts, I’ll catch you up to where I am now in my quest to get my invention on the face of an NHL goalie.
Thanks for reading.
Probably not going to help you for this specific project, but if you're interested in compliant structures, I can't recommend this course enough:
Fascinating stuff really, helped me clarify many intuitions and build up many more