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Q and A: Richard Palmer interview

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CNN caught up with Richard Palmer in the French Alps to talk arts, engineering and innovation...


d3o is a protective material which has already been incorporated into shoes, shinpads, hats and gloves.

CNN: Richard, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Richard Palmer: Originally I studied the science of engineering. After a while I became more and more interested in creative thinking, so I studied design at the Royal College of Art to broaden my perspective. Then I set up an innovation consultancy, which for me is a combination of creative thinking and analytical thinking. I then looked at developing products generally focusing on innovation and future technologies.

CNN: What took you to the Royal College of Art after your engineering degree?
Palmer: I was frustrated with being surrounded by very scientific detail and the process of linear logical thought. Everything is built upon the past. I wanted to do something fundamentally different but you can't do that if you're driving looking in the rear view mirror; it just doesn't work.

CNN: Tell us about d3o and how it works.
Palmer: d3o is a soft, flexible material that combines properties associated with liquids and enables them in solids. Normally the study of mechanics of materials in solids is entirely different to the study of fluids and what I have done is combine the two.

The fluid properties that are incorporated in d3o allow it to be stretchable, soft, to flow and to feel comfortable. But in an impact, that fluid turns into an elastomer and everything locks together to dissipate, spread and absorb the impact.

CNN: Can you go into the applications of that?
Palmer: You can use d3o in sportswear where you want freedom of movement and dexterity but also want some impact absorption. It's in footwear, headwear, gloves, clothing and boots.

It means people can get on with their sport without being confounded by pieces of bulky, rigid plastic and cumbersome, stiff foams. It's the difference between Robocop and Spiderman. Robocop is built with protection around him like a shield; d3o is more like Spiderman, where the protection and the athlete are integrated together. It's a discrete, small and totally unrestricted layer of protection in the areas where you need it that wouldn't previously have been possible.

It's also a material that has application in the automotive industry and other industries, the military, in aerospace, even in outer space.

CNN: How have science and art helped you to come up with d3o?
Palmer: Science and art are very powerful together; they're just separately pursued conventionally. Science gives you answers to questions that you pose; creativity or artistic thinking allows you to create a broader variety of questions.

I certainly couldn't have come up with a product like d3o without the combination of the two. It's a scientific product, but it's a creative solution. They dovetail together and I think it would be very difficult to get a solution that's quite so simple if it was only following a scientific pathway.

CNN: What drives and inspires you?
Palmer: It's the frustration or dissatisfaction with the things which you experience every day. It's a sudden moment when you think "That's not good enough, I think I can do something better," or, "I wonder what would happen if you combined that with that."

I do my best thinking early in the morning, when I'm surrounded by people. The more chaos, the more noise, the more opportunity there is for fresh, new perspectives. Ideally it's in a cafe in a really busy place, with people delivering fruit, sirens going off, a fresh cup of coffee and the sun pouring in the window.

Later, I find the tranquility of the mountains and open spaces really allow your original ideas to gel. They give me inspiration.

CNN: Do you think a large corporation could have come up with something like this?
Palmer: There are two reasons why a large chemical company -- and I used to work for one -- suffers with fewer real innovations. One is the inability to take a risk: as an individual you can put yourself in circumstances that a committee would never consider sensible. The second is having the disciplines too widely spread. In a small company, everything is cross-fertilized; everybody is finding the same answers together.

CNN: How do you put a team like that together?
Palmer: You do need the scientists, you do need the designers and you do need the creatives, but you've got to get a mix that is homogenous. You've got to get people thinking creatively and analytically together.

I also like to hire people who believe in the future. They are much more likely to take a risk, to be brave and much more likely to pursue something until a solution is found.

CNN: Where do you see d3o going in the future?
Palmer: The future of d3o lies in the growth of our current technology into a greater variety of applications and industries; and the creation of new technologies that will support, enhance or replace the current d3o technology.

CNN: What advice would you give someone who wanted to become an innovator?
Palmer: Open your eyes to both creative and analytical thinking. Scientists aren't just boffins; creatives aren't just mad lunatics. There's a huge opportunity to dovetail the two. And follow something you believe in. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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