why reinventing the wheel is a worthwhile pursuit

Reinventing the wheel is a common refrain for doing something unnecessary. But what if you really can make a better wheel like Goodyear is trying to do?

spherical tire still

There’s nothing more wasteful that reinventing the wheel. We’ve been using them for 5,000 or so years and pretty much everything we could’ve done to them, we have, so when we’re pretty sure we found the optimal way of doing something, we invoke this expression to mark a totally useless, repetitive endeavor. But here’s the thing about thinking you’re done perfecting even a simple design: you get stuck in doing things one way for so long that you lose the ability to see completely new approaches that can really improve something you thought was ideal, and yes, that literally includes wheels on a car, as a recent concept video for Goodyear illustrates. A 3D printed spherical wheel for autonomous vehicles providing better grip and traction, and making the dreaded task of parallel parking a breeze because cars can just effortlessly move sideways into their spots. If I saw those cars on the road in Santa Monica later today, I’d say it was a day too late for them to get on the road. Really, the whole concept seems obviously superior.

Again, this is what you get when you approach a seemingly solved problem with a fresh look: a completely new solution that could prove better than the supposedly optimal solution today. It’s part of the reason why STEM students perform the same experiments and try to build the same structures — physical and digital — as the students before them. Not only do they learn how the solution they’ll typically use evolved, but there’s always the chance that someone for whom the problem in question is still new and the solution is a blank slate, will spot a new way to handle it and in the process, create a new standard solution. And while living on the bleeding edge is an exciting prospect and our knowledge grows on the foundations laid by previous generations, it really isn’t a waste of time and money to inspect those foundations and see if we can replace a few sections of it with something better and sturdier, maybe leading to new discoveries in sub-branches that seemed to have hit a dead end. You might end up with the same exact answers over 99.9% of the time, but that 0.1% of the time you come up with something different may be more than worth it, giving you a stronger, more nimble wheel, literally and metaphorically…

# tech // engineering / prototype


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