The Smithsonian Spotlights American Invention at This Weekend’s Innovation Festival

Universities, federal agencies, companies and independent inventors will give visitors a glimpse of the future

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© Hero Images/Corbis

Whether they're tinkering in home kitchens or top-of-the-line laboratories, today’s inventors are imagining a different world. This weekend, a number of innovators will share a glimpse of this exciting future at an Innovation Festival at the National Museum of American History.

The two-day event is part of a five-year collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO is contributing funding for public programs and exhibitions related to American innovation in the museums. 

The two jointly organized a festival at the National Air and Space Museum last fall. This July, the exhibition “Inventing in America,” a combined effort featuring patent models, trademarks and inventions of National Inventors Hall of Fame members, opened in the American History Museum’s new Innovation Wing. For the partnership, is hosting a special website with stories that highlight the innovative spirit at the Smithsonian and beyond.

“The Smithsonian may be known for documenting the intricacies of our nation’s history, but it looks at innovation as a way of continuing to tell the story of America,” said John Gray, director of the American History Museum, in a press release. “The Innovation Festival gives visitors the opportunity to discover inventions and meet the people who design and create such innovations.”

Shubham Banerjee built the prototype for his Braigo Braille printer with a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit. Lego Mindstorms Build 4 Good
The centerpiece of University of Houston engineer Jose Contreras-Vidal's work is a thought-controlled exoskeleton to help paralyzed people walk. Rex Bionics
Peter Pidcoe (here) and Thubi Kolobe invented a Self-Initiated Prone Progressive Crawler, to help motor-challenged babies learn to inch themselves around. Karl E. Steinbrenner, Virginia Commonwealth University

Visitors will see breakthrough technologies from 13 companies, universities, government agencies and independent inventors, selected by a juried panel. Shubham Banerjee, a 13-year-old inventor from California, will show the Braigo Braille printer he built in 2014 from a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit. University of Houston engineer Jose Contreras-Vidal will demonstrate his mind-controlled exoskeleton, and Peter Pidcoe, an engineer and physical therapist at Virginia Commonwealth University, will be on hand to show his patented assistive crawling device for infants with motor development delays. For the sweet tooth, Mars, Incorporated will be giving taste tests of patented chocolate flavors.

The museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation is organizing hands-on activities, demonstrations, talks with inventors and lessons about the patent process for adults and children. Curators will be surfacing artifacts from the collection, not currently on public display, that capture the nation’s history of invention. The hope is that the festival inspires future generations of inventors.

“From the fields of Kitty Hawk to the orchards of the Silicon Valley, our nation has been driven by ingenuity and fueled by innovation,” said Michelle K. Lee, the under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the USPTO, in the release. “The Innovation Festival provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to learn how America’s intellectual-property system has driven innovation and shaped our nation.”

The Innovation Festival will be held this Saturday, September 26, and Sunday, September 27, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the National Museum of American History.

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