Almanac

Cover Story - April 13, 2011

A sense of wonder

A Los Trancos Woods inventor has not put away his childhood imagination

by Dave Boyce

Imagination tends to be a realm populated by children, but perhaps with some gentle and persistent nurturing of one's inner child, adults can play there, too — as Los Trancos Woods resident and inventor Olivier Redon appears to do on a regular basis.

"I work as a child because I spend a lot of time (imagining)," Mr. Redon, 49, told the Almanac recently.

"When I have an idea, I put it in a box in my brain, on hold (until) I have more time. I continue to (allow) it to evolve without going too fast. The most important thing for me, it is taking time to think," he says. "Sometimes it takes me years. I observe the world around me and I observe things that are missing in everyday life."

Mr. Redon grew up in Marseilles, has lived in the United States for five years and is engaged in improving his fluency with the English language. He is married to Yanting Zhang, a real estate investor.

Chloe, the couples' daughter, is 3 1/2 and helped her father out with some early testing of his Mooonbike (spelled with three O's), a seven-piece bicycle that he invented in 2010 and that is the product of some 200 hours of thinking, he says. Its components are made from ordinary materials and it operates on solid ground, sand and in shallow water.

"People think you wake up in the morning and you have an idea," he says. "No, it's not true. You have to think and think and think."

The bike has removable pedals, allowing a newcomer to practice without them and then have them restored after gaining proficiency on two wheels. "Pedals can make it very difficult for the child to learn how to balance," he says. "Without the pedal system, it is lighter and easier for a child to maintain balance and steer."

Children who are learning to ride not infrequently fall over because they can't get their feet off the pedals and on to the ground fast enough, Mr. Redon says.

Among his other inventions:

• A straightforward way to raise the temperature, and the cold-weather effectiveness, of windshield washing fluid as it makes its way from a vehicle's reservoir under the hood to the nozzles at the base of the windshield (2005).

• A wallet insert for credit and debit cards from which the cards cannot come loose while at the same time being individually available to swipe through a card reader (2009).

• A thin cardboard package for CDs and DVDs that goes beyond a simple sleeve and is as much a conversation piece as a desktop promotion (2004).

• A traffic light that displays elapsed-time progress bars to inform drivers how much time they have left on red and green signals (2009).

Of these, the CD/DVD package won a juried gold medal in a 2005 international inventors fair in Pittsburgh and, according to Mr. Redon, earned him about $30,000 — his only moneymaking invention so far.

But he has plans, including a trip to China in September to look into the manufacture of a children's size Mooonbike, he says. A retail price of $80 would be about right; an adult-sized bike would come later.

He says his credit card insert could be appealing to banks as a promotional gift — if he can get their attention.

"It is very difficult for an inventor to make known their inventions," he says. "I'm trying to sell my licensed patented inventions in the world of companies that are seeking new products."

Money not a priority

"I invent not because I want to make money," Mr. Redon tells the Almanac. "I'm more excited with new inventions. I like inventing. I don't like marketing."

"If I make money, I don't keep it for myself. You don't need too much money to be happy. You have a short life. You need to open your eyes," he says. "People think I'm stupid. I don't care. I don't care."

"With money, can you buy the smile of your own child? Can you bring back a mother (who died) too young?," he asks. "If, with one of my inventions, I earn much more money (than I need), I would have the joy of giving some of that money to poor people in poor countries who suffer every day. But not for me, for I have need of a simple life without artifice."

"My best memories of my life have nothing to do with money," he says. He adds that he is untroubled by the prospect of his ideas being stolen. "It's OK if someone takes my idea. It's OK."

"I have a dream," he says. "To create a community of inventors for inventions developed in common. ... My worldview is different," he adds. "I see it from another angle and that is why I (was an) inventor from an early age."

In 1976, at the age of 17, when he was "too young to sell the idea," he says he imagined a third brake light center-mounted in the rear of a vehicle. (Such lights became mandatory in the United States in 1986, according to Wikipedia.) His light would have been higher up so it could be seen by more than one trailing vehicle.

Olivier may have been a trial as a youth. "At school, I (did) not agree to anything (they) told me and I asked many questions," he says. "Education does not leave the place (for) curiosity and (requires students) to learn foolishly what professors teach, and when we ask questions, that often bothers the professors. The teaching is too based on memory and not on reflection."

"We are taught that all questions have an answer," he adds. "One should teach us that the majority of questions have several answers or no answer."

"I was very curious. I dismantled all my toys to see what (was) inside." It was when he was "very young" that he thought about life after death. He has yet to hear a satisfactory answer.

"Now I ask myself this question: Why (is it that) people who live around me do not ask this basic question. What happens to (us) after death is an important issue," he says. "I do not understand this lack of curiosity."

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