December 2, 2023


Moving Forward

Does finding the edge on a roll of tape drive you crazy? An Arlington entrepreneur designed a solution.

Ellis is not a beginner to the entire world of entrepreneurship or inventing. But he’s even now looking for a split-out hit. He operates a consulting agency named Optics for Retain the services of that patterns lenses and linked technological innovation. When Mattel essential a lens for a new Barbie doll that involves a small digital camera, it referred to as Optics for Retain the services of. Exact same issue when Amazon necessary to up grade the eyesight programs in it warehouse robots, so that they could far better location hurdles.

“Our prospects are mainly US organizations that require physics experience,” Ellis suggests. All of his 12 staff members operate in possibly Ukraine or Belarus, a neighboring country that is aligned with Russia, and has a short while ago witnessed an inflow of Russian troops and products. Power outages in Ukraine, and the problem of shipping matters back and forth to a war zone, have built performing enterprise difficult, he claims. His staff in Ukraine at moments have had a lot more urgent responsibilities than do the job — like rehabbing bomb shelters or supporting family customers who had to flee their homes.

Ellis has also created new goods. One was a light-weight-up enthusiast that can display screen animations as it spins. He designed that with a fellow Arlingtonian, the animator and author Rufus Butler Seder, and accredited it to a sweet business that sells candy in exciting offers (the candy goes into the cope with of the supporter.) Another product, found last month on the QVC residence shopping channel, is a knife sharpness detector which can light up red, yellow, or inexperienced to notify you no matter whether the blade is dull or ready for slicing. The kitchen area goods firm Farberware involves that engineering in a $44 sharpener known as the Sabatier SmartSharp.

But licensing technological know-how can be a challenging way to make dollars, Ellis suggests. Even just after you have located a enterprise that desires to use your invention in a person of its merchandise, like the knife sharpener, you get paid a small licensing price from every device offered. “You want a little something that can be offered in high volume,” he claims. With the RollRanger, he ideas to choose a different strategy, handling generation and distribution himself, and keeping additional of the sale price tag, which he hopes to eventually get below $10.

Ellis claims he at first experienced the impulse to fix the vexing dilemma of dropped tape edges previous January. “I’m more than 40, I put on eyeglasses, and I was working with the stress,” he suggests.

Arlington entrepreneur John Ellis demonstrating how his invention, identified as RollRanger, will work to find the edge of a roll of tape.Handout

By February, a single of his staff members in Ukraine experienced created a prototype utilizing a laser to location the edge based on a alter in the way it displays the gentle. But ambient light in the home brought about much too quite a few issues, so Optics for Hire scientist Vitaly Tsukanov attempted a mechanical technique, working with a spring primarily based sensor that touches the floor of the tape — a little bit like a record needle rides the grooves of a file. By Might, that edition of the technology was performing reliably a red mild illuminates when the sensor hits the edge. A developed-in scraper can be used to detach the primary edge of the tape from the layer under. Ellis requested his lawyer to file a provisional patent — a placeholder submitting that helps to shield a new concept from remaining copied — and he created a short YouTube video to reveal it to opportunity companions who could possibly want to license the engineering.

At that stage, Ellis was at ease speaking to outsiders about the notion. “If I ask anyone, ‘Have you ever lost the edge of a roll of tape?’” he says, “they search at me like, ‘Duh… of system I have.’” Ellis sent a established of digital engineering drawings to a manufacturing facility in China to get a number of samples designed, and to get price tag rates.

By early November, Ellis experienced received 10 prototypes from China (cost: $650), which he gave to friends, employees, and a significant provider of tape. He got responses that the unit was a bit difficult to maintain, and that the mild often went off when there was no edge — a bogus optimistic. His crew despatched a 2nd iteration of drawings to China that refined the system centered on that feedback.

When the tape supplier didn’t seem to be fascinated in licensing the creation, Ellis did study that obtaining the tape edge is the major annoyance people today have when working with tape. No 1 else appeared fascinated in licensing it, possibly. “We experienced some conversations, but there was not that rapid match,” he states. But, he adds, “this is the only matter I’ve at any time worked on where men and women ended up so enthusiastic about it. It just appeared like this necessary to get to industry.” So by mid-December, Ellis designed the determination to launch the product or service independently. He hired outside consultants to aid with deal style and design and a strategy for retail distribution, but when it came to selecting a title, he consulted ChatGPT, the not too long ago-introduced — and free — synthetic intelligence engine.

“I said, ‘I need solution names for a tool that finds the edge of a roll of tape,’” Ellis says. ChatGPT spat out a established of options. “I browse them to my family around the holiday seasons, and RollRanger was the one particular my spouse and my sister responded to most,” he says. In January, he filed for trademark protection of the title, set up a web-site for the merchandise, and figured out a design and style for his booth at the Countrywide Hardware Display.

Ellis estimates it charge him in between $25,000 and $45,000 to get the item to the stage exactly where he could pitch it at the trade show — but he admits that it’s difficult to compute how substantially time his workers invested on the RollRanger, vs . “paying projects” with consumers.

Warren Tuttle is an entrepreneur and author who can help set jointly the “Inventor Spotlight” space at the Nationwide Hardware Clearly show. He’s also the agent who assisted make the link in between Ellis and Farberware, his client, for the knife sharpening products.

Tuttle states that obtaining a new solution into merchants without an established partner like Farberware is tough. “Many things will need to fall into position,” he mentioned, but it can be worthwhile. (He took that path with Misto, a reusable spray bottle that retains oil for use in cooking.) But the RollRanger does not just need to have to address a problem that people today know they come upon routinely, Tuttle says — it demands to do it at a cost that they’ll be willing to pay out, with a adequate profit margin for everyone included to make funds. For a $10 solution sold in a retailer, the charge to manufacture the solution and ship it to a warehouse needs to be about $2, Tuttle suggests.

At the conference in Vegas final week, Ellis stood at his booth for several hours on finish, chatting with solution consumers from massive hardware shop chains in the US and Canada. He was preparing to spot an first buy for 1000 RollRangers. “If I’m blessed,” he writes through e-mail, “they’ll check the product or service in shops afterwards this yr.” At that issue, individuals will have the possibility to go judgment on irrespective of whether the RollRanger is an crucial resource for anybody who takes advantage of tape — or just an additional gadget.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.