The KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. Hopefully they still teach this in engineering school. It is the essence of good design. Reducing the complex to the most simple form possible.
What I find amazing is the leap that gets there. A team at UCLA came up with a technique for making micro supercapacitors. They used a DVD burner with its precise laser to burn a pattern into a layer of carbon that is one atom thick and created a low cost supercapacitor. One atom thick.
No photolithography, no chemical solvents, no complex coatings, doesn’t take a $2 million vacuum process chamber with ultra clean environment. It just sits there and cranks out parts.
Information on the new technology is limited at the moment. I’m sure there is a big story to tell for getting power storage problems solved in a wide array of products. Neither is it clear how the technology might scale up in very large power storage requirements similar to those needed in the utility scale generation of electric power.
But, like the simple elegance of 3D printing, this is an incredible solution in terms of its raw economics. If the product costs little to make, it can be applied to more situations, even if the technical merits are not a perfect match, but because its cheap. Cheap is good as long as works well.
Think about how simple a paper clip is. Ever seen a new and improved paper clip? Not too often. Just because it comes in colors doesn’t mean it actually improved.
Good design is like that. Hard to improve on. Hard to reduce the complexity.
Using a DVD burner and burning off 1 atom thick layers suggest thinking about lots of problems in a different way. What if making semiconductors could be done in a similar way? Is this a breakthrough model for lost of more complex processes? Can we define a range of applications where the layers of a product can be controlled, and by controlling a simple laser, we can create powerful semiconductor devices?
It would be nice.
Good mechatronics design helps to create the DVD burner in the first place. Really good design helps get the technology refined to the point where you can afford to put it on your desk for less than $100. Great design applies it solving a completely unrelated problem at a price point that is going to blow everyone else’s socks off.
That’s what makes it great.