SMART LITTLE CREATURES
In the last tutorial we
discussed how physical, chemical and other effects can be very useful in
solving inventive problems. When it comes to practical implementation,
however, it is not always clear how and when to utilize an effect.
The following is taken
from The Inventor Came to Class:
An inventor sat at the
back of a classroom and watched as a high-school student struggled with a
problem at the blackboard. The student was trying to explain a physical
phenomenon that the physics teacher had demonstrated. The teacher had
placed an object that was lighter than water into a beaker of water.
Normally, the object would float on the surface, but in this case it sat
on the bottom of the vessel. Why?
The student explained,
"This object, which is pressed tightly to the bottom of the water-filled
beaker, is lighter than water. But it doesn’t float because … er, the
atoms … the molecules … umm, the object replaces…" Finally, he gave up.
The inventor could
stand it no longer: "There are no atoms or molecules there -- just a bunch
of Smart Little Creatures! May I?" he said, requesting permission to
address the class. "Sure," said the teacher. The students sat in
surprised silence as the inventor approached the blackboard.
"Atoms and molecules
are always there, of course, but let’s forget about them for a moment.
Instead, imagine that water consists of tiny creatures – like miniature
people, with arms and legs and such. They are crowded together, pushing
against one another as each tries to occupy a space in the vessel. In
fact, we can demonstrate this ourselves," he called to the students.
"Everyone come up here!"
Half the class crowded
around the inventor, representing the tiny water creatures. "Now,
everyone try to push toward the wall. This is similar to gravity forcing
the water particles to the bottom of the beaker." After some elbowing and
shoving, several rows of students filled the narrow space between the wall
and the first row of desks.
Next, a "heavy object"
was brought into the scene -- a large student named Jim. Jim’s friends
laughed as he pushed them aside and forced his way to the wall. As the
group freed up space for Jim, the "level of liquid in the vessel rose."
There was still movement in the group, however: according to the stated
conditions of the "problem," the other students tried to push Jim away as
he successfully resisted them. Then Tom, the smallest student in the
class, entered the group. The others easily pushed Tom until he "floated
on the surface."
The situation was then
changed. Tom was placed against the wall and instructed to press himself
tightly against it so that no one could squeeze between him and the wall.
His classmates kept trying to push themselves toward the wall (pulling was
forbidden) but this only pressed Tom closer to it, preventing him from
The students returned
to their seats.
"To better understand physical laws," the
inventor explained, "we should form a clear picture of what’s really
happening. This isn’t easy, but a TRIZ technique called ‘Smart Little
Creature modeling’ can help. To use this technique, we imagine that we
have a bunch of small creatures at our disposal. These creatures are
"smart" because they are alive and fairly intelligent, enough so that they
can understand and follow certain commands. We simply need to know
how to command them."
The Smart Little
Creature (SLC) method
was invented by the originator of TRIZ, Genrich Altshuller, in the 1960s.
It was very helpful in its own right and was also used as part of the
Algorithm for Inventive Problem Solving (ARIZ). The main benefits of the
SLC method are:
SLC analogies are an
effective way to explain physical laws and phenomena to children. For
example, a chain of SLC firmly holding hands can be used to illustrate a
solid body. Commanding the SLC to "loosen" without letting go
demonstrates the phenomena of thermal expansion. A crowd of SLC running
around frantically is a good model for a gas, and so on. The main idea is
that the creatures do not understand words but instead obey "fields." For
example, an increase in temperature releases the links between the (solid)
creatures, converting them into a gas.
The SLC method is very
effective when dealing with complex situations.
Invention 43. Producing concrete parts
To produce concrete parts, a mixture
of cement, water and sand is poured into a shaped metal form to
solidify. As it hardens, the mixture sticks to the metal form, which
must be cleaned before it can be reused. Moreover, the form
deteriorates over time due to the adhered concrete.
The physical (chemical) nature of
"sticking" can be explained as follows: Typically, concrete is prepared
from cement (in powder form), water and sand. When a cement particle
absorbs a drop of water, it becomes sticky and binds together with the
sand, creating hard concrete (after solidifying, of course). How can
sticking be prevented?
Common sense tells us
that it might be helpful to introduce some sort of intermediate layer,
similar to a non-stick deposit on a frying pan. Unfortunately, this
conventional solution has serious drawbacks: non-stick materials are
rather costly, and their susceptibility to scratching reduces their
durability (compare how long you can use a coated pan versus a regular
As we learned in
tutorial #4 ("Resources -- A
Pathway to Ideality"), the most reliable,
inexpensive and durable layer is an "ideal layer" made from existing
resources. To better understand what resources we have, let’s use the SLC
As shown in the picture
below, we are dealing with three different types of creatures representing
the three components of the concrete composition:
Which is the best
candidate for a non-stick layer? Obviously, it should be water or sand.
So, we have the
material. The next step is putting it where we need it -- the metal
contact zone. Is this a problem? Not at all! Remember,
we need only command the little creatures constituting the water to move
in the direction of the metal form. How? We must find a field
capable of moving water particles in the desired direction. We can
find an appropriate effect using the table of physical effects presented
in the last tutorial, and shown below:
Required effect (function)
Physical phenomenon that provides the required effect/property
• Phase transitions,
including transition over the Curie point
6. Moving an object
Magnetic field applied to influence an object or magnet attached to
Magnetic field applied to influence a conductor with current
passing through it
Electric field applied to influence an electrically charged object
Pressure transfer in a liquid or gas
• Pressure of
7. Moving a liquid or gas
10. Separating mixtures
Electric and magnetic separation
Electric or magnetic field applied to change the pseudo-viscosity of a
14. Crushing (destroying)
• Use of lasers
The function we need
is #7: Moving a liquid. The appropriate effect is osmosis.
Function #10 (separating mixtures) is valid as well; a suitable effect
A solution to the problem of producing
concrete parts is as follows:
One electrode is connected to the
metal form. The other electrode is placed into the mixture close to the
surface of the form. A d.c. current is applied. Depending on the
polarity, either a water-enriched or water-depleted intermediate layer
is created that will prevent the concrete from adhering to the form.
Invention 44. Protection screen
To protect workers
in a metallurgical shop from flying melted metal drops, special screens
are installed. The smaller the mesh, the better the protection. If the
mesh is small, however, it is difficult to see through the screen. What
can be done?
To apply the SLC method, we should consider
two types of creatures: flying creatures that represent the metal drops,
and guards. The guards are positioned in the form of a grid (see the
picture, below). They try to catch all the flying creatures, but some sneak
through the cells anyway.
A similar situation can be seen on a tennis
court. How can we catch all the balls? The easiest way is to place many
catchers on the court -- but then there is no game. The "solution," of
course, involves only one player, who moves quickly from place to place to
cover the court.
We can do something analogous with our
guards: have them move around quickly to cover all the necessary space.
Solution: use a rotating or vibrating grid
that will retain all the drops while allowing us to see through it.
Invention 45. Induction melting of
To initiate the induction melting of
beryllium oxide, a conducting material must be introduced into the
oxide. (Beryllium oxide is a dielectric and can conduct electricity
only when melted.) The conducting material introduces unwanted
In this case, our SLC
model is a collection of creatures in the vessel representing the melted
beryllium oxide, along with some "strangers" representing the conducting
material used as the initiator. How can we get rid of these strangers?
Actually, there are two ways to make the population homogenous: either
remove the strangers or assimilate ("convert") them.
To avoid the problem, pure beryllium can be
used as the conducting material. As the temperature rises, the pure metal
burns to produce beryllium oxide, while the molten material is free of
Invention 46. Alternative to
After the hollow cavities of a component
are sandblasted, sand and fragments must be removed from the component.
This can be more labor-intensive than the processing, itself.
Once their work is completed, we command
our SLC to disappear.
Instead of sand, pieces of highly-abrasive dry ice can be
used. After the component is processed, the dry ice evaporates. (This
method is especially effective when processing rubber and plastic
components, which become brittle when cooled.)
Try to apply the SLC
method for solving the following problems:
Problem 13. Clay pigeon fragments
produced during skeet shooting
When clay pigeons are used in skeet
shooting, the ground becomes littered with clay fragments. How might the
process of fragment clean-up be improved?
Problem 14. Shaping diamond surfaces
Although diamond is the hardest known
material, the surface of a diamond can be shaped. How?
Problem 15. Production of porous
Suggest a way to produce metal porous
Try to explain
magnetism to a 6- or 7-year-old child using the SLC approach.
Boris Zlotin and Alla Zusman, The Inventor Came to Class (Kishinev:
Kartya Moldovenyaska Publishing House, 1990). In Russian.
Also called the "Smart Little People" (SLP) method.
© 2004 Ideation International