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The Viz Vizor

4 Apr

Back in the 1980s, Douglas did some work with or for the motor-racing industry. It’s well before my time, and I don’t know much about it, except that there was a photo of a racing car on his workshop wall that looked real rather than from a magazine, and he talked regularly about Bernie Ecclestone. Mum confirmed this later; oh yes, she said, he and Bernie regularly spoke on the phone in the early 1990s, although try as I might I cannot find a phone number for him now. I think Douglas worked for the Spirit Racing company, although maybe others as well, and he was probably involved in motorbike racing too, according to his step-son’s memories. Sunday afternoons in our house were dominated by the sounds of Formula One on the TV, motor-racing buzzing and roaring throughout the house, and the excited squeak of Murray Walker punctuated by comments from our sofa as Douglas reacted to crashes and close shaves. When he wasn’t watching the telly, he was outside tinkering with the lawnmower and the strimmer, or washing our fleet of ageing cars; hobbies that remained important to him all through his life.

This week’s invention comes from that world of motor racing, although this particular one it is not really to do with car engineering directly. Douglas was thinking about the promotions that come with the pageantry of the race, women in catsuits throwing gifts at the crowd. Always one for a bold statement or with a vision of how things look, he thought about branding and what could be branded, what might actually be useful when it comes to watching a motor race, and came up with this:

Viz Vizor fig 2

It’s a sun visor. What’s so special about that? Well, here’s the full design:

Viz vizor final pics

It’s a visor that, rather than being one fixed piece, can be flipped down to cover your eyes like sunglasses, the perfect item for watching a race out in the open air. (I like the model’s hooked nose!) It’s also lightweight, relatively cheap and easy to produce, and can be branded any way you would like. Douglas, in his prototype, for example, did one with a Land Rover logo:

Vizor landrover logo

This idea knocked around in Douglas’s head for years. It’s certainly something I remember from when I was working in his workshop in the mid-1990s, but if you notice the date on the drawings, they are from 2011-2012. These were real crunch years for Douglas, as his Parkinson’s worsened, and they were the years that he really tried to sell ideas he was particularly fond of and thought might really work; the last chance saloon. The Viz Vizor idea got dusted off and sent out to anyone he thought might be interested, including Land Rover, accompanied by letters such as this:

Vizor letter to Landmark

This is a fairly typical Douglas letter, and will have followed a conversation or two on the phone to the mysterious Manuella, once he had worked out whom, within the company, would be the person to send his ideas to. He types the way he writes by hand (with flair but with poor grammar!) and rather than just describing the Viz Vizor, it’s a typo – the second paragraph ‘tired little sigh’ etc refers to the aero-flag that I described in the last post. The idea never went further than this, he never made any, beyond a prototype or two, and no company bought or made them or gave them out at races. Maybe the world of motor-racing had moved on by the time Douglas sent the idea out, maybe what worked in the 1980s just wasn’t relevant in 2012.

In his own words

7 Mar

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Douglas’s death, and I find that today I am struggling to think of anything to tell you. So, in a break from the usual, I’m going to let Douglas speak for himself.

Best Frank in colour

Douglas really loved birds, and in fact the afternoon he died he and mum had been watching birds outside his window. This is Frank, a crow that Douglas drew, based on the community of jackdaws that lived near one of their houses. Frank was going to star in a series of children’ books that Douglas never quite got round to writing. Douglas loved to write, and had written plays that were performed by his local drama group back in the 1980s. In 2006 he decided that he should start a blog about what it was like to be an inventor. The blog never happened, but I have the first draft post that he wrote. So, here’s Douglas in his own words (spelling mistakes and erratic punctuation all his own):

_________
8th Sept 2006

I thought I would start a blog. It may be read by 14 people with the possibily of the paper from the download stuffed into a crack in the wall of a Hebridean croft or shredded and used as bedding by Henrietta the Hamster in West Brom    at least I can console myself its done some good

I am an inventor. It is my idea, no, the purpose of this blog is to give the world @ large (and Henrietta the Hamster, of West Brom) a flavour of the life I lead. There are several types of inventor   you could be a gifted amateur operating from a garden shed or one of a large research team or midway like me with a small workforce of 1 and a large workshop/studio

Let’s start with today. Up @ 6.30 Breakfast @ 7.00 Bowl of muesli toasted rye bread and honey. Let me just stop there why is it that American shops only stock clear runny honey spread it on the toast or bread and 3 minutes later there is a small sticky stream of honey running up your arm and now your fingers are covered in the stuff   Little rant over, back to breakfast, as I was saying. Toast & honey a glass of milk and I mustn’t forget the pills 5 in the morning    Reason:- Parkinson’s disease, but we will talk about this another time, suffice to say its a bit of a bugger    Back to the table pick up a banana & chuck it into old fashioned leather brief case (really must clean it out soon) At this point my wife Pat could well appear and I am off to work in the trusty Citroen Zantia estate I drive the 7 miles or so to work. I used to use the bicycle but its too dangerous   I am convinced most drivers have never seen a bike before, either that or I am invisible.

Arrive @ 8.10     Lyn had arrived @ 8.00 I shall tell you about Lyn another time   she is a real treasure. The workshop which I rent consists of a foyer with a round table & four chairs and a reasonable carpet     Right follow me we will go up stairs   thats the loo on your left   By the way when you walked through the front door there was another loo on your right    Follow me along the passage     the book keepers office on your left and my office/studio in front, yes its an airy room with windows on 3 sides a drawing board a computer and another round table with 4 chairs and two desks and a CD player which I play constantly the same track sometimes over & over again  I am playing Breaking Benjamin We are not alone and have been for some weeks there are 3 really good tracks, no idea what their called

Phone calls

Down stairs thro the large fire door you are now confronted with a long corridor   First door on left a room with a press, a bending machine (for sheet) and a set of hand rollers and adjoining is an underused office    Continuing down the passageway Kitchen/canteen on your right on your left 4 computerised sewing machines

Sewing machines

and a bloody great big green net from floor to ceiling enclosing 20sqr metres  Up to July this year we were testing golf clubs which I designed and the large red steel lump in the middle is a, I should say was a robotic arm  the ball was struck with a head speed of Appx 100mph and a special camera takes 2 shots within a nano second and gives you a computer read out of the shot distance – height-hook-fade spin, a nice piece of kit but the system has gone to Canada that’s another story

I think we will pause here and continue the workshop tour another time that is if you are still interested.
_______

Normal service will resume next week.

Knife Proof Armour

18 Jan

One of Douglas’s most iconic inventions, for me at least, is his knife proof armour. I asked Mum how Douglas got involved with the police on this, and apparently his second wife’s cousin worked for the Metropolitan Police’s Scientific Department (there’s a whole TV series right there…) and he wondered if Douglas could help. Mum remembers visiting the department (in Isleworth?) and watching the cousin explain the problem. She says he stood next to a bench on which was a piece of flesh simulant (I’d post a picture of this stuff but Googling for it produces nothing but pictures of guns and porn, so, sorry about that, imagine a large block of pinkish plasticine and you’re not far off), on which he had piled four separate armour samples, one on top of the other. She said he casually, almost without looking, took a large knife and stabbed all the way through all four layers into the simulant below. ‘No good,’ he said.

Now, many of you may think that the police have armour already, I mean, what about bullet proof vests? Well, a bullet proof vest is made of layers of a fabric called Kevlar, usually about 30 layers inside a fabric cover. It’s pretty good for stopping bullets, but absolutely hopeless for stopping a knife or needle (at the time people were stabbing the police with dirty needles as well as knives). In fact, the fabric in the vest, which is shiny and slippy, lines the wound, meaning that a knife penetrates further than it would without the vest, actually causing more damage. In addition, Kevlar vests are heavy, bulky and quite rigid from the tightly packed fabric and are therefore uncomfortable to wear, particularly for women.

Douglas took the problem away and had a think about it. Very little remains of Douglas’s sketches for the armour, but I did find this very, very early doodle which I recognise instantly.

armour-plates-3

You can see him thinking about interlocking tiles, thinking about what shapes fit together and how they might be joined. Here are a couple of other ideas:

armour-plates-2

armour-plates-1

What eventually came out of this process wasn’t far from these sketches at all, a series of titanium plates held together with nylon rivets inserted through holes. You’ve already seen a few of them on the dog armour leg protectors. Look closely and you can see the flexible blue rivets, which start as lengths of nylon cut into pieces, then moulded at one end into a mushroom shape, then inserted into the holes of the overlapping plates from the inside to the outside, and then a grey washer is slipped over the end to grip in place and the excess nylon is trimmed to fit. You can see the larger plates on the outside, and then the smaller rectangular plates on the inside that overlap across the joins of the large plates, ensuring full coverage with no cracks or joins where a needle could find its way through.

leg-guards

Here’s Douglas wearing the full vest in a press article:

police-queue-for-full-metal-jacket

Titanium is light and strong, it’s what they build planes with, so it’s perfect for vests. The rivets are flexible, meaning the vest bends to suit your shape, making it relatively comfortable to wear. The strength of the metal made it almost bulletproof too (and for years we had some flattened bullets in a little bag in a drawer that had been fired at the vest in tests) and combined with a few layers of Kevlar it was just as bullet proof as the original bullet proof vests, as well as knife and needle proof. Rows of little holes punched into the plates also acted to catch knife tips, meaning that if you were stabbed the knife wouldn’t slip down on impact and accidentally cut you somewhere else. It was, and probably still is, some of the best armour in existence. It got some great press attention, including this:

250-vest-could-have-saved-hero-pat

Exactly what happened with Ross and Catherall and the armour contract is a story for another day, but there was an interesting sideways development that I did not see coming at the time. Douglas was approached by Sainsbury’s for some armour, because it turns out that staff in their butchery department sometimes suffered from slash wounds to their stomach and thighs from accidents dealing with meat carcasses, and Sainsbury’s wanted safety equipment for them. Douglas lengthened the original vest to include a thigh-length skirt, and off they went to protect butchers. Here’s Douglas wearing the long apron version (nothing to do with the salmon story!):

Douglas Buchanan armour Times.jpg

The animal catcher

8 Jan

noose30n-1-web

This is a noose. I don’t know about you, but the idea of putting my head into one of these is not particularly appetising. Now, imagine that you are in the middle of a fight with some threatening creatures who are larger than you, outnumber you and are doing their best to corner you. One of them waves a stick with a noose on it in your direction. Are you likely to voluntarily put your head into it? No, of course not.

Well, a noose was, and probably still is, the standard method for trying to catch a dangerous dog. Here’s that picture of Metropolitan Police dog handler Gary Evans wearing Douglas’s dog armour again:

gary-in-dog-armour-1992

That’s a standard dog catching pole in his hands. Trying to persuade a dangerous dog, probably on the defensive and in distress that it should put it’s head into one of those was slow and difficult, and caused the dog further distress as well as more opportunity for either the dog or the humans to get hurt, or for the dog to escape. Douglas took a look at it and knew that he could do better. He began to sketch new ideas. Here’s his notebook in October 1992:

dog-catcher-sketches

There are a couple of problems that he was trying to overcome. Firstly, the non-appeal of the noose. Secondly, you don’t want to strangle the dog you’re trying to capture, that’s not the aim of the dog team. They needed something firm and strong but also gentle. He threw out the noose idea and began to think along new lines. Here he is a month later:

animal-catcher-early-sketch

The shape was coming together, so it was time to further develop the mechanism:

Animal catcher mech early sketch.jpg

The idea was that if you had a rigid pole with horns that were controlled by a cable through the handle, you could grab at the dog quickly and efficiently and pull the moveable horns closed. As the idea developed, one horn became fixed, making the whole structure stronger. The added gearing meant that even if you pulled really hard on the handle, the horns would not over-close, never strangling the dog. Here’s Douglas with a prototype in this article a couple of years later:

inventor-douglas-gest-us-big-break

It really worked! Bertie, lazy and tolerant, tried it out many times, but even he would not have submitted if he had been in any pain at all. Douglas also realised that the same principle could work on other things.

cuffs

Here’s a sketch of a proposal for handcuffs, because handcuffs have a similar problem to a noose, in that they can easily be pulled too tight, causing pain and injury to people wearing them. Douglas’s cuffs would not over-close, meaning they would be safe to use.

We still have one of the animal catchers, and while filming it just before Christmas, I dared the filmmakers to try it out on my hand. Despite having sat in a shed for a good ten years, the mechanism still worked, and the filmmaking team were able to capture my hand between the horns and pull the mechanism as hard as they could without causing me any pain.