Patent awarded to 13-year-old for pen projector

David Baker is 13 and just joined a very exclusive club. He holds a patent and for a pretty smart and sophisticated piece of technology.

Starting in the fourth grade, Baker, who lives two miles from me in Massachusetts, came with an idea for a full the Projector Pen, a projector the size of a pen. U.S. patent 7,535,436 was granted to David on May 19 for his "Light Beam Delivery System."

Thirteen-year-old David Baker holds engraved plaque of his patent. credit: John Dodge

How did he come up the idea? The seventh grader answers with a bit of a shrug that belies his age. "I was thinking about how to help people and came up with it."

Make no mistake. The home-schooled Baker is a smart kid who is passionate about all facets of engineering. What's remarkable is the sophistication of the device which uses Red Green Blue (RGB) lasers, sensors, mirrors and dichronic combiners which I learned let light pass through at one angle, but reflect at another. The system took a year to conceptualize (only rotating disk which house the lens assembly has been built so far...).

David Baker at his favorite Saturday hangout, MIT's Edgerton Center. credit: Richard Baker

"We know the rotating disk will work. We still have more engineering to to do on the basic concepts," he explains.

Where does this precocious lad get his inspiration? "He just likes engineering and we keep encouraging him. He wanted to do this and get a patent and kept bugging me," says father Richard, a 3Com software engineer who specializes in patent licensing.

Getting a patent is a rigorous and lengthy process. It took three years and the onus is on the applicant to inform the patent office about any similar or overlapping inventions that could impact the Pen Projector's originality. Working with his dad, David provided seven references to other inventions. His father's name is second on the patent, but dad credits his son for the invention. David still has three patents pending on the Pen Projector including an international patent.

His latest work involves is on a "Reprap" 3-D printer which digitally produces real prototypes of plastic parts. The goal of the Reprap Project is to build a machine known as a universal constructor which can not only replicate itself, but can make other industrial products using a process known as rapid protoyping.

And his engineering interests extend into machining live steam locomotives models to robotics. Of course, he's already participated in a First Competition, the pre-eminent robotics competition for high-schoolers founded by the well-known inventor and engineer Dean Kamen (by the way, see the incredible photo gallery of Smithsonian-like Kamen's house that I shot last Fall.).

He also spends Saturday afternoons at MIT's Edgerton Center when it is open to high-schoolers. Not surprisingly, mechanical and electrical engineering will be his college pursuits but not necessarily at MIT.

"I want to go to Caltech so I can play pranks on MIT," he says (MIT pranks such as putting the "epiphany toilet on Building 37" are legendary).

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