/>
X

Inside Barcelona's Museum of Ideas and Inventions (photos)

Correspondent Jennifer Riggins visits a small Spanish museum bursting with creativity.
By Jennifer Riggins, Contributor
1_BCN-MIBA-UselessMach.jpg
1 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

An eight-year-old MIBA regular, after high-fiving the clerk, plays with the "Useless Machine," calling it "La cosa mas estupida del mundo" ("The stupidest thing in the world"), while explaining to anyone who'll listen how it works and expertly taking it apart to reveal the mechanism and battery that makes the box open and close at the flick of a switch.

This MIBA best-seller was invented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's artificial intelligence laboratory co-founder Marvin Minsky in 1952 in response to being asked to create the "ultimate machine." According to Torres, when sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke saw the machine, he was fascinated by it. "There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing -- absolutely nothing -- except switch itself off," wrote Clark.

Photo: Jennifer K. Riggins

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
6424176.jpg
2 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

MIBA is the first museum in the world in which you can pay by how much time you've spent there. In afternoons, when they leave, visitors can pay 20 cents a minute up to the 8 euros normal entrance fee. Torres says the University of Zurich is doing a study on the business model. "There's a lot of people who enter the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa," he said, convinced his is the logical business model for most museums to try.

If that deal isn't persuasive enough for folks who are uncertain about entering, the entrance features a periscope that gives the potential visitor a 360-degree peak into the downstairs exhibitions.
 
The front desk is covered with smaller inventions including disposable bracelets that read "Barcelona is hot! (but I didn't get burned…)" This Catalan invention changes colors to indicate when the wearer needs to refresh their sunscreen and then again when they are near to being sunburnt, helping parents protect their kids against the often harsh Mediterranean sun. Here, you can also grab one of the MIBA business cards, which are rolled up inside red innovation pills.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
3-BCN-MIBA-PepatEntrance.jpg
3 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

Another way in which MIBA stands out is that it is 100 percent privately funded -- an essentially unheard-of idea in Spain. "The country is so poor," Torres says, that he felt he couldn't take money from the government, but only give back to the community. Three years ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, Torres had found the museum's future spot, but didn't have a penny to invest in it. He presented the creativity of the project to 24 banks, and four loaned him hundreds of thousands of euros based solely on his word. Later, when the loan ran out halfway through the project's completion, two of his friends became investors, too.

In this image, Torres is pointing out another obstacle he faced in building the museum -- the bureaucracy of starting a business in Spain. One of the things that attracted him to the Gothic district location was that the entrance featured a floor with a window looking into the basement. The building inspectors told him that it must have glass that could withstand three hours during a fire. Torres researched and learned that, so far, glass had only been invented to withstand for two hours in that kind of heat. The inspector responded to the effect that rules are rules, leaving Torres frustrated and filling in the space with concrete.
 
The museum has humorous and inspirational phraseology all around. The glass floor reminds people that "Flying isn't so hard."
 
Photo: Jennifer K. Riggins
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
4-BCN-MIBA-Hurricane.jpg
4 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

Based on the idea of movie theaters making more profit off of popcorn than the movie ticket, Torres had this two-euro-a-use hurricane simulator flown from the U.S. -- to provide another unique experience while striving for the museum to finally break even.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
6424179.jpg
5 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

The entrance of the museum is lined with locally and internationally designed inventions for sale, each paired with the story of the inventor and inventions. "I wanted a place where independent inventors can show and sell their pieces. You go to El Corte Ingles and they won't even look at you," said Torres, speaking of Spain's largest and omnipresent department store. "You go to a little shop and they won't even hear you."

Some highlights are a Catalan-designed "Taca i Plats" coffee mug shaped perfectly to dip a cookie into; "Boc'n'roll" a reusable aluminum bocadillo (sandwich) wrapper; a map of the world that allows you to you scratch off the places you've visited; and a bib -- not unlike the "babi" smocks young Spanish children wear to school -- that covers a child's entire body.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
6-BCN-MIBA-CatalanInventors.jpg
6 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

Some inventors even drop in from the neighborhood trying to sell their wares. "Un Drap" is an apron made out of a tea towel, invented by an elderly women who lives around the corner.

Torres says MIBA will give any reasonable invention six weeks in the store to prove it can sell.
 
Offering even more opportunity, local inventors can also rent spots in MIBA's showroom for a few months for 150 euros, putting them center stage for investors and media who pass through. Some of the Catalan inventions included uniquely designed clothing and a table that turns into a bench.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
7-BCN-MIBA-slide.jpg
7 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

"We think things and we just try them," says Torres, who, a la Google's headquarters, had a spiral slide installed between the museum's two floors.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
8-BCN-MIBA-bathroom.jpg
8 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

Everything in MIBA is out of the ordinary, and that includes the restrooms. Torres eagerly showed off what he calls the only fully soundproof bathroom, which avoids moments of awkwardness, while reminding people not to be embarrassed about anything. "Don't be afraid of showing people your ideas" is written on the mirrors. In addition, as soon as you sit on the toilet or stand near the urinal, a video comes on featuring three Catalan comedians making fun of you as you "take a leak."

Torres said he is constantly working to push folks out of their comfort zones, so they are able to embrace life's opportunities with a creative and open mind.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
9-BCN-MIBA-MiniStaircase.jpg
9 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

"It's not just about displaying inventions but encouraging them," Torres said, which is why he founded Mini MIBA, which has each visitor aged six to 12 draw and give a description of an idea for an invention. Each month, the MIBA board members, along with the Spanish patent office and a team of designers choose one design out of about 400, "and we make your invention come true!" as the flier reads.

He said the idea is to is to encourage kids to think of inventing as a career they can develop in the future, like in science or engineering. However, for one lucky winner a month, designers and the patent office volunteer to help the kid designers create a prototype that they could sell, if they wanted to.
 
For kids, "the age isn't a problem to be creative, they have a problem doing the business," said Torres, speaking very highly of the local patent office who, pro bono, helped 35 children file patents in their own names in the first year alone.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
10-BCN-MIBA-MiniInventions.jpg
10 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

Torres quoted the adage, "A creative person is a kid that has been saved." A large section of the basement is dedicated to displaying the 30 winners of Mini MIBA. The museum visitors are free to test out the "Swiss Army knife" for colored pencils with sharpener; the hairbrush sewn into a glove imagined by two six-year-olds; and "Blue not Red" an anti-accident knife that always lands on its rubber end.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
11-BCN-MIBA-irontxut.jpg
11 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

Marc and Ferran Cardelus, aged ten and 12, respectively, designed IronTxut after never being able to properly play in the dress shoes they wore to school. These silicon protectors slide over the tip of the shoes, so they can play football at recess without incurring the wrath of their parents at another pair of ruined penny loafers. Torres is confident the brothers could easily sell their patent to Nike.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
12-BCN-MIBA-SolarTurbino-EudaldVehi11.jpg
12 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

Torres went ahead and entered the first generation of Mini MIBA winners into the British Invention Show, judged as if they were adults.

One child, 11-year-old Eudald Vehi, won the Diamond Invention Award for his windmill blades that incorporate solar cells, thereby increasing the sustainability of both green energies. Solar cells become less efficient as they grow hotter, but the wind keeps the cells at the same temperature and efficiency level. In addition, the solar cells continue to produce energy if there's no wind, while the windmill continues to produce energy when there's no sun.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
6424171.jpg
13 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

The museum is just the tip of the invention and idea iceberg for Torres. The self-proclaimed renaissance man is planning to hold an Invention Camp in Summer 2014, inside a castle, to not only teach invention ideas, but to create well-rounded individuals, immersed in all creative fields like art, music and sports.

Being a smaller museum, MIBA can only open its doors to about half the schools that want to take field trips there. Torres and his team are developing a pedological program called Inventor's Box, which will train teachers in increasing entrepreneurial spirit in the schools. The museum is even buying an old Volkswagen van to take its mission to schools around Barcelona.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
14-BCN-Miba-MiniDrawing2.jpg
14 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

The mantra of MIBA is "Se puede, se puede" ("You can, you can").

"At dinnertime on Sunday with your family and friends, everyone has ideas, but on Monday morning you forget about it," Torres said. He says that maybe five percent of those people actually do something with their ideas on Monday. "That's what I call entrepreneurs." He says that only one or two percent of those entrepreneurs will end up making money out of their ideas.
 
This statistic doesn't bother him, even though he admits that Spain isn't a country for entrepreneurs. Torres said, "I think failure is a badge you must have. Through school to university, you should have five failures." He compares it with owning a motorcycle -- sooner or later you're going to have an accident. He just prefers you fail at home, so then you can discuss, "What did you do before and what [did] you learn from it."
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
6424173.jpg
15 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

Torres is an inventor himself. One of his most interesting inventions, the Human-Powered Vending Machine, was featured as one of Time magazine's top 50 inventions in 2009. Instead of dropping in coins for your favorite junk food, you must pedal off the necessary calories before receiving the snack. Torres has sent the plans for it to Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York who is well-known for his push for a health-conscious city.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
16-BCN-MIBA-PepPlantOMatic.jpg
16 of 16 Jennifer Riggins/ZDNET

<p>To stress the museum's theme of making inventing fun, Torres has also put on display what he thinks are some of the sillier of his inventions, including this Plant-o-Matic, which is a plant that wheels itself around looking for sunlight, and, in honor of Spain's more famous invention -- the mop -- he's created one with a microphone built into the handle.</p>

 
<p>On sale in the museum store is another of Torres' inventions -- Secret Postcards, which are scratch-off stickers you place over the writing on a normal postcard to give it a little privacy and excitement.</p>
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Related Galleries

Holiday wallpaper for your phone: Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, and winter scenes
Holiday lights in Central Park background

Related Galleries

Holiday wallpaper for your phone: Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, and winter scenes

21 Photos
Winter backgrounds for your next virtual meeting
Wooden lodge in pine forest with heavy snow reflection on Lake O'hara at Yoho national park

Related Galleries

Winter backgrounds for your next virtual meeting

21 Photos
Holiday backgrounds for Zoom: Christmas cheer, New Year's Eve, Hanukkah and winter scenes
3D Rendering Christmas interior

Related Galleries

Holiday backgrounds for Zoom: Christmas cheer, New Year's Eve, Hanukkah and winter scenes

21 Photos
Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6: Electric vehicle extravaganza
img-8825

Related Galleries

Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6: Electric vehicle extravaganza

26 Photos
A weekend with Google's Chrome OS Flex
img-9792-2

Related Galleries

A weekend with Google's Chrome OS Flex

22 Photos
Cybersecurity flaws, customer experiences, smartphone losses, and more: ZDNet's research roundup
shutterstock-1024665187.jpg

Related Galleries

Cybersecurity flaws, customer experiences, smartphone losses, and more: ZDNet's research roundup

8 Photos
Inside a fake $20 '16TB external M.2 SSD'
Full of promises!

Related Galleries

Inside a fake $20 '16TB external M.2 SSD'

8 Photos