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Master of inventions

Asha Chowdary, May 04, 2014, DHNS
Inventor Jem Stansfield also created special effects for films like Lost In Space and Van Helsing.

From sunglasses that prevent travel sickness and teddy bears that hug you back, Jem Stansfield has made it all happen. Asha Chowdary talks to the inventor about his cherished inventions & more...

If you thought your daily cup of java and toffee flavoured candy were only meant to lift your spirits, think again. In the hands of an inventor like Jem Stansfield, creativity and brilliance run in tandem. In his exciting world, you would see cars zoom down the freeways fuelled with coffee instead of petrol, rockets that whiz into space on toffee and gas, boots that walk on water and motorcycles that power up on compressed air. Or you might even catch the inventor impersonating Spiderman himself, using the suction created by two ordinary vacuum cleaners, to scale a wall.


Inventor by birth

Such is the stuff of inventor’s dreams and Jem actually manages to make magic happen with his knowledge of science. And now, here’s a chance to meet the British inventor himself in your living rooms as he beams through your television sets in the show, Make Me A Millionaire Inventor on Discovery Science. The series will take you to the United Kingdom to find the patent libraries of lost dreams and will be hosted by mechanical engineers Jem and Shini Somara.


In an exclusive interview with Jem, during which he describes the many nuances of his work and the tumultuous life of an inventor, he also reveals the many facets of his work and his unique brand of creativity that has taken him down many roads in his lifetime.
He begins by describing the show that he is delighted to be a part of. “In the show, Make Me a Millionaire Inventor, we go to our libraries in the UK to locate good inventions. When we find the best ones, we track down the inventors and meet them and ask them what happened to their inventions. We, then, help them take it forward,” he says.

In each episode of the show, Jem takes up one invention at a time. The inventors are offered the chance of a lifetime — to have working prototypes built, getting the products tested in the real world and be given expert help to hone their business and pitching skills to perfection. Finally, the newly-discovered inventors pitch their inventions to industry heads and millionaire investors, in the hope of making a fortune.

Speaking about his own inventions, Jem has an exciting repertoire of work to describe. There was a pair of sunglasses he created that could prevent travel sickness and a set of special pebbles in a bicycle that could make it go faster. There were arm bands to help children swim and collapsible tables that could be used in pubs and restaurants. There was also a teddy bear that could hug you back when you held it close to you.

“My passion for inventions began when I was young,” he remembers and adds. “I even told my family that I wanted to become a professor of inventions one day. I loved building things with my hands. Later, I did special effects for the movies and then got into TV programmes.”

Ask Jem about his wackiest inventions and he loves to talk about his car that ran on coffee. “We travelled hundreds of miles in that car that used coffee grounds as fuel,” he laughs. “It didn’t smell nice but it worked well and cost nothing. But you cannot go too fast in a coffee-powered car.”


He also made a jet pack which he plugged to a fire engine, so that firemen could fly over the buildings to put out fires. “But it never took off because firemen preferred ladders,” he says ruefully, and adds, “Today, people use jetpacks for so many things, but not the firemen.”

His all-time favourite invention is his Spiderman act. “I used vacuum gloves to climb all kinds of buildings made of concrete, glass and brick,” he explains.

Varied roles


Jem is the kind of inventor that kids love. “I used to love inventing things for kids,” he remembers. “Once when I found that kids love fighting with each other, I created a device that beeped when their parents came home. I used a parking detector inside a smoke detector. When anyone who is over 5 ft or 6 ft tall entered a room, it would beep. So, when their parents came in, the kids would know immediately and they would stop fighting.”


Jem has a degree in aeronautics from Bristol University. Before his television career he has had many jobs — he worked in a Czech school, as a shepherd in the Australian outback, and briefly in stand-up comedy. When he entered the world of television, he began by being an on-screen ballistics expert for the television show Scrapheap Challenge.

Looking back, Jem finds that being an inventor is fraught with obstacles. “It is difficult to be an inventor,” he says. “You may love inventing things, but you need to be so much else. You need money, engineering talent, you need to be an artist, salesperson and showman, all in one person. You may have great ideas but unless you sell them, you won’t go anywhere.”


Jem also created special effects for films like Lost In Space and Van Helsing. When asked about his stint in movie making, he says it was extremely fascinating. “Creating special effects for the movies was interesting. When it is a big budget film, the special effects are done on a large scale and you are a small part of it. Television is much smaller and you might find yourself writing the script, building the invention and so much more.”
As for a life beyond inventions, Jem says he loves being with his family, especially his young children. “My daughter loves inventions too and I find that she has an eye for design already.”


Jem is looking forward to writing more TV scripts and programmes. “I don’t know where life will take me in the future, but I have no big plans,” he signs off.


Make Me A Millionaire Inventor airs on Discovery Science from Monday to Thursday, at 9 pm.

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