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Who Invented the Toothed Gear?

By Peter Lloyd

That’s almost like asking, who invented the wheel? Some inventions seem to have been with us forever, but the toothed gear has a history. I found a few ancient clues, plus a rather eye-opening video, to help identify a clear winner.

Around 50 AD, Greek mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria made reference to gears. diagramBut the inventor of the aeolipile, left, wasn’t first. He followed Archimedes, inventor of Archimedes screw and an odometer that used his screw, driven by a cart’s wheels, to raise and drop balls to record distance. Even more intricate geared devices meant to calculate astronomical movements show up between 150 and 100 BC.

But I’m afraid my prize has to go to Issus coleoptratus or more accurately to Mother Nature, who supplied the critter with natural pairs of toothed gears. In the video below, you can see those gears in action.

In its juvenile state, Issus coleoptratus, a kind of planthopper like the grasshopper, uses its built-in, interlocking gears to synchronize the movement of its paired hind legs.

Synchronization is critical, because the planthopper leaps up to 300 times its length in a burst of motion exacting approximately 200 Gs of force on itself. If both legs don’t thrust with equal force, the planthopper could end up who knows where.

But it’s hardly fair to pit Mother Nature against human inventors. She uses a problem-solving process called Natural Selection, a technique only she has the inexhaustible patience and virtually infinite time to practice.

While we humans naturally evolve ourselves and the way we live by going with the flow of evolution, we can only apply fits and starts of Natural Selection during the limited time we breathe. Nevertheless doing so has delivered, as it does for the planthopper, our most far-reaching leaps of invention.

Peter Lloyd is co-creator with Stephen Grossman of Animal Crackers, the breakthrough problem-solving tool designed to crack your toughest problems.

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