Monday, May 10, 2010

Awards to ingenious inventors

Everybody in France has heard of the Concours Lépine, which has become part of popular (people-oriented) French culture. Started in 1901, it's an annual competition aimed at promoting ingenious inventors. Louis Lépine was a lawyer with extensive experience in regional administration. Appointed police prefect of the Seine in 1893, he created several fundamental entities that still exist today. For example, he organized the first service for handling lost-and-found objects. He inaugurated a unit of river police in boats on the Seine, and a unit of police on bicycles. He imagined the excellent idea of equipping Paris policemen with a white baton and a silver whistle. He installed hundreds of emergency phones enabling the public to contact firemen and policemen. He invented one-way streets, just as he was the founder of a forensic police service and even a police museum in Paris (where I was able to carry out interesting research into a notorious English personage named Clotworthy Skeffington, held in debtors' prisons in Paris until his escape on the eve of the storming of the Bastille in 1789). As for the idea of starting a competition for inventions, Lépine was motivated by the necessity of doing something to revigorate the lethargic state of the manufacture of toys and small hardware items by Paris craftsmen.

This year's award acclaims a device named Top-Braille whose purpose is so praiseworthy that it's strange it wasn't invented ages ago. It's possible that the idea has always been in people's minds but, to make it a reality, inventors needed to wait until the necessary technology was available. The device simply scans written text and translates it either into Braille dots or an audio version.

Great inventions that were initially award-winners at the Concours Lépine include the ballpoint pen, the two-stroke motor, the steam iron and contact lenses.


  1. What a simple idea that will be very useful for many people. Now every piece of literature is accessible to the blind. Great post.

  2. Just like you I am actually surprised that Top-Braille has not been invented earlier it seems like a such a simple device. It's great to know that such a large amount of literature has been made available for the blind.