Larry Fullerton owns more than 100 patents, but his latest invention merits special attention. While tinkering in the hopes of making self-assembling toys for his grandchildren, Fullerton, 59, figured out how to program magnets. In a process similar to his notable work coding radio signals, he controls the magnetic characteristics with unprecedented precision; his smart magnet can attract or repel a specific target at a defined strength and distance. After the 2008 discovery, Fullerton, who has built technology for the Department of Defense, cofounded Correlated Magnetics to license the technology for such uses as vehicles and medical devices. The possibilities are vast, says Ron Jewell, the company’s sales VP. Shutters that withstand hurricane-force winds. Childproof latches. And yes, toys that reassemble, thanks to programmed parts. “Anything that attaches to something,” he says, “can be rethought.”
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