Retrovation, by Carlos Aragón

I am happy to include today a post from my first “guest writer”, Carlos Aragón, who works with me in the Innovation Management team at Ineco. In his post he speaks about the “Retrovation” trend, going back to the old stuff, as a contrast to Innovation. I hope you find it interesting!


Graphene applications, Holography, Nanotech, AI… that’s what one would expect of an innovation blog post like this. Nevertheless, let me do an about-face on the topics you are more than used to in order to take a walk trough our every day life.

There is a trend opposed to the major technological developments currently ongoing, called “Retrovation” or, to say so, retro innovations, going back to the old stuff that has been always working, the so-called Grandma’s Remedies. Some of them are widely known, while others could be considered as Emerging Technologies, but all of them share the same idea:

  • The electric car. Although it’s commonly regarded as a relatively recent invention (exception made of the US and the infamous GM EV1), the first electric vehicles date back to the 19th century, at the same time the internal combustion cars were developing. During the first years, the electric car had 90% of the market share, compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. The picture heading this post shows a Reconstruction of the first electric car ever built, the Flocken Elektrowagen (1888). It basically consists of a electric-powered buggy, with a range and top speed fairly surprising (100 km and 15 km/h, respectively). (Picture: wikimedia commons)
  • Architecture and construction. This field comprises some of the main “retrovations”, referring both to materials and designs. For instance, bioclimatic architecture derives from a compilation of traditional construction methods. In this paper from Dicle University, in Turkey, one can notice strategies not so different from those used in modern passive buildings. In a similar way, among the state-of-the-art materials nowadays, we can find the ecological bricks, no more than “hipster” adobe bricks, with little differences from those used nearly 10,000 years ago. The following picture shows an on-site reconstruction of a Çatalhöyük typical house. Was it sold as an ecological house in the Neolithic? (Picture: wikimedia commons)


  • Civil engineering. In this field, differently from the previous ones, it is usual to see many traditional practices in use, mainly because modern civil engineering keeps trusting in Ancient Techniques. As an example, quicklime for soil stabilization is being used since Roman times to the present day. Nevertheless, some new soil stabilization techniques with traditional materials, such as adobe bricks, can be considered as “retrovations”. Coming back to Roman Engineering, the “secret recipe” of the roman cement, opus caementicium, has been recently analysed, and it seemingly has several features that improve our ubiquitous Portland cement.

These are just a few examples, but surely we are all familiar with more. I leave you with a very interesting TED Talk that shows us how some traditional engineering systems prove to be more useful than modern engineering, in an environment as harsh as the Great Indian Desert, one of the driest areas on Earth: The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting.

What about you? Are you aware of any other retrovation? Please share it in the comments!



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