Archive for: September 2011
September 28, 2011
In honour of Graeme Obree, Today’s invention is a collection of devices which might be used to help a bicycle achieve 100MPH.
a) a low-slung frame with an integral aerodynamic helmet (blue)
b) a linear ratchet-type exercise device to drive the rear wheel by horizontal foot movement only (red)
c) an aerofoil used to give negative lift and force the rear wheel onto the road during initial acceleration (and subsequently discarded once the drag dominates) (orange)
d) A non-steering front wheel -to allow the necessary low frontal area (yellow)
I sometimes watch people setting up scaffolding and marvel at the sheer scale of the effort required. Those poles are heavy and a danger in themselves, if one should slip when being manually manoeuvred at a great height above the street.
They don’t need to be nearly as strong as they are -except when they are located at the base of the scaffolding, supporting all the other poles, men, equipment materials and kit.
Today’s invention is therefore to create two different types of scaffold poles. Red ones would be as per normal and used for the first few floors from street level. White ones would be exactly the same in outer dimensions but with a greatly reduced wall thickness. This would make assembly faster and less effortful, without compromising safety.
If anyone made a mistake and used a white pole near the base, it would be immediately obvious, even to passers-by (It might, however, be simpler to use white poles everywhere in the horizontal direction and red ones vertically).
A more elaborate solution would be to create a standard light steel pole and a range of external nylon tubes of differing thickness (and colour). This would allow a rainbow scaffold to be built with linearly-varying strength from bottom to top.
September 27, 2011
I have tripped over my laptop’s transformer many times, almost causing the machine to crash onto the floor.
Today’s invention is to redesign these bricks into a low profile wedge shape. This would be inherently harder to stumble on but, when wedged under a door as a stop, the chance of tripping is much reduced.
In addition, because the transformer itself is anchored by the door, catching one’s foot on the cable should result in detaching the cable from the box, rather than tugging the machine, or whatever, off the desk on which it’s parked.
I love the idea of emergence, especially when it applies to engineered systems.
Imagine a flock of miniature UAVs. These are programmed with the usual rules about maintaining a safe distance from neighbours whilst flying at the same speed and direction.
Today’s invention is to take this one step farther and to have individual drones fly so as to take up positions relative to each other eg “fly at 30 degrees 1-wingspan to the North, South, East or West of your nearest neighbour.”
During a long flight, UAVs could cycle through a large number of combinations of such simple geometrial variants, thus creating a huge number of possible shapes eg line astern, cruciform, 8 of diamonds, S-shape -both regular and perhaps irregular.
The critical thing would be that all the vehicles would be in constant communication, so that they would be broadcasting their current rules and other, resulting conditions (such as fuel economy).
This would allow the drones to try any simple behaviours which seemed to be working well for others. Just like a realtime genetic algorithm, this would attune the flock to varying flying conditions (eg when fuel is running low and heading into a storm, flying efficiently and less closely would be an experimental finding that was quickly and widely adopted).
September 25, 2011
Today’s invention is a modification to an undergraduate drinking game, based on the famous Jenga.
Normally, I’m told, you have to have a drink, by way of forfeit, when you move blocks other than the one you are trying to extract. Instead, I suggest that whoever extracts a block correctly can pass it to the player of their choice, who then has to take a drink. This comes from inside the extracted brick.
The bricks are made of plastic and each has a hollow core and a sealable bung, which allows them to hold a variable amount of alcoholic or other beverage, chosen by the hosts, before a game commences.
Some of the blocks would be transparent and some opaque, so that players would have a varying amount of knowledge about their contents. The variation in weight, and hence frictional resistance to being removed, would add an extra degree of difficulty.
September 23, 2011
Even in connection with those books not in digital format, unlicensed photocopying can be a problem.
Today’s invention is a simple fixture designed to make a real book much less easily copied, whilst not restricting anyone who wants to read the content.
It takes the form of a fine, but tough and flexible metal cable which runs around the outside of each book (inside the binding) and across top of the pages themselves.
This allows the book to be opened enough for easy reading, but makes it impossible to place it on a photocopier (even one designed for fast, semi-automatic imaging). Handheld scanners could still be used to allow legitimate recording of individual passages.
Any tampering with the cable would be immediately obvious eg to librarians or other lenders.
So it seems that there maybe some unfairness involved in athletics track design. Perhaps left handers are disadvantaged by having to run counterclockwise.
A figure-of-eight track would be possible but would lead to collisions with lapped runners (or if using an overpass, questions about the effects of uphill vs downhill).
Today’s invention is a way to even up any such imbalance.
Since running around circular curves at constant speed requires, according to simple Physics, no expenditure of work beyond overcoming friction in the direction of motion, I’ve assumed that there is no difference between running bends of differing radius.
The problem of fair track design thus becomes one of ensuring equal total stretches of left- and right-handedness.
The shape above provides this, together with straight sections for sprint events.
September 21, 2011
The space shuttle had solid rocket boosters and airforce jets have had drop tanks for 50+ years -so the concept of dumping surplus weight (and drag) when in flight is very well established.
Today’s invention extends that to engines. Most airliners can cruise quite efficiently and safely using only two of their four engines (once takeoff has been completed).
The idea would be to use all four jets to gain altitude and then jettison the outer two. This would greatly decrease the weight of the vehicle but most importantly the drag would be similarly cut, allowing the plane to fly very much farther (if slower) using its usual fuel load.
The dropped engines would have parachutes and transponders attached, enabling their recovery and reuse. A small retained fuel supply could even be used to fire the falling engine up just before landing, in order to provide a retro-thrust effect and cushion the impact.
When the newly 2-engined plane landed, it would be refitted with another two temporary propulsion units during turnaround.
(If this is too hair-raising to be seriously considered, how about mounting an engine or two beneath the fuselage so that they could be withdrawn from the airstream, like the undercarriage is?)
September 20, 2011
People in busy tower blocks can become stressed by fighting their way onto and off lifts. This is a similar situation is some ways to getting on and off trains…a problem that used to be dealt with by having carriages with multiple side doors.
Today’s invention is a resurrection of this idea as applied to lifts.
Each lift would consist of say 30 cubicles, each big enough to accommodate perhaps 2 people and with a glass door to prevent claustrophobia.
When the lift stops, the cubicles would be accessed in parallel, so that there would be no fighting to get in or out on time. The glass doors would also allow anyone to see which cubicles were available.
These long, narrow lift carriages would each occupy up to half the width of an office block, to allow room for upwards and downwards lifts.
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I was fascinated when I first learned about objects which have a centre of mass outside themselves.
Today’s invention is a system for carrying a lot of shopping that exploits this kind of geometry.
It consists of a C-shaped trough carried using a pair of padded shoulder straps. This allows a shopper to stand inside the C and thus support the weight of the goods. It also allows reaching for stuff with both hands and with none of the arm strain associated with a heavy basket.
Items of shopping could be placed in this, as a substitute for a hard-to-steer shopping trolley, and then carried home in it (with a suitable zip-on weather cover).
Ths would provide some exercise, as well as an indication during shopping of the weight of goods which would have to be carried home (or hoisted into a car).