Archive for: February 2007

28th February 2007

#100: Road safety ‘movie’

Filed under: Possible inventions - 28 Feb 2007

The Schyns Illusion enables the creation of ‘hybrid images’ in which elements of two different pictures may be superimposed to create a new one.

When viewed at different distances, the hybrid image looks like one or other of the two originals. An example is provided here in which a single image of a human face is shown as it would appear to observers at two different distances (and rescaled so that both views of the image are shown at the same size). It undergoes a radical change in expression from angry to calm.

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This technique can be used to superimpose more than two original images. This would allow someone approaching a single image, printed cheaply in the traditional way, to perceive a short sequence of different views (without any need for animation equipment).

Obvious applications for this would be as an alternative to the costly electronic billboards used in outdoor advertising. You could create a crude, walk-by movie consisting of several superimposed scenes, each of which only becomes visible at the right distance from the poster.

Today’s invention is even simpler, however. Imagine a printed poster placed on a pedestrian crossing and visible to children as they are about to cross the road. The poster would carry the face of a trusted sports start or tv ‘personality’ (I’d tolerate even more ubiquitous narcissism if it can save lives).

As the child begins to cross the road, the face appears to look left, right and then left again and continues doing so throughout the road crossing.

So that’s the first 100 inventions. Why don’t we celebrate by funding a few thousand posters and getting them independently evaluated?

27th February 2007

#99: Commuticopter

Filed under: Whimsical inventions - 27 Feb 2007

I admit it. I’m obsessed by flying machines. Not just aeroplanes, but especially those systems which can lift an individual and take him over the rooftops just like James Bond’s rocket belt in Thunderball. In these days when unmanned aerial vehicles are gaining credibility, I still want to get up there myself (as long as I’m not required to be a passenger).

I’d settle for a regular helicopter, but the price tag and running costs are on the steep side of vertical take-off. So today’s invention is a way to make commuting exciting again.

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A high-spec. remote controlled model helicopter can be bought for $1,000. It will lift 5Kg +fuel and fly at 20mph under load for about 20 minutes. For a lot of people, this would be sufficient range to get them to work -if they weighed 5Kg.

So I propose to get together an array of 12 of these machines, attach them to a light aluminium frame using climbing rope and then secure myself to the frame with a hangliding harness.

Not having 24 arms means that all of them would be controlled using a single R/C system, tuned to the same frequency. The frame would prevent (most) collisions and in the event of some malfunction, the multiplicity of lift sources would provide ‘graceful degradation,’ of a sort.

Fuel consumption? Probably not that much worse than a thirsty, 4×4, school-run tank. Noise level? Off the scale. Think of it as a safety feature -no one can claim they didn’t hear you coming.

26th February 2007

#98: Business cookies

Filed under: Possible inventions - 26 Feb 2007

Being introduced to more than three people at a time makes it almost impossible for me to keep track of names and faces. Rather than continue with all of that shuffling-cardboard-across-the-table and mumbling ‘hello’, maybe it’s time for an up to date alternative to the business card.

Today’s invention is a ‘watch’ worn on the right wrist, which can wirelessly transmit, when brought close to another such device eg during a handshake, a small file of information about its wearer.

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This would contain, in a standardised format, items such as

-name
-any evidence of past meetings
-mutual friends
-topics to avoid
-a thumbnail photo, for scrutiny later
-most likely icebreaker subject, etc.

The watch would contain enough storage for even a politician’s ‘working’ day (ie several hundred pressings of the flesh). Each file, once received, could be transmitted to a portable device (think Blackberry) which would then run a check quickly for additional up-to-date background information on the individual.

A wireless earpiece would be used to transmit snippets of (prioritised) text-to-speech output. This would need to be on-demand -perhaps when the user performs some unobtrusive gesture, like touching his/her ear.

This system would help avoid faux-pas and, with practice, smooth the meeting process. On shaking hands again, at the end of the meeting, names would once more get transmitted to earpieces for a more personalised leave-taking.

(Freemasons’ handshaking habits would be unaffected of course. What would it take to affect them?).

25th February 2007

#97: Flux alarm

Filed under: Possible inventions - 25 Feb 2007

We are surrounded by more (magnet-containing) motorised devices than ever before. From cameras to pedal bins to door mirrors to catflaps (I haven’t mentioned these for a while, so I thought I’d grab the opportunity).

We are also increasingly reliant on magnetic storage devices, but these two technologies tend not to work well when in close proximity to each other.

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Today’s invention is an alarm which is activated when a significant magnetic field moves near to your credit card or your laptop’s hard drive. It takes the form of a low-cost, stick-on patch containing a copper wire coil.

If someone happens to dump an alternator on the desk beside your patch-bearing wallet, the magnets it contains would induce a small current within the coil: enough to trigger another circuit of the type used in those annoying musical christmas cards so that an alert note sounds (or a quick burst of Silent Night, if you are doubly unfortunate).

This would be made sufficiently sensitive to the arrival of a strong magnetic field that the alarm sounds before damage can occur to the (usually less sensitive) system which is to be protected.

A variant on this patch might also be developed which reacted to high levels of magnetic flux variation; such as that which is sometimes suspected of damaging cell development in young children living near electricity transmission pylons.

24th February 2007

#96: Hybrid shaver

Filed under: Possible inventions - 24 Feb 2007

Today’s invention was going to be a new way to ensure that the crud which clogs every multiblade razor was no longer a problem. I’ve had to accept that the build-up of this debris is currently a too-hard problem and also that it’s actually a big part of the razor business model: people won’t throw their blades away so quickly if they can clean them out (despite ‘developments’ like the flexible cleaning bar and the scraper).

Instead therefore, today’s invention is a much less ambitious tool, which enhances the established business model of disposable, expensive aftermarket refills.

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Each razor unit would now be sold with a void in the handle into which a small vial of shaving gel could be inserted (this might then be diluted by adding eg hot water). This works in the same way that a toothpaste pump does. Activated by pressing the blade unit to the face, gel is gently squirted onto the face in front of the blade.

The gel might also contain some bicarbonate to give a refreshing “phizz-shave experience” (TM) -or not. Perhaps this fizziness could also help reduce the concretion of debris and allow running water to actually wash away some of the muck.  A weakly endothermic fizzing reaction would not only cool the skin, reducing any tendency to razor rash, but also cause the facial hair to stand on end and make for an even closer shave (or at least a more colourful marketing message).

It may be possible to arrange that only a very thin film of soap is applied to the skin, via this controlled delivery method, thus creating less debris and prolonging the life of the shaver itself -so that customer dissatisfaction is reduced to a manageable level.

This also means you never have to carry a giant aerosol with you when travelling and allows the manufacturers to charge even more for their shaving accessories.

23rd February 2007

#95: Tyre distortion monitor

Filed under: Possible inventions - 23 Feb 2007

Vehicles with the wrong tyre pressures endanger everybody. Maintaining the optimal set of working pressures to ensure reliable braking is both quite complex and a real pain. It’s hard for the average driver to sense when they need to go and crouch in the rain with that filthy airline (that costs money) -and of course no-one wants to.

Today’s invention addresses only one part of this composite problem: the issue of unbalanced tyre pressures.

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Two cameras (with low-voltage illumination), or perhaps one camera + one mirror, would be located in advance of each fuel pump at service stations. They would automatically grab an image of each wheel as a vehicle passes. These images would be linked to the correct vehicle by taking into account the timing of their transits past the camera…without any need to worry about precise spatial alignment of anything).

It’s comparatively easy to find the (high-contrast, rotationally-symmetric) shape of a wheel within a tyre using image processing. This would allow the height of each wheel above the forecourt to be precisely compared. It would also be possible to quickly superimpose all four tyre outlines for any signs of comparative distortion (due to load maldistribution, for example).

Significant differences in contact pressure with the road could thus be detected and a message displayed at the pump in time for the driver to do something about it before driving off.

22nd February 2007

#94: Emoticons++

Filed under: Whimsical inventions - 22 Feb 2007

It’s all too easy to misinterpret the emotional tone of an email you are sending or have just received. Today’s invention is an attempt to alleviate this problem.

Everyone who writes email (ie soon everyone on the planet) could be prompted by their computer, at random times throughout the course of say one month, to answer this question: “How are you feeling, right now?”

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If the answer is different from those previously given, a webcam would capture your facial expression (perhaps also asking you to exaggerate your look or to use a face morphing tool for the same purpose).

Your emotional state is correlated with eg your most recent typing and mouse movement behaviour (See eg this research). These data would enable the system to learn something about your mindset on future occasions and automatically inject stored images which mirror it into the current missive.

(Another technique would be to exploit the fact that certain fonts are good at conveying particular moods. Comic Sans, for example is so unwaveringly jolly it drives large numbers of people crazy. I’d suggest that the local font could be set for each sentence, based on the writer’s detected state of mind. It might even be possible to create new fonts specifically tuned to different, as yet unrepresented feelings: ’emotifonts’).

When composing, you can set the frequency with which images are inserted, as thumbnails, into your message (ie every paragraph or after every string of exclamation marks -or when you resort to CAPITALS). As well as performing a spellcheck before sending, it would become necessary to do a moodcheck of the embedded images too.

Naturally, techie types who regard html email as a heinous aberration, will miss out on this, but they tend not to care too much about whom they might offend anyway ; )

21st February 2007

#93: Low-drag truck

Filed under: Possible inventions - 21 Feb 2007

Despite their pretensions to ‘advanced logistics’, I often see the front, truck sections of articulated lorries speeding around the UK without their trailers. Given the amount of griping which the cost of fuel provokes in lorry drivers, I’m very surprised that they are content to race about in possibly the least aerodynamically efficient vehicle possible. The technical term is a ‘flat-plate.’

A great deal of research work has been done which addresses the fuel efficiency of the whole artic, but very little which aims to help any truck unit finding itself, somehow, at the wrong end of the country without a load.

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Today’s invention attempts to lessen their fuel bills. Each truck or tractor unit would be equipped with a fold-out rigid enclosure, deployed from the back of the cab-over-engine unit when the trailer was detached. This might be inflatable or made from some kind of stressed skin over a frame -like a spring-loaded, self-erecting tent.

This would have the effect of smoothing the aerodynamic profile of the vehicle so as to more closely resemble the ideal ‘teardrop’ shape. Each system could be suppled and fitted, I reckon, for around the price of a couple of tanks of fuel.

20th February 2007

#92: Squeezy bin

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 20 Feb 2007

No matter how much council tax I have to pay (don’t even go there), my family’s rubbish output each week always seems substantially greater than the volume of our one, large wheelie bin.

To get slightly better value from our sleepy friends at the town hall and also lessen the problem of ‘side waste’ being strewn down the street by the local dog pack, I propose a rubbish compression device as today’s invention.

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The wheelie bin lid would be reinforced with a patch of chequerplate, bolted to the top. A similar patch would be applied to the front lip of the bin body. Between these two plates a simple screw mechanism would be fitted, so that it would normally hang, out of the way, down the front of the bin.

Each time an item is inserted in the bin, the lid would be brought down on top, the screw device flipped up to engage with the lid’s plate and a large starting handle used to turn the screw, thus compressing the bin’s contents to a density approaching that of Uranium.

19th February 2007

#91: Stacking shelved?

Filed under: Possible inventions - 19 Feb 2007

Everyone in retail knows that people tend to buy more when items are stacked in apparent profusion…no-one is sure why.

But stacking stuff up in-store is a waste of time and it increases both breakages and shoplifting.

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So, today’s invention is to use a bank of hinged mirrors to make a compact, multi-image display of each stock item for sale in a store. Want to change the entire display? -just replace that one cup or that one packet of cornflakes.

Shoppers don’t have to carry items around the store, which may make them inclined to buy more (a la IKEA). All they have to do is make a note of the things they want and request these to appear at the checkout.

An electronic request mechanism could be provided, by which customers click a button at the display and have a warehouse picking process automatically start up, so that the waiting time at the checkout is minimised.

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