#222: Flak deflector

For people who are vulnerable to attacks, but who can’t hide in a bomb-proof shelter all the time, life is complicated. I’m talking about presidents, popes and even the commanders of armoured vehicles.

Today’s invention is for anyone who might find themselves being viewed through the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle, whilst travelling in a vehicle.


I noticed , whilst moving in a fast train recently that I could see the scene behind a parallel train of steel goods wagons, just by glimpsing it through the occasional gaps between them.

So, imagine a person with their upper body above a circular steel hatchway in a flat deck. A cylindrical cage, consisting of a bulletproof, solid roof and vertical steel bars, surrounds them. The cage is free to rotate about a vertical axis, centred on the hatchway and the person standing in the middle.

The whole thing is driven by a geared motor, so that although the occupant can see out and is visible to outside observers (being brightly lit by an internal lamp), the speed of the passing bars is so high that bullets and other projectiles have almost no chance of penetrating the cage.

For a practical bar/gap ratio of 1, at a radius of 1/2 m, the speed of the bars can be kept well below the speed of sound, even if high velocity rounds were being fired at it. The sensation for the occupant would probably be one of being in the eye of a hurricane…hard to keep one’s hairpiece in place.

#221: Waitless

People who have been trained to wait on tables have an uncanny knack of turning up to deal with requests at exactly the right moment. Such people are very rare.

It’s generally considered rude to attract the attention of waiting staff by waving or even snapping one’s fingers (despite the fact that they may have been discussing the football results together in a corner for the last 20 minutes). Not only that, but inexperienced staff may (eventually) respond out of turn to particularly intense waving or snapping -making everyone even more agitated.


Today’s invention provides a way for staff to be made discreetly aware of the requests of restaurant customers -and in the order in which they arise.

Every table in a restaurant has a torch fixed to the centre, pointing upwards. When people at a table need something, they switch the torch on and it creates a pool of light on the ceiling. A simple integral eggtimer simultaneously starts to pour sand in front of the torch lens, reducing the size of the illuminated region above each.

Staff can thus work out, by glancing upwards, which table has been waiting longest for service at any given moment.

#220: Transformotive

Someday, battery endurance for my laptop will be on a par with that of my digital watch. Today however, even the most’ ultra-mobile’ computing requires a wall socket recharge at every available opportunity.

This means the that huge black box that dangles on the power cable has to be carted about with me all over the place. I’m sick of it. Most of all I’m sick of having to buy a new one every time I need a new machine.


Today’s invention is a variable transformer for laptop use. It’s not beyond the wit of electrical engineers to make a black box which can either sense, or have dialled in, data like :- the supply voltage, the computer model, etc and then adjust the output current/voltage/frequency combination to the correct values.

All that is then required is a range of connectors with different geometries. Suddenly one transformer can be kept pretty much forever. Although each would be more expensive to buy, the frequency with which they are discarded would be almost zero…possibly justifying a transformer unit at both ends of one’s routine journey to work.

Did I hear somebody say ‘invalidated warranty’? Come on manufacturers, either get battery technology sorted or give your customers a break and stop selling them a pound of excess copper with every notebook.

#219: Order of merits

If you are a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) you rank higher than a QC and certainly above a mere BSc.

Even the most apparently matey countries have an ‘order of precedence’ that makes democracy look even more foolish than it usually manages on its own. What happens though, in this highly schooled (if under educated) era, if you have several such post-nominal letters?

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What if you are a decorated miltary hero, a member of learned societies and have degrees in medicine and international relations: in what order do your honours appear on that business card (assuming you have enough room)? The head of NASA holds seven earned degrees -maybe he got lost in a University.

Anyway, today’s invention is for people like him with way too much time on their hands. It’s a website on which one types in one’s post-nominals and it applies the rules of precedence to correctly order them.

#218: Safety frame

Old people are understandably frightened of falling down (over 30% of people over 65 have a fall in any one year and the consequences can be very serious, even fatal).

Today’s invention is a ‘baby walker‘ for older adults. This would allow people to walk within the frame normally (as in a Zimmer frame, with small wheels) but if a fall were to occur, they would find themselves supported by the internal, sprung seat designed to hang only a few cm beneath them. This would allow a certain amount of exercise, whilst avoiding the social difficulties associated with sitting down low in a wheelchair.


This device would be made of light alloy to allow it to be easily lifted and repositioned by the adult occupant in a standing/walking mode. Stair climbing whilst using the walker would be deliberately prevented (the height to which the frame could be lifted would be limited by the distance between occupant and seat ie a few cm) and could only be achieved safely by clipping the frame to a stairlift.

#217: Streetstreaming

When fighting my way through congested railway stations or shopping centres, I sometimes like to think of myself as a particle in a fluid flow. To get to that ticket barrier faster, it would be really good to hitch a ride on a fast moving streamline.

How can crowds be streamlined? There is usually no chance to overtake that big guy with the rucksack who keeps stopping or the woman with the pram that’s holding everyone back.


There’s a lot of research into how crowds behave. It seems that people tend to look ahead, spot potential obstructions and weave their way through any available gaps. They self-organise into lanes and thus decrease their ‘friction’ with other people who are advancing in the opposite direction. Tube station designers know something about crowds and they tend to rely on signs saying ‘Keep Left’.

Today’s invention attempts to enhance the natural self-organisation which runs into difficulties when crowding is so dense that weaving isn’t really an option. In areas of expected congestion, lanes would be painted on the floor in smoothly swooping layouts. Each would have arrows marked in it indicating the allowed direction of travel. There would be a gradation from left to right of speed: say ‘crawler’, ‘walking’ and ‘rush’ lanes.

People could thus make a choice to match their requirements on the day, in a similar way to the choice of lane on a motorway.

#216: Spoke-despikes

So if there’s really no chance to have umbrellas banned, the next best thing to do is mitigate one of their worst features.

The spokes have always been designed to have quite sharp little endponts, in order to allow them to be captured and retained by an axially-sliding ring near the handle, when the whole thing is folded up.


Today’s invention is to supply push-on, coloured foam hemispheres, one per spike. This would at least prevent umbrellas being the cause of any further ophthalmic injuries.

If the spokes still need to be retained when the brolly is ‘down’ then that might be better achieved by a strong elastic band, slid down outside the skin from the central pommel to nearer the handle.

#215: DNA zip

Now that convertible, zip-off trousers are in common usage, it seems to me that there is extra functionality that they could be providing.

Today’s invention is to replace the circumferential zip usually contained in the leg of these trousers, with a helical one.


One half of the helix would spiral its way waistward from the knee position. The other half, attached to the lower leg, would then be capable of being rotated about the central axis of the leg and then attached by the zip fastener action at any longitudinal position required.

Voila, the length of one’s travel trousers can be set exactly to your individual preference, to work with walking boots, bare feet or as ‘shorts’ of any length you like (This probably requires unobtrusive, or multiple, side seams on the lower leg section to avoid looking as if one has legs attached at the ‘ten to three’ position) .

#214: Singring

When I’m walking around carrying eg my keys, phone, MP3 player, railcard, PDA, glasses etc I’m constantly paranoid about losing some of them or having them stolen from an unflapped pocket. If I have to run to catch a train or avoid some homicidal taxi, there is always the fear that some of these essential items have bounced onto the pavement, never to be seen again.

Today’s invention is intended to make it easier to monitor a collection of portable things without constantly having to pay attention to them, (or carry a handbag or having alarms sounding in your clothing).


Each item would be secured to a short length of wire. At each end of each wire there would be a simple magnetic connector. The wire would carry a soft coating which was oval in section (say, 5mm max diameter). This would make it much less likely to form irritating knots, bulges under clothes or be uncomfortable to sit on. The coating could be in bright colours, a different one for each item, if desired. Lengths might even be stitched to the outside of clothes as a design feature.

All these sections of wire would be joined to an MP3 player, so that removal of any one from the circuit formed would immediately, but discreetly, alert the user, by stopping the music playing in one’s headphones. Of course, if you wanted to hand your phone to a friend, the two ends left by their removal could simply be rejoined to fire up your music once more.

#213: Tabloid poncho

I hate umbrellas. As well as being really hard to deal with in windy weather and threatening eye injuries to everyone in range, they really are a burden to cart about and so, usually, they are in the wrong place when it starts to rain.

Today’s invention is a new way to stay dry.


Don’t just ignore those guys selling Big Issue magazine (because you don’t want to read that politically active stuff and you know they drive home in a Merc each day). When it begins to rain, seek them out. That’s because in future they will sell you a low-cost poncho.

Each of these will be preprepared on days threatening rain by stapling sheets of the newsprint together to make a poncho shape -including hood). Each poncho would get a quick spray of cheap, environmentally friendly, waterproofing agent. They could cut costs even further by using yesterday’s old newspapers -or, better still, use those dreadful free copies of ‘Metro’ that litter stations everywhere.

Naturally, the sheets of newspaper would be joined in such a way that the text could still be read by the wearer when eg sitting, dripping, on a train.

When the weather dries out, you can then ditch the cape in a bin.