#284: Roadstrobe

For reasons best known to themselves, lots of people like to illuminate their vehicles in unusual ways. This often takes the form of banks of leds in bright colours. On a giant truck, this can be very distracting at night, since any vehicle thus equipped looks like it’s in a scene from Close Encounters. Similarly, there are popular blue lamps that shine underneath ‘custom’ cars and may even flash to the rhythm of the occupant’s choice of ‘music’.

Today’s invention takes things a stage further and offers the chance of lighting one’s wheels with a set of strobe lamps, set to flash exactly in synchrony with rotation frequency.


As you drive along, with strobes off, the message, advert or image on your wheels and tyres is just a blur. Switch on the strobes, in response to some traffic event, or just when passing a friend, and all four wheels start to provide a static, brightly coloured display. It might say “Eat at Joe’s” , “txt me:1779666” or display a couple of giant eyes on one side of the vehicle…Given how keen people are to have personal numberplates, this might just be used to spell out owners’ names.

It might well be possible to fit four different strobes per vehicle to illustrate the speed with which a car is being driven: one wheel carrying a message saying “30mph”, another “40mph” etc Useful when fitted to police vehicles keen to provide a reminder to motorists as they drive alongside them.

#283: Rays awareness

A certain fraction of the world’s population (especially red headed, cricketing Australians) are paranoid about skin damage caused by over exposure to the sun. The public health message is that a little sun is good for you (we all need that vitamin D) but that too much is a very bad thing. How much is too much?

You can use a watch to calculate when to put your shirt back on, but that neglects how strong the sunlight actually is on any given day.


Today’s invention is a cheap tool to help protect people from sunburn. Take one of those ultra cheap credit card-sized, solar powered calculators and discharge it completely. Place a few layers of cellophane across the solar cell, calibrated so that the amount of sunlight required to first display “000000.00” is just less than the amount which causes skin damage. Attach the card to one’s clothing, where the display can be easily seen.

Once the safe limit has been reached, it’s time to head indoors. The card can be discharged and reused or simply jettisoned (given the fact that these are often freebies anyway). No more ‘boiled lobsters’ on the beach.

#282: Aeropimples

Golfballs travel further because they have a dimpled surface which creates turbulence in the air nearest the surface. This, in turn makes for a much narrower wake, a reduced pressure difference between front and back faces and thus a decrease in drag force.

All of this is good for golfers but it might actually be useful in other contexts. For a blunt shaped, slow moving vehicle, for example (say 10km per hour), it can be shown that the drag cofficient is halved by adding dimples to the surface.


This means that, for future versions of urban bubble cars and delivery vans, a big saving in fuel economy can be achieved just by a small change to the surface geometry. The dimples might actually work just as well by protruding outwards and would certainly be easier to manufacture by attaching small hemispheres to a bodyshell -aeropimples.

If anyone ever decides to return to the use of powered balloon flight for freight transport, this invention may become significant.

This doesn’t apply, of course, to high-speed, aerodynamic vehicles. The Spitfire was marginally slowed by the decision to use domehead rivets on certain of its surfaces.

#281: Lumine-sense

It has been some while since I was caught in a power cut. Naturally, when one happens, the torch you placed in a position of readiness contains only batteries which ran out of charge some time before the Light Brigade.

Today’s invention is a simple combination of a matchbox inside a box of candles, with the outside decorated in glow-in-the-dark strips.


It would be necessary to keep the box on an open shelf, but when the power station throws a wobbly, at least you will be able to locate all the makings of some domestic visibility.

#280: Emoticuffs

I was watching someone giving a talk whilst wearing a battered suit the other day. Half of the thread holding the remains of his buttons had disappeared, making some of them look like smileys.

Today’s invention is therefore to manufacture buttons with the minimum number of threadholes required to create the appearance of emoticons. I reckon that the simplest configuration is probably six holes, arranged with five circumferentially and one in the middle -allowing both sad : <· and happy : · > faces (nb only the two v-shapes would be constructed from thread passing through three holes, the other features would be formed by empty holes).


If you felt inclined, you could have a combination of ‘sads’ and ‘happys’ sewn onto your clothes (using thread in contrasting colours to the buttons) and only ‘do up’ (ie allow to appear through the buttonholes) those faces which expressed your mood on any given day.

#279: Slow glow

Brake lights only come on when you apply the brakes, but it’s perfectly possible for your car to decelerate rapidly, perhaps in front of another vehicle, without using your right foot.

It seems to me to be a good idea for cars to be equipped with ‘brakelights’ which come on to indicate any deceleration greater than a given, statutory value. (Actually, it would be even more sensible for their brightness to be in proportion to the strength of braking, but I imagine that is a tougher technical one to deal with).


A sudden slowing might be caused by eg, engine braking or running onto a steep incline (neither of which would currently be signalled explicitly to following traffic). It would be relatively easy to wire accelerometers into the brakelights system.

This would also help alleviate one of my problems when driving behind an idiot (-might even help people driving behind me). These individuals will tailgate the vehicle in front, whilst driving in too high a gear, and then repeatedly touch the brakes. This redlight flickering is distracting and also encourages me to brake intermittently as well: a tendency which gets passed backwards in waves to other cars, causing all sorts of irritation and interruptions to the traffic flow. If these tiny touches on the brakes were screened out by the proposed system, maybe this toe tapping effect would be neutralised.

#278: Jaywaking

I sometimes spend time in a city centre office, through the window of which filter all sorts of distracting noises. One of the most irritating is that ubiquitous, recorded alert that says “vehicle reversing” every second or so. People are so used to hearing that monotone that they don’t bother to look up -until they are alerted to the fact that it was addressing them by finding a 3-tonne truck rolling over their foot.

We have allowed urban environments to bring motor vehicles and people into ever-closer proximity and it’s proving to be a bad idea. Today’s invention attempts to reduce the accident rate caused by paying too much attention to incoming music or speech.


Vehicles would be fitted with two small, coded transmitters (one fore, one aft). The devices carried by earphoned pedestrians would receive these signals, enabling them to predict a collision (based on knowledge of positions, achieved via triangulation, and a simple computation of their relative motions).

On prediction of an imminent impact, the sounds being listened to would mute and a warning squawk would be issued.

This might even be extended to allow vehicles, sensing a pedestrian on their immediate trajectory, to brake appropriately.

#277: Spinspecs

Boats have been fitted with rotating windows for some time. The idea is that, by attaching a spinning, transparent shield onto a fixed window, it will sling off any water or other debris that contacts the rotating one.

Today’s invention is to adapt this idea for use in spectacles. As a recent conscript to the ranks of the myopic, I’m now always staring at the world through lenses which pick up all sorts of grime and debris.


Most annoying is that raindrops also collect there -which limits my enjoyment of being in the great outdoors for large fractions of the year, given British weather.

Each lens would have a press-on, circular housing probably made in clear, low-friction plastic and retaining a clear disc with gear teeth on the circumference, free to rotate within it.

Each disc would be driven by a small electric motor.

#276: Bibliometer

Looking down from the escalator in a bookstore the other day I was amazed at how many books are competing to be bought.

People are very much encouraged to browse in bookshops (the word originated in the offline world) but how can they decide to purchase, or not, based on a few seconds’ exposure to 500 pages of text? The buying decisions are presumably mostly based on the author, blurbs, reviews, cover…and price.


Today’s invention attempts to support the decisionmaking process of the bookbuying public.

Books would be displayed in piles, for sale, as currently happens, except that they would be sealed and unopenable. Some designated tables would be reserved for browsable copies, with a few of each book present. Each of these would be wired to the table, so that lifting a given book would break a circuit and allow information about how long it was inspected for to be collected. (It might even be possible to extend this to switches between individual pages ( eg by printing contacts/circuits on adjacent pages using conductive ink). In this way, information about which parts of a book were open for longest could be gathered on behalf of writers and buyers alike).

Large volumes of data would be gathered, across a chain of stores, about books which were heavily browsed and this could be correlated with sales figures for the book in question. These browse times would be displayed beside the books for sale -as indicators of interest in them.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say…

#275: Yopod

There are hundreds of “solutions” to the problem of how to manage your mp3 players’ cables.

I’m quite keen on wireless headphones myself, but for those still struggling with stereo spaghetti, here’s a new option.


Today’s invention is to embed the player within a yo-yo and to use the mp3 cable as the yo-yo’s string. Obviously the player would be allowed to rise only as far as the user’s hand, not right up to the “v” leading to the earpieces.

This would be useable whilst the music played (without doing too much damage to the wires) and then instantly self-stowing on the final rise of the yo-yo.

An entertainment win-win.