#590: Blastdown

Military helicopters sometimes have to make a forced landing: an event which often results in a sickening impact with the ground and multiple casualties.

Today’s invention is an adaptation of the Russian approach to space vehicle landings, using retro rockets, which attempts to lessen the injuries caused in such helicopters.

In the event of an imminent crash landing, the underwing munitions on board a military helicopter could be swivelled to point vertically upwards (but with the release catches still locked). All such rockets still on board would be automatically and symmetrically fired, when the vehicle was within a few feet of the ground, significantly cushioning its impact.

#589: Fuelock

Now that fuel is at a ridiculous price, criminals need to be deterred from hijacking roadgoing tankers and stealing their contents.

Today’s invention is a simple mechanical keypad lock applied to the outlet valve of a tanker. This would be made extremely attack-resistant and the combination reset daily. Although few crooks would be daft enough to try using a flame cutter to remove it, even using a hammer and chisel might result in a spark and a truly massive explosion.

Filling stations would be replenished in a sequence that would be hard for a small team of external observers to detect. The combination required to open the lock on a particular day would be called, or texted, through to a particular filling station. Similarly, the address of the target station would be called to the tanker driver only after departure. This would make it futile to stop the truck and threaten the driver or to work out which station to visit and threaten the staff to revel the combination.

#588: BagBaguette

Buying a fresh bread stick is a great luxury as far as I’m concerned. I know the French often eat theirs en route from the shop, but I like to get mine home in one piece. Given the mechanical properties and geometry of such bread, I rarely manage to arrive chez moi without snapping each loaf into at least two sections.

Today’s invention is therefore a simple protectif-de-pain. It takes the form of a long, thin foil bag, closed at one end. When the bread is inserted into the bag (which can be reused) a small hand-operated air pump (of the kind used to seal a half-consumed bottle of wine) is used to evacuate the bag. This is then knotted tightly and placed on sale in the usual way.

The partial vacuum within the bag allows external air pressure to rigidify the exterior foil skin, rendering it much more nearly impervious to collisions with the inside of the shopping trolley or car boot.

It also retains more moisture (and tasty smell) than any paper bag can, which adds value to the product in excess of the cost of the mass-produced bag.

#587: Quarterlight

Everybody would like their laptop battery to last longer.

Today’s invention is one way to allow that. Normally, when left alone for a while, one’s screen will dim. I suggest applying that by default to all screen real estate, apart from the active window. The screen would thus use a great deal less energy, at the expense of a small amount of extra control circuitry/logic.

It might be possible to have different windows with varying levels of local illumination, depending for example on the recency of last usage (although I can’t think why this would be useful, other than for aesthetic marketing reasons when the machine was on display -or perhaps to draw attention to different windows in a particular order).

#586: Hosetidy

Misfuelling is the dreadful name given to putting the wrong fuel in your vehicle. Diesel in a petrol car = bad news. This can be a very costly mistake to make and so there are numerous devices to ensure motorists avoid it. The odd thing is that drivers aren’t all buying these and manufacturers aren’t getting their acts together to factory-fit them. Maybe it’s to do with car companies selling anti-misfuelling insurance?

I was irritated therefore when filling my tank recently (already pretty miffed about the price) to find that the nozzles had been swapped in the pump holsters (the hoses always form a hydra-like rope which doesn’t help distinguish between their origins). Whether caused by some malicious miscreant or just a moron, I nearly ended up with 10 gallons of unwanted Extra-Green-Superoctane-Plus, together with an additional £3k bill.

Today’s invention is a simple, colour-coded plastic location device which is fitted to the ‘heel’ of each nozzle and which allows it only to fit into the correspondingly-shaped locator attached to the correct holster.

#585: Memoring

A ring or bracelet can be given more lasting value by the memories associated with it. That’s why, I suppose, people care so much about the inheritance of family jewellery and why eg watch manufacturers centre their advertising on the idea of passing their (pricey) products on.

Today’s invention is a ring which can add sentimental value to itself.

The ring would have within it a heart rate monitor. This would record the times when the wearer’s heartbeat exceeded a certain level. The ring could then be wired up to eg a mobile phone (without being removed) and request verbal annotation by the wearer of the exciting events of the last day (or week).

Over time, this would build into a personal history of successive generations of wearers.

#584: Overseer

I’m told that using a look-down viewfinder is very strongly preferred by many photographers. One of the biggest advantages, apparently is that when taking portrait shots, not being looked at by the snapper directly puts a sitter in a more relaxed frame of mind.

Today’s invention is a simple variant on the standard compact camera LCD display back.

In this case, the display faces the rear of the camera and can be hinged outwards to allow a photographer to look down on it and see the scene in the correct orientation. A wider range of hinge rotation might be provided to allow for conventional positioning of the LCD display on the back face of the camera, facing the user.

#583: Smellcells

You can buy a lot of different necklaces which carry perfume within them. One of their advantages is not having to put perfume onto potentially allergic skin.

Today’s invention is to extend the idea to provide each wearer with a small wallet full of plastic ‘bubbles.’ This would take the form of a matrix of cells, just like many small contact lens cases. Each cell could contain a foam pad each to be extracted and sprayed, by the user, with a small amount of a different perfume and then closed using a press seal.

At each different event in a day, the wearer could open one of the cells and thus tailor their scent for maximum impact (given that the olfactory system rapidly stops being aware of a given smell, very soon after first encountering it). This could be work discreetly in a jacket pocket, without the need to splash organic solvents on one’s skin.

Adventurous types could try creating smell cocktails by opening more than one cell at a time. An electronically controlled version might even allow the wearer to communicate subliminally in real time by opening cells exuding attractive or repulsive scents.

#582: Gas Gauge

Ever since carbonated drinks were invented, people have had to accept whatever level of fizziness was supplied by the factory. Today’s invention attempts to allow consumers to control this according to their personal taste.

Each bottle would be full to the top -with no air gap. The contents of each bottle would be injected with the same quantity of carbon dioxide. A consumer could reduce the amount of fizz in the bottle, from the maximum, factory-gate level, by unscrewing the cap a small amount -as indicated by the relative movement of marks on the cap edge and the bottle neck.

This would be arranged to occur without breaking the seal, so that a fraction of the gas would come out of solution, in response to the low pressure region and in proportion to the amount of initial unscrewing. A region of carbon dioxide would quickly form above the liquid surface and in equilibrium with it.

Opening the bottle would then allow the excess gas to escape at once and enable drinking the custom-fizzy liquid in the usual way.

#581: Ant-entropy

Leafcutter ants (Atta) are adept at managing the division of labour between the 8M or so individuals undertaking different functions within a nest.

Garbage collection is done by several specialist types who identify anything foreign within a nest and transport it to an external garbage heap. No-one coordinates this work but the ants behave according to simple rules which govern their interactions with each other and their environment.

Today’s invention is to exploit this behaviour by applying it to the separation of mixtures of leaf-like cellulose and inorganic particles (eg glass fibres). This would allow vehicles, and other engineered systems, to be largely constructed from fibre-reinforced cellulose. Parking a scrap vehicle on a nest would result in it being gradually broken into two separate sets of material particles, allowing a new car to be formed from these recycled elements.