#778: Passcender

I’ll admit to being mildly obsessed by the issue of optimising the performance of lifts in skyscrapers.

There are obvious analogies with scheduling a railway. In order to have the freedom to run express, long-distance lifts, today’s invention is to incorporate some ‘sidings’ in which slower lifts can pause and park, temporarily out of the way.

This would work best in systems where the lifts are attached to the outside of a building. The length of the sidings need be only a very small fraction of the overall height. Rather than use cables, I envisage some kind of geared, funicular arrangement, capable of diverting the cars laterally in safety.

There could then be a processor devoted to scheduling the car movements in near-realtime so that express transits would be given priority for the shortest possible periods.

#777: Billoon

One of the things which makes blowing up balloons difficult for youngsters is that they have to tie a knot when finished, without letting the air escape.

Today’s invention is a simple duck-bill valve which is formed, in stiff rubber, like the tail of a balloon but which fits inside and stops deflation: no knots required.

#776: Quakeshell

Watching footage of some office buildings in an earthquake, I was surprised by the amount by which even full filing cabinets were rocked about.

There is always the danger of a ceiling collapse under such circumstances and I was reminded of the use of Morrison Shelters in the UK during the Blitz. These were basically reinforced tables with mesh sides, designed to protect people from falling brickwork.

Today’s invention is to recreate such shelters for office workers in earthquake zones. A quick survey shows that even these days there is an average of about one filing cabinet per occupant.

In the event of a big quake, when stairwells are often crowded or otherwise obstructed, it might be safer to pull the drawers from one such cabinet, topple it over and hide inside the shell until the threat of falling masonry was over.

Existing cabinets could be retro-fitted internally with a layer of stiff foam for added protection and possible also a cheap mobile phone, fixed inside, to enable those sheltering to call for help.

#775: Tailflame

We’ve heard a lot about the issue of bird strikes on aircraft lately.

Today’s invention is to equip all airliners each with a small rocket (attached to the tailfin, perhaps) and enough propellant to enable them to make a powered descent in the event that all of their jets are disabled by ingestion of flocks of birds.

The rocket would fire only when sensors indicated this condition and it could be designed for single-use, thus decreasing cost and weight of this bolt-on system. To decrease weight still further, the rocket might make use of atmospheric oxygen, rather than on-board oxidants…inefficient ignition might actually be an advantage here, allowing for a more controllable burn.

#774: ChewChew

How about a toy which encourages kids to eat a healthy variety of different things by rewarding them with a little fun?

Today’s invention is a trainset laid out on the dining table in a loop, as shown. Each of the dishes on the train corresponds to a diner and contains one component of a balanced meal. Each young diner wears a simple throatmike which registers when they are eating (and is tuned to ignore when they are talking).

Once everyone has munched, for between five and twenty seconds (as defined by a supervisory parent), the train moves to the next person and stops.

Hungry youngsters can encourage their less keen siblings to eat-up and thus provide themselves with a properly-paced, varied meal. (This idea first appeared here).

#773: Spotterbot

Existing wing mirrors are ugly, hard to adjust, aerodynamically bad news -and they cost the earth when sideswiped by some white van in the 3:30 pub rush.

Today’s invention is to use a UAV, a small remote-controlled helicopter, which could carry a mirror and webcam and relay images direct to the driver. This could be stabilised against vibration and even zoom in on suspected trouble spots ahead. No more dangerous blindspots or invisible dips in the road.

When you want to park, the mirrorbot would help guide you in and then dock itself safely within the vehicle bodywork.

#772: Sneezedry

Rather than cart about a wind-sensitive umbrella, today’s invention is a low-hassle alternative.

When being rained on, one’s coat could start to shake itself, just like a longhaired dog. This sneeze-like shaking might be driven by a number of synchronised mobile phone-type oscillators attached inside the garment.

These could be coordinated so as to create waves of oscillation and thus shed moisture most effectively. People would soon get used to the apparent all-over body tremor effect, especially if it only occurred on wet days.

#771: Trapole

Its a cliché of course that Inventors find themselves, when not in search of perpetual motion or antigravity, looking to build a better mousetrap. On this general theme, Rattus Norvegicus makes the mistake of attempting to dine at the expense of Homo Sapiens -to literally eat our lunch. The United States has an estimated 1.25 billion rats, causing at least US$19 billion dollars worth of damage each year (there are ten rats born for every Human).

There is therefore a need to 1) attract, 2) ‘neutralise’ the rat, 3) clear the trap and 4) reset the process. We’d want to ensure, for reasons of both ethics and effectiveness, that every animal was swiftly killed and not just disabled. Similarly, we need to avoid having animals crawl off and die elsewhere, causing a serious bad smell.

Today’s invention is to place some bait at the top of a hollow pole. Air currents waft the delicious aroma to ground level. The rat climbs up the inside of the pole (which has a textured interior), eventually reaching the baited platform at the top, which is held in place by a magnetic catch. Once the rat’s weight overcomes this support force, the platform suddenly flips through 180degrees, dumping the rat onto a hard, sloped surface on the ground which also deflects the bodies into a waiting hopper. To ensure fatality, this would need a 10m tall pole (based on a simple energy-to-kill criterion), but it could be disguised as a flagpole and located in a fenced-off corner of any infested premises.

(A version of this idea first appeared here.)

#770: Totalift

Traveling in a tall building’s lift the other day I scrutinised the control buttons and was surprised to find that the most worn ones were those for some of the uppermost floors.

If most people are going there, surely it makes energetic sense for the people seeing the most traffic to be located on the lowermost floors?

Today’s invention is a lift control pad which has only the names of companies or departments on it (ie no floor numbers). People press for their destination department and the pad counts the number of journeys to each.

It then reallocates floorspace in the building on a yearly basis -according to the frequency with which departments/companies have been visited. The most visited get positions nearer ground level (and a rental charge which better reflects their use of the building’s resources).

This requires an annual reordering of the building’s occupants but probably by no more than one floor -until a state of equilibrium is reached. Initial movements might serve as a useful organisational shakeup, as well as a cost readjustment mechanism).

See this article for some fascinating insights into liftshaft lore.

#769: Indiscator

Movie DVDs will soon be replaced by other formats recorded on other media. Until that happens, I’ll continue to be annoyed by boxed sets of discs which which make it really difficult to keep a record of which episode of The Sporano’s seven year run or David Attenborough’s jungle adventures we watched last week.

Today’s invention is a simple recording mechanism built into the media packaging.

Each disk comes in a plastic case (the mechanics of these is awful but I won’t deal with that now). Opening the case would reveal a clock-like set of markers arrayed circumferentially around where the edge of the disc lies. There would be one gradation for each episode on a disc (minor markers could stand for specific timings, if you have a fancy player which can track there accurately).

When you’ve watched an episode, simply put the disc back in the case with the arrow prominently provided on the disc pointing at the gradation on the case corresponding to the next episode to be viewed.