#1074: Liftower

Long before 1969 I had a love of all things to do with manned spaceflight. Even then, I knew it makes no sense to attempt to fire people into space using ‘superguns’, because humans don’t stand up well to the forces involved.

I’m always struck, when watching a launch that, of the fuel used in the first few seconds after ignition, about 30% is wasted in shaking the ground and heating the surrounding air.


Today’s invention is a launch tower in the form of a vertical tube embedded in the platform and which contains the rocket itself (with no seal between vehicle and tube). It constrains the rocket exhaust somewhat when performing at its worst -during the first seconds of flight.

This efficiency increase could result in a decreased total fuel load requirement and noise emission -as well as offering some additional protection to groundcrew and simplifying the mechanics of tower movement.

#1072: TrackSmack

Formula one motor racing has the quality of the peacock’s tail about it…mostly for show and without a great deal of realworld functionality. Nevertheless, it’s such an exuberant display of engineering that I’ve got to love it.

Even something as mundane as changing tyres is transformed by F1 into a mini opera. The instant the car stops, it’s manually jacked up by only a few inches off the pitlane floor. Tyres changed, the jack is released and the car hits the deck. Millisecond mistakes here cost championship points (and horrifying amounts of cash).


Today’s invention is therefore a spring-loaded jack which doesn’t just drop the car but which fires it downwards at an acceleration greater than 9.81ms^-2. Doubling the downwards acceleration saves about 40 ms (ie about 3m when travelling at top speed…easily the difference between first and second place in a tight race).

If the rules allow it, this descent might be coordinated with the engine so that the wheels hit the deck (harder) whilst spinning at exactly the right rotation rate to give maximal acceleration from the pit lane.

#1071: TinSpin

Stirring paint is about as entertaining as watching it dry.

Today’s invention is a deep tray, placed in the boot of the car, which accommodates a small number of paintcans, lying on their sides.


The tray allows the cans to roll about, as the vehicle turns, and mix their contents during the journey back from the DIY superstore (assuming they aren’t already solidified due to poor stock control).

The tray also catches any spillage, in the unlikely event that a top comes off in transit.

#1070: Missaging

Voicemail is just a way for people who can’t write coherently to get all the benefits of email, whilst not burdening themselves with the need to leave a written record of their message.

Domestic answering machines are similarly irritating, made even worse by the fact that numerous people in a household use the same phone. Messages can pile up there sequentially for all family members (especially if some individuals don’t like using the phone at all -ahem).


Today’s invention is a domestic simulated switchboard/answering machine which allows callers to ‘press 1 to leave a message for Bill’ etc. When Bill has a message, his coloured button on the phone will flash (Mary’s messages will be indicated by a different coloured button).

Bill can then retrieve his messages by pressing his button (perhaps also entering a personal code), without having to live through Mary’s various incoming communications.

It makes even mobiles seem like a good idea.

#1069: PodLoader

Much as I dislike the use of firearms (and that fact the we all seem to rely on them to keep some very bad guys at bay) -still I’m fascinated by their technology.

Today’s invention is a magazine which slots into a machine gun at an angle so that it forms a symmetrical bipod with a normal leg on the other side (I actually dreamed this a couple of nights ago).


Given the effort applied to the issue of reducing the weight carried by soldiers, this would provide a small advantage in only having to cart around half a bipod.

#1068: Farmargin

Wind turbine blades, its seems, currently break more frequently, and less predictably, than anyone is comfortable with (certain windfarms are now collecting piles of broken blades for which there is no repair/recycling process).

According to a back of the envelope calculation, based on typical geometry, if a fragment of the tip of a blade comes off it can travel up to 2 turbine diameters in one direction and up to 15 diameters (2 football pitch lengths) in the opposite direction.


This represents a potential threat to anything which lies to one side of a turbine (ie particularly to the left of a counterclockwise blade when viewed from the front).

Today’s invention is a way to lay out a wind farm so that any boundaries are no closer to the machines than two diameters (+safety margin), even when variations in wind direction are accounted for. It also requires that the 12 o’clock direction of blade rotation is always away from the local border.

Although this may increase the damage to more central turbines, it lessens the possibility that vehicles, people or buildings on the periphery will suffer costly impacts.

#1067: Weightway

I happen to have a small driveway which is covered in stones. These provide an effective alert that someone is approaching the front door (as well as ending up on the lawn and inside the house).

For those wealthy enough to have block paving (and therefore presumably with something worth stealing) there are numerous magnetic, infra-red and laser beam security devices, not to mention the traditional, roll-over surface pressure detector.


Today’s invention seems like an obvious improvement in that it consists of a wired network of pressure sensors each mounted beneath a paving block. It might be possible to have blocks each with a built-in pressure sensor. Only a subset, suitably arrayed, would need these.

As the blocks are very slightly displaced vertically when walked or driven over, so they can issue an alarm in the home or to one’s mobile -without the knowledge of a visitor.

A sufficient number of sensors would be capable of determining whether a group of people had arrived or a vehicle (and whether it left more laden than it entered).

#1066: ShedCar

I’ll admit to having a softspot for sidecars. They are definitively eccentric.

Today’s invention is a way to store one’s three-wheel steed safely in an urban environment.


A tough, toolshed-like box fits over the motorcycle, when parked against a wall. The box is secured to the wall and when released, it rotates to reveal a sidecar seat with minimally exposed third wheel.

This is placed, for stability, beneath an arch between the occupant’s legs and driven via a chain from the bike’s back wheel.

Allowing limited, sprung, rotation between shed base and bike when in transit might actually allow a reasonably smooth ride. A small pulley arrangement might help the less brawny open and close the system.

#1065: MissKick

When a rugby footballer sees himself (or herself) convert a try, the size of the goal subsequently seems wider.

Since this is the only dimension which changes perceptually, the task of scoring in this way is believed to get easier in future.


Today’s invention is a training aid based on this finding. The player wears a pair of goggles which can be electronically blacked-out very rapidly. A set of optical sensors detects the passage of the ball as it is first kicked.

A quick calculation by a computer to which they are connected can accurately predict whether or not a goal will be scored (taking into account cross-wind velocity, as necessary).

If the shot is off-target, the glasses are darkened so that the kicker’s task is never made more difficult by observing his failure.