#1233: RampAmps

I share my surname with the designer of the Titannic, so watching the launch of big ships has a special fascination for me.

Today’s invention is a way to retrieve some of the massive amounts of potential energy stored in a ship under construction on a slipway.

Ships, when the bottle breaks on their bows, currently have to slowed down by various means, including drag chains, in order not to knife across the dock channel and run aground.

Instead, I’d suggest holding the ship in place with chains which are wound around an onshore axle. As the ship descends, the chains turn a giant flywheel attached to a generator. In this way, not only is the ship’s launch more controlled, but some of the energy can be converted to eg light the yard or power its machinery.

#1232: Minedmilk

Today’s invention is the latest weapon in the communal-fridge wars.

To stop people stealing one’s (personal) milk, insert a plastic device which consists of a number of yellowish globules linked by a few strands of fishing line. The globules float near the surface and the lines are almost invisible.

This gives the impression, when viewed through the bottle wall or neck, of milk substantially past its use-by and thus deters all but the most desperate kleptolactics.

This device is sterilisable between uses and easily placed in a bottle but won’t pour into one’s cup every time the milk is used.

#1231: Incendascent

Glider pilots won’t hear tell of carrying any kind of motor aboard their craft which might be used to save them in an emergency (a parachute is just about acceptable among engineless aviators).

I talked yesterday to a gliding enthusiast and she mentioned that when trying to find a landing site, she will routinely seek out any sources of warmth on the ground, as even the sun-warmed wall of a hut can provide a lifesaving updraught.

Today’s invention is a magazine of high intensity flares which are dropped on the ground when a glider pilot runs out of lift sources and landing sites.

The pilot flies in a circle and and drops the flares at intervals. These have a brightly coloured casing and when returned to the owner, provide the retriever with a payment. They have an insulated base so that heat can escape only upwards.

On a second circuit, this time over the flares, the glider picks up enough altitude to hedgehop home.

#1230: CooledTool

Machine-assembled glazing units are inherently hard to break through -even when one is fortified by adrenalin in an emergency.

Today’s invention is an update to the standard glass-breaking escape hammer often found on public transport.

It takes the form of a conventional hammer, modified by the inclusion of a small, very high-pressure gas cylinder. When the hammer impacts the window surface, this breaks a seal on the cylinder allowing the gas to rush out. This expansion can be arranged to be sufficiently energetic that the glass surface becomes rapidly cooled locally and therefore embrittled.

This in turn allows the hammer to penetrate the window much more easily (a similar system might be used instead of detonator cord in the canopies of fighter jets with ejector seats).

#1229: Wingshields

What’s better than having a car with gullwing doors? A car with two sets of gullwing doors.

Today’s invention is simply to equip such vehicles with a second set of slim covers which fit closely on the normal doors but which can be opened in transit.

When driving at high speed, these act as aerodynamic stabilisers, providing variable downforce and some additional steering effect as their degree of opening is automatically varied.

#1228: StainBrazen

It’s a major pain when a pen in my pocket leaks and ruins my favourite shirt or a glass of Medoc somehow misses my mouth and defaces a much-loved tie.

Today’s invention is a scanner/printer which examines any such stain and decides which shape it most closely resembles in a database of stored items. This would take into account the colour of the stain and the probability of overprinting with a darker colour.

The device then offers the user the chance to overprint the stain with either a one-off ‘logo’ or a repeating pattern based on the modified stain shape. Once a choice of disguise shape has been chosen, the printer applies this in order to obscure the stain and make the item of clothing usable again.

#1227: FastFace

Fast food is everywhere and so is its discarded packaging.

Those expanded polystyrene boxes are dirt cheap and thermally insulating and many people seem to have few reservations about just dropping them anywhere but in a bin.

Today’s invention is to supply fast food in these boxes but to have them formed into 3D masks. The faces could be of celebrities but even more interesting is the possibility of having a box vending machine in each fast food store capable of scanning a customer face and heat moulding a box in real-time (Perhaps this could be achieved by pressing one’s face into a plastic pillow to form a reusable mould against which a sheet of polystyrene could be vacuum formed).

This would give people pause for thought about pitching their own face on the ground: not least because it could identify them later.

#1226: Jetrims

I was inspired by this guy‘s tip-jet helicopter to apply the principle to terrestrial vehicles.

Today’s invention is a new form of motor in which each wheel has a number of jets fitted on the periphery of its rim. These jets are designed to maintain a horizontal, rearwards pointing orientation as the wheel turns.

Each jet is supplied with a gas at a pressure which is regulated to increase as its height above the road increases.

Since each wheel turns instantaneously about the road contact point (assuming good grip) this distribution of force provides a near-maximal torque characteristic.

This would require a tank of highly compressed gas (eg air) to be carried, but is much less ‘lossy’ than supplying the gas to a conventional car engine to drive pistons etc. Drive to each wheel could be optimised by the use of electronic control valves in each wheel.

#1225: DeLayer

Minefields aren’t ever really ethical, even if they are defending your family from some foreign army. Today’s invention is a new way to lay mines which is somewhat less horrendous than normal.

A robot device is programmed to traverse a stretch of territory, pressing into the ground small, bullet-like mines (designed to hold up an attack, by inflicting minimal wounds when triggered by an incautious boot).

The robot keeps a very careful record of where these devices are placed, laying them randomly within a designated secret region. It then parks itself prominently somewhere where there is no mine.

The approaching army sees the bot, understands there is a minefield ahead and makes a cellphone call to the number displayed on its casing.

This causes the robot to start retracing its steps, neutralising the mines by firing them vertically upwards. This it does however exceptionally slowly.

When the process is complete, the bot destroys itself. The result is that a cheap minefield has delayed an oncoming army, been completely cleared and left no technology behind to be ‘repurposed’.

#1224: Hushouse

If I’m staying in a hotel, it’s often hard to work out which room is making that infernal racket late at night.

Today’s invention is a way to help. Each room would have a touch sensitive cube on a fixed stalk. If the occupants were bothered by noise, they could simply press the sides to show from which direction it seemed to be coming. This would send signals to a central computer allowing the offending room to be identified as shown.

It might even be possible (joy) for this to result in the automatic volume reduction or disconnection of any TVs or stereos plugged in within that room (perhaps in proportion to the number of other guests irritated).