#1263: BarrAsh

Following the recent furore about volcanic ash in the atmosphere, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has decided that 2mg/ m^3 is the airborne ash density below which it’s ok to fly.

Military aviators are a lot less cautious about air quality. They also have a range of countermeasures they can employ when being pursued by their opposition. Having seen the damage which ash can cause in a jet engine, today’s invention is a countermeasure based on this.

When followed by a jet aircraft, the target plane would start to inject some of its own ceramic engine outlet components into its exhaust stream, so that they burned (like an ablation shield on a space capsule).

This would periodically cause visible, dense puffs of silica ash (locally >>2mg/ m^3) to be ejected and cause any pursuing aircraft to avoid the clouds. The clouds themselves would remain airborne, a little like barrage balloons, until normal turbulence dispersed them.

#1262: SignalSip

Energy drinks apparently start to help one’s muscles work as soon as they make contact with the tongue.

That weird finding, via which the receptors of the tongue somehow inform one’s flagging muscles that ‘help is coming’, is the basis of today’s invention.

For those who find their lives threatened by exhaustion (such as soldiers, explorers or firefighters) it takes the form of a steel water bottle with a lockable lid (and an inaccessible, recessed valve).

The lid contains a timer device which opens a spout for say one second every half-hour (as determined for the operation concerned). This allows someone to take very short slurps of the sugar water inside, enabling them to keep going whilst preventing them from simply draining the contents.

It might even be possible for a version of the bottle to open the spout in response to radio signals from base, in order to maximise the chance that the bottle carrier can get him/herself back home in one piece.

#1261: UnPencil

In olden days, people used to make marks on paper using pencils. Some arty folk still do.

Today’s invention is an eraser, made of stiff white rubber, in the form of a pencil.

Since erasers are always getting dirty with graphite, and you want to be able to perform precision rubbing out using a sharp eraser tip, the pencil-shaped eraser can be kept pointy using an ordinary pencil sharpener.

#1260: Divertrack

What happens when a runaway train is careering down the track into the path of an oncoming engine?

Derailers are devices which can be carried to a place on a track and installed so as to protect eg people working in the vicinity. If a train approaches without warning it is automatically derailed (usually onto a fairly safe, flat patch of ground).

Today’s invention is a derailer which is carried by trains themselves and which, in the event of an impending crash, is rapidly lowered into place to allow the train to leave the track.

It takes the form of a pair of curved rail sections normally carried above an engine and hinged so as to be able to drop down in front of the engine’s front wheels rapidly and detach from the vehicle.

These could be made of some comparatively expensive but lightweight material and be long enough to direct the engine off the track, whilst leaving the rear section still on the rails.

#1259: Atissue

Sitting on public transport frequently involves me in being blasted by the sneezes of neighbouring travelers.

Fortunately, it turns out that there are now antiviral agents which seem to work in limiting the development of cold infections.

Today’s invention is a handkerchief which contains this anti-rhinovirus in powder form.

When you sneeze into the hankie, a wave of antiviral particles is projected off the other side and fills the space between passengers, limiting the power of the virus to make people ill.

#1258: LapStrap

Laptops are equipped with all manner of software-based security measures but that doesn’t count for a lot if someone can jab in a USB device eg and boot up your machine (If your BIOS isn’t password protected, for example).

Today’s invention is a simple device to make any such access to physical connections very much more difficult.

The diagram shows a plug placed in eg a USB socket and attached to a strap which passes under the machine and into a clamp fitted to the other side.

The strap can be locked in place, making attachment of any peripherals impossible without doing serious damage to the device or the machine.

#1257: SawSlots

Today’s invention is intended to lessen the effort required when cutting wood with a handsaw.

The side surfaces of the saw blade have slots machined into them so that a uniform, constant flow pattern can be set up in the narrow air passages between sawblade and wood.

This forms a ‘street’ of vortices in the slots which act as air bearings, reducing the drag in both forwards and backwards directions (air having low inertia, a reversal of this flow pattern is not particularly hard to achieve).

#1256: FareShare

Most people have an aversion to car sharing. Most people also have an aversion to fuel price-induced poverty…not to mention the damage which road transport does to the environment and our health. So we will increasingly have to choose to travel with other people (whom we may not know).

Today’s invention is therefore a modification to the electric urban vehicle of the future. We can get away with about 1/4 as many of these roaming the streets by building them so that they will only move when occupied by four people.

This could be detected by a hard-to-fake combination of bodyweights in seats, heartbeats recorded via seatbelt sensors and fingerprint-reading door handles.

To make a journey in such a vehicle, you would go to a stop and indicate your destination on a touchscreen. If you hadn’t bothered to coordinate with three friends, others waiting at the stop could then join you for parts of the journey along a designated route.

If someone got out before your end-point, you might have to wait at that stop until someone else wanted a ride on the same route. This alone would encourage people to finish an increasing proportion of journeys on foot.

Once these vehicles were in place, it might be possible for say two occupants to agree to pay a hefty surcharge to be allowed to travel without others on board.

#1255: Holdsmobile

Today’s invention is a new intuitive driving interface -something like a mouse moving on a mousemat.

A car driver grips a model car and moves it across the surface of a model rolling road inside the fullsize car. As the model car is turned, so the axial direction of the rolling road turns relative to the real car.

As the speed of the model is varied so the rolling road accelerates and the speed of the real vehicle responds.

A crude version of this could be achieved using eg an iPhone or Wii attached to the base of a model vehicle. It would be particularly good for people with a problem reversing or for those with physical disabilities (since there are no pedals etc required).

#1254: Entropen

New Scientist’s column ‘The Last Word‘ is often a great source of questions just waiting to become inventions.

I was inspired by it today to think about a pen which maximises the lifetime of its ink supply, without greatly diminishing legibility.

Today’s invention is therefore a pen incorporating a tiny inkjet printer with one printhead and a small camera.

As the pen is moved across the surface of the paper, it spits out dots at a uniform rate.

When the camera detects that the pen is changing direction or printing near other dots, it increases its print rate. In this way, sections of straight line, where the information content per dot is low, are represented by small amounts of ink -and vice versa.

(You might build a version with the background dot rate proportional to the acceleration, as determined by a small on-board sensor)