#1416: FacePhone

When attempting to allow someone to use my phone to make a simple call today, it became obvious that even the same model may be configured so differently for individuals that they can’t quickly be loaned.

Today’s invention is an application which records one’s phone settings and sends these to the phones of your friends.

This allows a phone owner to lend his device to one such person, have them enter a passphrase and access an emulator of their own interface (providing only basic calling, texting and browsing functionalities).

For people you want to help but who aren’t friends, they could still choose their phone model from a list to get access to a generic interface design with which they were familiar.

#1415: StreetReview

Google’s Street View is a massively ambitious project. In future, maybe people will ask if all that driving around was such a good idea, but today’s invention makes use of the effort involved.

In many areas the imagery is updated every few months, but even a yearly refresh would be enough to allow automatic machine-based detection of the differences between two streetscenes over time.

This would allow eg planners to spot buildings erected or demolished without permission, as well as signs of gradual environmental damage which might be missed on the hectic timescale of urban life.

#1414: EvacValves

Fire drills are intended to get building occupants to safety as smoothly as possible.

They tend to involve people delaying leaving their desk in the hope that the alarm will be only a bell test and the noise will cease soon. Then everyone joins the same plodding stream of people they usually do on these occasions. It’s not at all clear, though, that this process helps people escape from a real fire.

Today’s invention is firedoors which are unidirectional (somewhat like veins, which constrain bloodflow direction). These would be arranged so that the doors would have no handles and, in an emergency, would open easily only when people heading away from a fire pushed them.

Each door would thus have to be wired into the existing (fire resistant) electrical circuit for the alarms. Fire detection equipment would locate fire(s) in a building and block the opening of each door for anyone trying to move towards a source.

Fire drills would certainly be less pedestrian and be programmed to require a different egress route every time.

#1413: RockingCar

Parking in streets is difficult, even for experienced drivers. It also requires that cars be sufficiently far apart to allow steering into a space, which in itself wastes about 30% of kerbside parking.

Today’s invention offers a way for vehicles to slide into very narrow gaps, without requiring any skill.

Each car would be fitted with an arched, low-friction bumper at front and rear. Beside a narrow parking spot, these bumpers would be flipped downwards and locked in place to from two rockers.

The car’s shock absorbers would then be pressurised from a central plenum: first the outside pair and then the kerbside pair.

This sequence of pressurising and depressurising would cause the vehicle to rock slightly and slide into the space in small jumps (something like a child vigorously translating a rocking chair across a shiny floor).

#1412: Icescape

Today’s invention is a technique by which submariners trapped beneath an oceanic ice sheet can burrow their way to safety.

The propeller of a submarine would be run in reverse and used as a drill with which to cut a hole in the ice.

Once engaged, the bow thrusters would be run at full power in order to resist the tendency for the prop. to lock in the ice and the hull to rotate.

#1411: Shadoware

Spacecraft may someday travel so far from Earth that telemetry and software upgrades direct from the home planet become impractical.

Astronauts may want to effect improvements or the software may be capable of self-modification. Under those circumstances, carrying one copy of all the operating software on board will be a very risky business.

Today’s invention is a remote backup mechanism for vehicles traveling in deep space. Before making any changes to the operating programs, these would be copied onto a number of hard disks on board a satellite vehicle (together with any valuable data gathered as part of the mission). This would contain shielding to minimise the effects of cosmic rays.

The backup vehicle would be launched on a parallel trajectory and kept flying at a safe distance from the mother ship until any upgrade was verified and the two craft could rendez-vous again. In the event of an accident on the main craft, eg fire or memory corruption, the satellite vehicle would be able to dock automatically and attempt to restore the systems to their earlier condition.

#1410: Patronograph

Authors of all genres are complaining that they can’t make any money any more (most never did).

I’m writing a SF story at the moment which will offer readers the chance to make use of today’s invention: a web interface by which someone can link to their facebook profile and have one paragraph in their copy of the ebook written by me for that particular reader.

This would involve an extra charge and the buyer could ask that his or her paragraph be included in the standard release in future (with an attribution to them as patron).

#1409: WheelsWhere?

When you learn to drive, that reverse-parking thing seems so difficult.

Part of the reason is that the steering wheel’s connection to the wheels is geared. It’s hard to sense, especially when going slowly, where the wheels are actually pointing.

Today’s invention is a mobile app which sits on the dashboard above the steering wheel and shows a learner exactly where the wheels are pointing.

(It does this by using the mobile device’s camera to read the position of a circular barcode attached to the back face of the steering wheel and then entering the make of vehicle for calibration).

#1408: Remotivation

The TV remote control is an under-developed piece of kit. Today’s invention is to supply each TV set with a small number of remotes (>1).

These would be personalisable to the tastes of people within a domestic group (what used to be a nuclear family, pre vision-fission). Each device would supply clips of programmes that a family member might like, given their historical viewing schedule.

The devices would then be used in a game in which household viewers would compete to get their choice of programme on-screen. This might involve answering questions, texting messages fast, completing homework questions, showing knowledge of foregoing ads or expressing product preferences.

#1407: Artmosphere

Today’s invention is to supply each weather forecast in the form of a single classic painting.

The weather conditions in a single image could quickly summarise what we were in for, in a way that works with mobile screens effectively and doesn’t rely on those silly ambiguous icons.

It also doesn’t involve a spurious level of unusable detail. Nor does it infringe on anyone’s IP rights (if the pics are old enough).