#1631: Vacapsule

Atmospheric re-entry vehicles rely on either ablation shields or insulating tiles to stop them being incinerated by contact with the shockwave they generate during descent.

Today’s invention is to make a re-entry vehicle in the form of a vacuum flask. This could consist of one capsule nested within another and secured in place using wedges of thermal tile material.

Before re-entry, a valve would open, expelling the air in the gap to space and then lock closed, forming a vacuum in the layer between inner and outer shells.

Although probably heavier than the conventional approaches, this would be comparatively low-tech, robust during ascent and would allow easier reuse of the vehicle.

Such a device might provide a way, in smaller, pod format, to allow expensive equipment, valuable memory devices or samples to be dropped back to earth more reliably.

#1630: Bachelorat

Animals, like people, tend to choose mates based partly on body symmetry. Today’s invention is a rat trap which aims not to kill any animals, but to reduce their reproductive attractiveness.

A narrow box has one-way gates at both entrance and exit. A rat (or mouse) is attracted to the smell of some bait and as it passes along inside the box, it triggers a small aerosol paint spray. This contains a harmless but longlasting dye which creates a striking pattern on one half of the rodent.

This might take the form of a high-contrast ‘dazzle’ camouflage or zebra stripes, but the idea is that by making rats of both sexes look strongly asymmetric, they will be much less likely to be chosen to mate.

This device can, using a small reservoir of attractant scent, allow hundreds of animals to pass through every hour.

By lowering the reproduction rate significantly in this way, the rise of rodent plagues (which consume 16% of rice produced in Asia) can be avoided.

#1629: GuA.R.d

Even more innovative specs…today’s invention is a pair of safety glasses.

These are equipped with at least one lens with an augmented-reality overlay. This display is activated when the glasses are worn oriented towards a piece of dangerous machinery such as a lathe or a chainsaw.

The display will then show a number of close, but randomly distributed spots (say 10) on the surface of the machine that must be simultaneously pressed in order to power it up.

By using all one’s fingers, and only whilst wearing the glasses, is it possible to see how to turn the equipment on.

The machine might actually have 15 sub-surface contact switches embedded in it and use a random set of ten each time, to ensure that operators don’t just learn the required finger pattern.

No-one without the right goggles on can operate the system in question and thus people are protected form injuring their eyes.

#1628: Cybrows

Today’s invention is sunglasses with segmented, overlapping lenses.

Each segment is attached to a pivot at the nosepiece, allowing them to slide over each other, covering some fraction of one side of the face. This would allow a range of options for eye protection: either lots of stray light to be excluded or direct beams to be dimmed.

The triangular segments would have different-strength filters, so that many different combinations of colour, density etc could be selected.

It might even be possible to have the motion of the lenses powered via a small hydraulic reservoir and remote switch, so that these glasses could also take on a social signalling role.

#1627: Outmates

Prison is a very costly way to punish people. Today’s invention is a new mode of applying it to criminals who are not thought an active danger to society.

A continuous sentence, which allows prisoners to adapt to the stress of imprisonment and to establish unhealthy, institutionalised patterns of behaviour, would be replaced by discrete periods of time ‘inside.’ Perhaps one month in, followed by a month outside.

This would also help maintain relationships with friends and family, who would probably have to help support prisoners, due to the difficulty of working during irregular periods of freedom.

Although this might appear an easy option, I suspect that the intermittency would keep prisoners emotionally more aware of their debt to society, and thus become recognised as an effective deterrent.

The good news is that certain prisoners would serve a sentence which involved substantially less total time behind bars, reducing the cost to everyone else enormously.

#1626: GeekCake

Faraday made popular the amazing phenomena associated with vibrating plates. (Chladni figures).

Today’s invention is a geeky kitchen toy which exploits this amazing Physics.

There is a saucepan the base of which fits inside, attached by a loose rubber ‘seal’. The base is vibrated by a motor unit beneath, so that icing sugar dropped in the saucepan forms the complicated and beautiful Chladni patterns, which vary with frequency.

When you see a pattern you like, switch off the motor and put a flat-topped cake into the cylinder (top-down) until it’s in contact with the icing sugar.

Invert the whole system and remove the cylinder, leaving the sugar pattern on the top of the cake.

#1625: Signalick

Car accidents often happen because drivers are perceptually overloaded by the complexities of the urban landscape. There are lots of distractors, especially at road junctions. Blaring the horn is usually pretty ineffective, due to the background hum and the nonspecific directionality of the horn note.

Today’s invention is a device to help drivers, especially novices, when driving at low to moderate speeds in town.

A coiled hose, like a chamelon’s tongue, is built into vehicles. When you press a button on the steering wheel, a blast of compressed air inflates and rolls out the tongue, 5m or so in front of your vehicle.

The tongue would have a fluorescent end whose movement would be sensed by the peripheral vision of other drivers, more effectively alerting them to your imminent arrival. A light spring inside allows the device to roll up again rapidly.

If the tongue were to make contact with pedestrians or vehicles, it would be soft enough to do absolutely no damage.

#1624: SyrahSyringe

I was inspired today by this slightly crazy idea (graduated wine glasses which indicate which note will be played if you run your finger around the rim when the wine is at a certain depth in the glass).

One note at a time seems a bit limited, though, so today’s invention is to incorporate a syringe in the stem.

Someone holding the glass can push or pull the syringe to raise or lower the level of the wine and thus alter the note played on the rim.

#1623: Gaptop

Today’s invention is a laptop case which is engineered to maintain a gap between keys and screen when closed, using a large rubber stop between the two.

It would also have walls around the three non-hinge sides, one of which would form a hinged lid.

This arrangement would allow the interior space to be used to carry papers such as A5 sized documents or a notepad. Even the most wired individuals still can’t do without some paper.

This would provide a way to carry documents with added security and without needing to lug about an extra bag full of papers.

#1622: Anomaleats

I was lucky enough to get to eat at a fancy hotel recently where they produced some ‘hand-baked’ biscuits.

Just like a hand-sewn suit, these were distinguished by small non-uniformities. Nothing so pronounced as to make me think the cook was actually a four-year old having a break from playdoh, but each was clearly different from its neighbours.

Today’s invention is a way for bakers to simulate the homemade effect. It consists of a baking tray in which the diameters and depths of the cups are all subtly different from each other. Some might even be slightly non-circular.

The effect of this is to create industrial quantities of biscuits which have just enough variation in shape, size and surface browning to be confused with hand-made products.

Any vacuum-formed packaging would have to accommodate numbers of each different biscuit ‘design.’