When I get some kind of receipt, I often want to dispose of it in a way which would make it hard to extract information about my transactions.
I tend to tear up any such paper and put some of the pieces in a variety of different bins within walking (or throwing) distance of my desk.
It would still be pretty easy to complete the data just by finding a single shred of paper (we can easily read a sentence when we have only the top half).
Today’s invention is therefore to have receipts printed using Captcha text (ie crowded and bendy).
An approach like this would allow people to check their transaction, tear and disperse the shreds -and thus decrease greatly the available information from any small collection of such shreds.
(For the above reasons, I’d also actually also like a shredder which would tear paper into vertical strips, rather than beautiful, razor-cut horizontal pieces).
Inspired by the Aero-engineering designs of Burt Rutan, I began to wonder what happens to the handling characteristics when an engine fails aboard a multi-engine jet.
Today’s invention is to equip such aircraft with under-wing rails (orange) (like those used to support munitions on military planes).
In the event of an engine failure, the remaining engines can be repositioned quickly by sliding laterally along under the wings.
This allows their centre of thrust to be kept in line with the fuselage and the flight dynamics changed as little as possible.
It seems that ants will naturally gather debris to build a mini stockade around any especially nice food that is too large to cart off in a single piece.
Today’s invention is an enhancement to a robot vacuum cleaner. An ant farm is attached to the cleaner and a nozzle gives the ants access to the carpet.
Periodically, a piece of sugar (red) is dropped onto the carpet or flooring inside the nozzle.
Ants stream onto the floor and extract debris from the carpet surface to build their barricade.
After a while, the vacuum cleaner will move to suck up the ants’ collected dirt -thus enhancing the action of the cleaner.
Sheep naturally adopt a flock configuration when threatened, which is why a small number of sheepdogs can be used to round them up.
Today’s invention is a way to ensure that a flock stays together, when required -thus reducing demands on the skill of the shepherd and his dogs.
During that part of the year when sheep aren’t supposed to be lambing or being shorn, they would each have several plates attached to their fleeces.
These would have small hooks on both sides, which could be withdrawn in response to eg a mobile phone signal. The plates would attach themselves to the wool on each sheep’s flanks.
When the animals were herded into a funnel eg for dipping, they would come close enough for the protruding hooks to attach each sheep to its neighbours.
This would keep the flock bonded together and facing in the same direction until a phone call to the plates caused them to withdraw their hooks and fall off (for reuse later).
This would make sheep easier to manage without restricting their normal functions significantly. It would also protect many animals from attack from outside as well as from hypothermia.
When it’s raining and blowing a gale, the streets are quickly littered with the fragmentary skeletons of inverted umbrellas.
Today’s invention is an umbrella which, when it is about to blow inside-out and wreck the frame, has panels which simply separate, as shown.
Since these would be held together like the lips of a resealable plastic bag, all the user would then have to do would be to retire to a less gusty doorway and reseal the edges.
There is a danger to drivers in becoming so cosseted by their vehicles’ support systems that they make mistakes.
Today’s invention is a driver’s seat which operates like those in cinemas which react to film content and give the occupant a small shake.
Everyone who had ever skidded on ice, even a little, knows that the effect is to get one’s attention very tightly focused on the job of driving.
The seat in question would therefore react to a period of no driver movement (sensed by measuring weight distribution on the seat panels) with a very small-amplitude simulated skid movement.
This would get a dozy driver to sit up and pay attention.
When you carry a suitcase, off-centre loads create moments at the handle which can wrench one’s arm/wrist and squeeze the fingers.
This could be helped by attaching a circular handle, but a rectangular case would then potentially drag one corner on the ground -which defeats the purpose.
Today’s invention is a handle system for suitcases which consists of a comfortable grip which can slide along as shown in a channel on the top of the case.
This allows a user to place the handle, by trial and error, directly over the bag’s centre of gravity -making it much less uncomfortable to lug around.
When a spacecraft takes off, the instruments can shake so violently that they become unreadable by crew members -even if they are experienced test pilots and know what to expect.
Today’s invention is therefore to create a secondary set of instruments which would be electrically connected to the normal displays, but which can be placed on the laps of Pilot and Copilot during high vibration conditions (thus isolating the displays from the vehicle oscillation).
These would indicate their readings as a dynamic, tactile pattern. This might be achieved most easily as a bank of barcodes -one each for airspeed, fuel flowrate, altitude etc.
If critical readings were exceeded, crew could have switches embedded in the remote display, enabling them eg to fire the escape rocket motor or blow the hatches.
It makes me mad that I have to hibernate my laptop (which is slow and often fails to work), just so as to swap in a new battery.
Today’s invention is a new system designed to help with a rapid hotswap…at least until battery technology makes its long-promised leap forward.
Laptops would be wired to take on board power for a short time when placed in sleep mode.
A portable USB mouse would incorporate a rechargeable AA battery (perhaps recharged continuously, using the mousewheel as a dynamo).
When your laptop charge is running out, you can activate sleep mode and just quickly swap out the main battery in the knowledge that your internal state will be preserved, using power automatically fed to it from the mouse.
Thinking about the next era of spaceflight has made me wonder about the logic of the ‘splashdown.’
Even with the Right Stuff, astronauts and instruments aboard must take an extra beating when the capsule hits the sea (especially if one of the chutes is malfunctioning).
Today’s invention is based on the training pools provided for ski jumpers in which bubbles are injected into the water, to help lessen the shock of diving in.
It takes the form of a cannister of highly-compressed air which is automatically jettisoned moments before a returning command module splashes down. This sinks and fires several jets of air outwards radially, to form a large bubble-filled volume.
This would allow the craft to penetrate somewhat more deeply, but decrease the resulting bang to less bonecrushing levels.