I’ve been introduced recently to the rich culture of those who maintain the railway infrastructure. I had always before regarded them as responsible only for all those ‘points failures’ which make me frequently late.
It turns out that there is a huge amount of skill and engineering insight required to cope with some of the weird and subtle physics that tracks can exhibit.
One such issue is to do with tracks which have vegetation growing nearby. If, in very warm weather, this shades one rail more than the other, the entire system of track, sleepers and ballast distorts locally -not what you want when trains are barrelling through at 100+ mph.
Cutting the grass/ferns/bushes manually is hugely costly and attaching blades to the trains might threaten public safety -to say nothing of the permissions required to chop down trees.
Sleepers are normally of uniform material over very long stretches of line. Today’s invention is therefore to fit a few trains with thermal cameras which can detect differences in rail temperature. This would then enable replacement of a few concrete or hardwood sleepers with steel ones, in areas found to suffer from differential shading.
It might be necessary to insert eg a copper* gasket between rail and sleeper.
This would allow more effective thermal conduction between the two rails and much more uniform track temperature (and geometry maintenance) but without having to re-lay large sections of track.
*Maybe not such a smart idea, given the possible electrochemical interactions ie rust?
Not having a TV is something I’d recommend that everyone should at least consider (especially if you live in the UK, where the licensing authorities make the gestapo seem friendly).
The only real downside (since you can always get David Attenborough on DVD) is the issue of being left out of conversations the next day.
Today’s invention attempts to make televison avoidance even better by helping address this remaining issue.
It takes the form of a Twitter feed, one per TV channel, which describes, 140 characters at a time, the highlights, or at least conversation-worthy aspects of, last night’s viewing.
This could be rapidly scanned by those who are free of the addiction on the way to the coffee machine, so that they would have just enough understanding to be included -without having to waste six hours on the required background research.
A better idea would be to have this information appear on the display of the coffee machine or water cooler itself.
Gumshields, otherwise known as ‘mouthguards’ are worn by hundreds of athletes and schoolchildren.
Many no doubt relish looking like an ardent international rugby player or a rampaging boxing champ. Many, especially females, don’t.
This is a problem in that reluctance to wear such protection may leave them vulnerable.
Any parent who has watched their daughter play hockey will cringe at the memory of that white sphere streaking by at face height.
Today’s invention is therefore a mouthguard which has printed on it a photographic image of the wearer’s actual teeth.
This would be suitably scaled and processed to look normal in the mouth (rather than forming a horsey grin).
It would thus provide no disincentive to the wearing of dental protection – which, after all, is of highest importance to the most image-conscious.
It makes me a little testy when travelling on a train and my progress to the lavatory is impeded by someone trying to push a huge cart of overpriced catering goodies between the seats.
This tends to get in everyone’s way and also cause bruising to anyone whose shoulders extend even slightly outside the allotted seat width.
Today’s invention is therefore a vending machine for trains (which might also work aboard passenger aircraft).
Members of the travelling public could call the machine which runs on rollers riding on the luggage rack as shown, using either a seat panel or their mobile phone.
The machine would have a clear underside displaying the goods on sale, together with push buttons and payment slots which could be manually operated overhead or via smartphone.
Items purchased would each drop into a collection slot.
Thus, these purchases could be made with no interruption to the flow of people within the carriage.
Headlights are currently operated at either dipped or full beam.
Today’s invention attempts to be a more effective, generalised version of this ancient regime.
Each vehicle would carry reflectors at front and rear in a shaped frame.
Each car would have a camera facing forwards which would detect the shaped reflector(s) anywhere ahead of it.
If one’s headlights were reflecting too brightly from the reflector of another car, one’s own headlights would automatically dip, just enough to avoid it.
This would provide maximal range of view using one’s headlights but still not dazzle oncoming drivers or those travelling in front.
A different version might be based on a lightmeter in each vehicle. If it detected too high a brightness, it could send a message to deflect one’s own lights.
Thus, your lights would be controlled externally.
One of the features of sick buildings is that people have no control over the heating or window opening.
When these controls are available, occupants frequently run the heating with windows ajar. This is bad for fuel economy and probably kicks a carbon footprint-sized hole in the local climate.
Today’s invention is a two-part lock which should help.
One element covers the window lock, the other the radiator thermostat.
These devices talk to each other wirelessly so that the window lock will only be exposed if the radiator is off.
Similarly, the radiator can’t be turned on if the window is open.
As one who prefers eating to making food, I rarely delve into the dark arts of culinary innovation.
Today’s invention represents an exception for those who like eating stuff which has spatially-varying temperature.
A microwave oven doesn’t heat the contents uniformly, which is why they tend to have integral turntables. In fact, the intensity of heating varies from point to point within the oven, so the temperature distribution resembles a patchwork quilt.
Today’s invention is a new, rapid version of Baked Alaska.
A base of eg biscuit crumb mix would have blocks of icecream placed on it where the microwave nodes occur. Then an additional layer of the crumble would be spread on top.
The whole thing would be microwaved on a grid standing above the turntable, so that only the antinodal regions would be heated.
This might also be used to insert other raw stuff inside baked goods…sushi pie anyone?
Frogmen often swim underwater using a relaxed body undulation technique that resembles the movement of a seal or dolphin.
Today’s invention is a modified set of swimfins designed to help this kind of stroke.
A pair of regular flippers have regions of velcro attached, as shown.
These can be slapped together, one atop the other, so that the fins stick temporarily together and act like a mermaid’s tail…providing greater potential thrust than the two separate fins.
Surprisingly, I can find nothing of this kind in any of the patent databases.
People crazy enough to be drag racing have been injecting nitrous oxide into their engines for decades.
Today’s invention offers a new way to gain extra speed off the line whilst not decreasing the danger.
A two-cylinder version of the engine envisaged is shown. Each cylinder has a tank of nitrous oxide with an electronically controlled outlet valve.
When one of these is opened, a stream of oxide passes into a hybrid rocket motor (orange) where it is ignited. This combustion process drives the conventional engine’s piston.
The gas valve then closes, ignition ceases and the exhaust stroke is shown in the bottom picture.
Safe? No. Fast?…potentially, albeit with an engine change every 200m.
Today’s invention is an improvement on this one.
When a road accident occurs, there is almost always a loud bang.
Streetlights could be fitted with microphones to detect this, so that when there was a loud impact, the nearest few lights would flash on and off, indicating a problem to oncoming drivers.
The flickering of lights on either side of the bang could be timed so as to apparently point to the lamp nearest the accident (as cone lights currently do with eg roadworks).
The lights might also send a message to the police or at least take a photograph of the vicinity (when the lights were in the ‘on’ state).
A more advanced version would have the streetlight flashing be radio-triggered by eg airbag or bumper sensors within vehicles themselves.