#129: Emergency calling credit

Parents can easily get hold of emergency-only phones, but try insisting that your fashion-conscious teenage offspring carry one. Danger-conscious parents, on the other hand, (sometimes maligned as “overprotective”) would all like a way to use their child’s existing mobile phone as a tool by which their scared, lost or soaking wet progeny can call home.

My problem has been that the credit on phones is not partitioned: it can easily be exhausted by chatting to a boyfriend for the required three hours.

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Today’s invention is therefore to arrange that each phone plan incorporate a reserved calling credit partition, linked to a single emergency number. This will probably be charged at the ultra-ultra-premium-eltonjohn-diamonds-and-platinum rate, but at least it will never run out of calling credit.

#126: Glovapron

Don’t ask why, but I’ve been searching lately for today’s invention: a pair of rubber gloves integrated into a rubber apron. It seems that no such product exists. I had thought that the military or the nuclear industry would need this thing, or even people working as drainage technicians, vets or in abbatoirs…but it seems they haven’t realised it yet.

Rather than have to worry about gunge penetrating between glove-end and sleeve-start, I’d like to be able to walk into a one-piece overall that would be sure to protect my clothes.

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It seems to me perfectly possible to injection mould such an item, although the tooling would be tricky to perfect, even for an ultra-utility product where surface finish isn’t that important.  I suspect, though, that the preferred approach would be to bond existing gloves to rubber aprons with arms. There could still be three different hand sizes available, but the arms and wraparound apron would be deliberately loose-fitting to enable some ventilation.

As with all great products, after use -just hose it down.

#125: Tape-end detector

I’m still driven crazy by the occasional need to detect the end on a roll of sticky tape. This stuff is now so thin that I can’t seem even to feel where the end is using my fingertips, certainly not when I’ve got only 20 seconds in which to wrap that last minute present.

Today’s invention is to avoid using that toilet-roll cardboard material to wrap the tape around. Instead, I propose that all (transparent) sticky tape be sold wrapped around a clear plastic ring. When you need to find the end, simply hold it up to the light and look through both the tape and ring.

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#124: News vendor

Although the signs are that every corner of the globe will soon be a wireless hotspot, I’m betting that a fair number of people will baulk at always carrying some kind of wireless appliance with them (some individuals will tire of perpetual accessibility, some will remain resolutely unnetworked).

For this section of humanity, I propose today’s invention: the wireless-networked, public-space printer.

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This would be a coin or credit card-operated device, small and cheap enough to bolt to the wall of pretty much any public building or conveyance. Users could choose to buy a one-sheet hardcopy summary of up-to-the-second news, a local map or perhaps a children’s colouring/game sheet.

(Anyone carrying a USB compatible device, eg a camera rather than necessarily a laptop, could pay to simply plug-in and download a larger filefull of information and news images).

This would provide another avenue for selling focussed news journalism, rather than editorial pap, celeb goss and ads. Naturally the paper would be recyclable (perhaps usable as travel napkins before binning).

#120: Talking tarmac

Rumblestrips are used to pass information to a driver in a pretty crude form. They generate a serious noise inside a vehicle when its tyres start to veer too far off course or are travelling too quickly towards a road junction.

Today’s invention enhances this technology by arranging a pattern of strips across a carriageway at varying spatial frequency along the road. This layout causes the tyres to rumble with varying audible frequency -and thus to issue instructions and warnings which are actually heard as words: “Slow Down”, “Keep Right” etc

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Drivers of very fast, or ultra slow vehicles might have difficulty interpreting the words, but would still receive a message that something unusual was going on.

#119: Spectacle headlamps

Today’s invention is: a battery-powered, bolt-on kit designed to fit all reading glasses and consisting of a couple of small led bulbs.

This would allow those of us with failing eyesight to be able to read in low-light conditions without scrabbling around looking for a separate head torch.

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How’s that for a useful, yet low-tech, idea?

For those people inclined to lose their specs frequently, they could be made to flash in response to a ‘keyfinder’ or tv remote control device.

(I saw “Mission: Impossible” only after writing this, but their goggles look more like two torches bolted to one’s temples).

#117: Dermascopy

There has been, over the last decade, a huge upsurge in concern about skin cancer. Certainly, everyone I know has heard the stories about people going to their doctor a week after finding a small black spot on their skin, only to be told that it’s just too late and they have ‘had their chips’.

But how are you supposed to inspect your skin for the appearance of scary blemishes, in areas that you can’t see with even a handmirror and some teeth-gritted contortions?

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Today’s invention is a personal periscope (containing a Fresnel magnifier). Basically a four-bend version of the standard two-bend periscope, this would allow anyone, even those with poor eyesight or serious joint immobility to inspect those hard-to-reach reaches of their own rear view.

It might even contain one of those £10 digital cameras for sale in Tesco so that images of some offending spot could be stored, monitored over time and relayed to one’s GP (assuming it’s not the weekend, of course).

#113: Interchangeable garden drive

Digging a field or vegetable patch is always a physical challenge. It’s even tough when using a rotavator. So we have an enormous range of shiny and expensive, labour-saving toys with which to create a cacophony for the neighbours’ benefit.

Today’s invention provides access to a range of these devices, whilst cutting the cost of an entire shed-load of appliances.

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I propose designing a range of motorised garden implements all of which are powered using a single, heavy-duty electric drill (it could be cordless, but I’d be happier with a nice fat cable and no need to recharge any massive battery packs).

In this way, gardeners could make more use of an existing (expensive) tool, by plugging it into a range of mechanical ‘business ends,’ each with a suitable small gearbox (such as rotavators, strimmers, hedge clippers, wood chippers and even leaf blowers). I understand that each powertool actually gets used for only 10 minutes, in total which makes the sale of multiple redundant motors even less justifiable.

All this is fine, as long as your garden doesn’t require a simultaneous, multipronged surprise attack.

#108: Automatic eyestrain relief

My optician advises me that the latest thinking in his field suggests that users of computer screens should adjust their brightness frequently during the day, to compensate for the changing ambient light levels. Failure to do this is, he says, a major cause of eye strain and general fatigue.

Trying to remember to make these adjustments, let alone finding the miniature control button, would be a major pain.

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So today’s invention is simply to equip screens with the ability to decrease and then increase their brightness automatically throughout the working day.

Ideally, when setting up a new machine, information entered about your location would be used to compute the required, latitude-based lighting variation.

Although the situation is more complicated with mobile devices, it could be catered for either by having a light meter or a GPS transmitter built in. Failing which, your laptop could locate itself roughly by identifying the network to which it it was connected.

#107: Shop window turntables

Today’s invention is a cheap alternative display system for shop windows.

It involves using a number of those low-cost, square electronic clock mechanisms, which are battery-powered. Remove the hands in each case and replace the second hand with a small, round platform.

Placing a lightweight object for sale on this mini turntable would allow it to slowly rotate in the shop window, adding a certain extra visual interest at very little additional cost. This effect would be enhanced by playing the usual spotlights on the object(s) in question and by having a large array of merchandise items. Battery replacement need only happen once or twice a year.

For those with an interest in ‘novelties’, it would be possible to make an internal sundial using one such clock mechanism with a stationary light source and a pointer attached to the turntable.