Category: Possible inventions

16th August 2013

#2448: ThRead

Filed under: Possible inventions - 16 Aug 2013

Today’s invention is a name badge or other physical label which can be created, modified or recycled very rapidly.

Imagine a mat of stiff, open-weave fabric, about the size of a business card.


This can be fed into a small embroidery machine which will loosely sew a user-specified message.

An algorithm works out the most legible way to reproduce some text and/or graphical elements, using a single strand of colour-contrasting thread. When you leave a meeting, simply pull on one end of the thread for the message to disappear (thus avoiding the confusing experience of having strangers address you later using your first name).

As well as name badges for conference-goers, this could extend to the creation of one-off messages on T shirts or tents.

14th August 2013

#2446: HuBurst

Filed under: Possible inventions - 14 Aug 2013

In the higher reaches of motor racing, pitstops can be crucial. Shaving a few hundredths of a second off your time spent at zero velocity is surprisingly important.

Today’s invention is a small contribution towards that goal.


As the car is jacked up, an air driver is used to remove the wheel nut (yellow).

As the nut is removed, it rips open the tyre’s air valve, causing it to deflate via a tube directed towards the chassis (red).

This provides some extra momentum to the wheel being removed, so that it flies more readily off the axle.

13th August 2013

#2445: Blackspotlights

Filed under: Possible inventions - 13 Aug 2013

Streetlights seem to be either on, or off (if we forget about any warming up period).

It’s usually hard to make a case for lighting some streets more brightly than others.


It seems, however, that New York has now made available data which map where road accidents occur.

Today’s invention is to use this information to vary the light emitted from individual streetlights.

An area with a high incidence of traffic accidents would automatically get their lights set to brighter-than-normal. Other, less accident-prone streets would be less brightly illuminated.

This would result in an easing of accident blackspots, as well as a net reduction in the lighting costs for hard-pressed city administrators.

10th August 2013

#2443: Launchlift

Filed under: Possible inventions - 10 Aug 2013

I’m always in search of new flying systems and today’s invention is a way to help aircraft escape the deck of a carrier.

These vessels have giant lifts which transport planes to the flightdeck from the bowels of the ship.


Imagine if, instead of a sedate journey upwards, the lift was designed to boost a plane (or several planes) vertically above the deck and say 30m into the sky.

The acceleration would be limited by the pilot’s tolerance for g-force, but at that height, the plane’s engines would fire up and allow it to clear the side of the deck as it fell seawards before gaining altitude and flying away.

7th August 2013

#2439: Unstitcher

Filed under: Possible inventions - 07 Aug 2013

Unstitching a garment by manually unpicking the stitches is a problem for the recycling industry. In the clothing business, such activity is done largely by sweatshop labour.

Today’s invention is an unsewing machine.


A section of stitches to be unpicked would be marked with eg an ultraviolet ink at the start and end.

This section would be inserted under the cutting head which would be fitted with a small camera.

The material would be propelled past a small blade. This would be guided, by the camera, to snip any stitches (ie threads larger in scale and/or of a different colour from the main material).

#2438: Gutterace

Filed under: Possible inventions - 07 Aug 2013

I’m mad keen on the engineering of speed records. Driving at enormous speed across salt or mud flats is fraught with difficulties, however.

These natural materials are flat because of the evaporation of water from their surfaces, but they still have quite a scaly, dusty texture, which makes route selection problematic and grip uneven.


Today’s invention is a permanent, uniform track enabling record attempts to be made almost anywhere with the political will to spend the money (countries at higher altitudes may also have an advantage).

First, lay a 15-mile railway track with a super-strong substrate and horizontal to a very finely controlled level of precision. The track would need a loop at either end

Then lay on top of that long sections of big-diameter open concrete gutter (say 5m in diameter). These could be standard civil engineering components but with extra careful caulking at the joints.

The effect would be to create a very smooth, open channel down which a variety of vehicles could be propelled under reproducible conditions.

4th August 2013

#2437: ShareShine

Filed under: Possible inventions - 04 Aug 2013

Today’s invention is a set of shades for a tall building, which also help make better use of internal lighting at night or in dull weather.

Two, right-angle shades, with reflective inner surfaces, are shown attached to a multi-storey building.

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During the day, sunlight (orange beam) passes in between them to light the rooms, but not overheat them.

When it’s dark, light from one floor can be reflected up or down into an adjacent floor (yellow beams).

This causes a much more even distribution of illumination, so that many fewer lights need be left switched on for eg security purposes.

#2436: Cargowings

Filed under: Possible inventions - 04 Aug 2013

I found this article, about the placement algorithms for containers on a ship, fascinating.

Today’s invention adds another variable to be optimised.

heavy lift

Container ships of the future might become enormous, even by today’s standards -and potentially much faster.

This opens up the possibility of stacking the containers on deck to form a relatively low-drag aerofoil shape.

In addition, the ship would have incorporated into each side of its hull, a pair of huge, flat surfaces (yellow).

These would act as low-drag elevators, so that, at speed, the hull would be raised by perhaps 0.5m out of the water, cutting the overall drag on the vessel significantly.

31st July 2013

#2432: Callinkcard

Filed under: Possible inventions - 31 Jul 2013

Carrying a pen about with you is now perceived as almost as nerdy as wearing a wristwatch or taping the bridge of your spectacles.

Today’s invention is a phone case which allows people to make a brief printed note using only their cellphone.


The phone in its case is placed on a piece of paper.

One of four hemispherical ‘feet’ in the case is equipped with a graphite coating.

A program on the phone drives the onboard eccentric flywheel vibration so that the drawing foot is driven across the paper, creating marks as it goes.

Since writing paper has a pretty consistent coefficient of friction, simple, continuous-line versions of on-screen text or symbols can thus be reproduced.

25th July 2013

#2424: FlammabLegs

Filed under: Possible inventions - 25 Jul 2013

The main problem with a manned trip to Mars is the manned return trip from Mars.

You need a lot of (heavy) fuel to get back off the planet surface. A tank with the usual liquid rocket fuel would be just too heavy to take all the way from earth.


One alternative is to carry a buggy and drive towards one of the poles…gather lots of ice (if it’s actually there) and then electrolyse that to make hydrogen and oxygen (before carting it back to the landing site in a balloon or two).

Today’s invention is an alternative, and perhaps less risky, approach.

A small lander would descend from an orbital vehicle (as in Apollo). The lander would have a base section (red) which has to be there anyway to absorb the landing.

This would be constructed of a strong case on legs filled with Ammonium Perchlorate Composite Propellant (APCP), a flexible, load-bearing solid material which is often used to make military rockets. This can be profiled during manufacture so that the burn occurs in a sequence of bursts.

When the time to depart came, the whole of this platform would be ignited from the underside, propelling the crew module into orbit as the undercarriage consumed itself.

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