#239: Snorkel shoes

One of the reasons that shoes smell is that the moist air inside gets trapped with a lot of sweat and bacteria which feed on its organic constituents.

In the summer, you could get away with wearing open-toed sandals (if you weren’t any kind of fashion victim) or at least light shoes with ventilation holes. No-one wants to wear these, though, when there are icy puddles everywhere.

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Today’s invention is a breather tube fitted to each shoe in the otherwise unventilated region of the toe box. This would emerge from the shoe and snake around, attached to the outside, until rising to the level of at least the tongue. You could still step in puddles without getting inflow onto your socks and keep your feet aired at the same time.

Rather than rely on low pressure air flows, driven by just toe movements, the pipe could be attached to a small air pump on one’s belt or even a bladder within the sole which would compress under bodyweight, forcing air into the shoe and then spring open when unloaded, sucking it out again.

#229: Smoking mask

Smoking: I just don’t get it. Even if you feel it makes you look ‘cool’ and wildly attractive to the opposite sex and calms you down and…you’re just plain wrong, ok?

In Europe, lots of countries are banning smoking in public places, which has to be a good thing. The ankle-deep leaf litter of discarded butts outside these buildings is not. Even when ash cans are provided, they don’t seem to get used very effectively.

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So I suggest that, rather than forcing people to stand outside in the rain, smokers should be compelled to use today’s invention. It’s a smoking mask. A cigarette is loaded into a tightly fitting breathing mask and lit by contact with a car-type integrated lighter.

Some of the incoming airstream, when inhaling, is drawn through the cigarette. On exhalation, a battery of activated carbon and particle filters stops the usual exhaust problems and removes the danger to others of passive smoking. If we employed a small cyclone separator at the outlet, this would also enable the wearer to perform the usual coughing that is all part of looking cool and grown-up.

This mask could be used as an active aid to help people give up the habit by eg displaying the number of cigarettes consumed or the ongoing cost. It could also contain a prefilter to remove increasing amounts of the toxins and addictive elements over time.

#225: Modesty mask

I’m getting just a little tired of people fighting about their religious beliefs. If folk want to dress in a particular way because their god tells them to do so, then, I’d be strongly inclined not to try to stop them. Equally, I wouldn’t want my children taught by someone dressed as Ronald MacDonald, the Lone Ranger or Darth Vadar.

Today’s invention attempts to defuse the row about certain groups of people wearing clothes that may interfere with their communications with the rest of us.

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It takes the form of a mask incorporating a small screen (basically another hacked mobile phone) on which would be displayed an image of their face, captured by the inbuilt camera and coarsely pixellated.

It would display just enough infomation for others to be able to lip read what they are saying and sense the mood of ther comments, but without revealing their identity or even their sex.

If necessary, their voice could be disguised too.

#219: Order of merits

If you are a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) you rank higher than a QC and certainly above a mere BSc.

Even the most apparently matey countries have an ‘order of precedence’ that makes democracy look even more foolish than it usually manages on its own. What happens though, in this highly schooled (if under educated) era, if you have several such post-nominal letters?

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What if you are a decorated miltary hero, a member of learned societies and have degrees in medicine and international relations: in what order do your honours appear on that business card (assuming you have enough room)? The head of NASA holds seven earned degrees -maybe he got lost in a University.

Anyway, today’s invention is for people like him with way too much time on their hands. It’s a website on which one types in one’s post-nominals and it applies the rules of precedence to correctly order them.

#213: Tabloid poncho

I hate umbrellas. As well as being really hard to deal with in windy weather and threatening eye injuries to everyone in range, they really are a burden to cart about and so, usually, they are in the wrong place when it starts to rain.

Today’s invention is a new way to stay dry.

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Don’t just ignore those guys selling Big Issue magazine (because you don’t want to read that politically active stuff and you know they drive home in a Merc each day). When it begins to rain, seek them out. That’s because in future they will sell you a low-cost poncho.

Each of these will be preprepared on days threatening rain by stapling sheets of the newsprint together to make a poncho shape -including hood). Each poncho would get a quick spray of cheap, environmentally friendly, waterproofing agent. They could cut costs even further by using yesterday’s old newspapers -or, better still, use those dreadful free copies of ‘Metro’ that litter stations everywhere.

Naturally, the sheets of newspaper would be joined in such a way that the text could still be read by the wearer when eg sitting, dripping, on a train.

When the weather dries out, you can then ditch the cape in a bin.

#204: Pigeon Pi/2

Carrier pigeons used to be used as one pretty effective means of long distance communication. One of the problems is that they are really capable only of flying back to a home roost from which they have been displaced. It’s thought they achieve this feat of navigation mostly by using magnetic crystals within their brains as a form of compass.

Today’s invention is a revival of the carrier pigeon messaging service, but with greater control over the outward direction of travel. This approach is based on reprogramming the navigation crystals, by exposing them to a strong magnetic field at some angle to that of the Earth’s, and then taking the poor creatures to an unfamiliar location. They will then fly off in the direction chosen for them, whilst thinking they are heading home.

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One possible use for this idea is to use the birds to supply messages to some country in which other forms of communication are heavily censored or jammed.

#203: Ghostroad

Amazingly, it turns out that elephants can identify different herds miles away by using their feet to sense their neighbours’ characteristic, low frequency rumblings. These sounds are transmitted through the earth as ‘infrasound’ waves, which are only mildly attentuated in transit and which are too low for humans to hear.

Although these noises aren’t experienced by being heard, people do react to infrasound. It tends to create a strong feeling of fearfulness and awe -often associated with apparently ghostly phenomena.

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Today’s invention is to use this psychological reaction to encourage motorists to decrease their speed.

Sections of roadway identified as the approaches to accident blackspots could be coated with textured paint (of very low spatial frequency) so that car tyres rolling along would gradually begin to generate infrasound waves and scare drivers enough to make them slow down.

#192: Speech-to-images

I frequently give talks on a variety of subjects (including entrepreneurship, creativity, robotic vision…) It always takes an extra effort to coordinate some images with the material I’m trying to put across via Powerpoint presentations. What is sometimes lacking, though, is an element of extra spontaneity.

Today’s invention is a tool to make talks more attention-grabbing and possibly memorable.

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As the presenter speaks, his words are analysed by a computer undertaking rapid speech-to-text analysis. It then performs a realtime image search and displays on the screen one image from, say, the first page of results. With suitable filtering in operation, the scope for embarrassment would be limited and the process might even result in some interesting feedback -if the presenter were to watch the images and comment on them too.

For many talks, it wouldn’t matter if the translation wasn’t that accurate or the recognition rate was low -just as long as images appeared broadly in synch with the main words. This might have the added benefit that speakers would be encouraged to enunciate more clearly (try Googling ‘eh’ and ‘um’).

Finally, this technique also represents a way to add some extra interest to radio broadcasts -it’s a kind of pictorial stream of consciousness rather like the one which visual thinkers naturally adopt.

#189: Formic figuring

Ants are remarkable creatures in that they exhibit certain cooperative behaviours which ’emerge,’ based on the interactions of some very simple internal rules. Some can, for example, count the numbers of steps they take, in each direction on some irregular route, in order to compute the distance and bearing of the most direct path home.

Certain species of ant, it seems, are able to measure themselves against the size of holes in the path of an army and pick appropriately-sized individuals who can then use their legs to plug the potholes.

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This behaviour might actually be exploited commercially.

If you have a natural product, as the sponge fishing industry does, it’s often quite hard to gauge the quality objectively (certainly, doing this by imaging techniques is fraught with problems). Given the prices which individual sponges fetch ( >$30 each) , this is a significant issue.

Today’s invention is a pore size measurement technique. Allow an army of ants of the pore-filling variety to march across the surfaces of the product, leaving those ants with legspans equal to pore sizes in the (sponges’) surfaces. These creatures can then be dislodged and measured (either individually or by a statistical analyisis of post mortem leg length.)

#188: En-route refuelling

If you’re driving a long way and still feeling fresh, the last thing you need is to have to draw into a service station and buy fuel (together with their wildly overpriced coffee, sandwiches and traditional butterfudge cake).

If aircraft can refuel in-flight without needing to drop into the nearest Moto station then why can’t cars? (btw, who the hell designs Moto signage, Martians? )

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Today’s invention is en-route refuelling. When your vehicle’s tank approaches empty, rather than having to stop and lower your average speed, you can simply call up and locate the nearest road tanker vehicle. These would be hammering along the world’s road networks full of eg four-star, diesel or LGP. A distributed computer system would detect which tanker was nearest and direct both vehicles towards a rolling rendez-vous.

On meeting up, you would drive your vehicle until it docked with the rear of the tanker and received an injection of fuel. You might even be able to take on some window-wash or radiator water -or even a cup of coffee (toileting facilities might be made available, but I’ll leave those details to your imagination).

Refilled, your vehicle would undock and carry on its merry way.