#187: Autodeodorant

I found myself standing recently on a city street where I used to live and I couldn’t believe the level of pollution in the air. It was actually hard to breathe and the whole area stank -mostly the smells of vehicle exhausts (although there was also a whiff of abandoned rubbish, since the council decided to save money by going for bi-weekly collections).

We routinely have cars now with catalytic convertors (and they smell pretty terrible too), so I wondered, why can’t cars smell better?


Today’s invention is to fit activated carbon filters (ie the ‘odour-eaters’ used in trainers) within vehicle exhaust systems. This could seriously reduce the unpleasant smells emanating from the rear ends of cars and trucks. A further improvement could be made if we arranged to inject ‘natural’ scents into the exhaust stream of each vehicle (cut grass, perhaps or baking bread or newly tilled soil…).

This does nothing, of course, about the levels of particles emitted or dangerous gases but it might make urban life more tolerable while we work on solutions to those other issues.

#181: Watercoloured sap

I was astonished recently, when browsing the content of a weekend woodcarver’s manual, to discover how many different woods there are which are suitable for making everything from furniture to musical instruments.

The only trouble with wood as a material is that it comes in a wide range of natural colours from light brown to dark brown.


Today’s invention is to supply growing trees with a constant flow of coloured vegetable dye. This would be taken up through the xylem (in the same ways as natural brownish dyes are) and gradually perfuse the entire inner structure of the wood. After logging, the timber which emerges from a given tree would all be of a uniform shade (and more colourful than nature’s basic palette).

It might even be possible to introduce different colours to different regions of the growing tree and thus create shading and mixing effects.

This would save significantly on subsequent painting bills and introduce a more modern, colourful perspective to the design of wood products.

#164: Buzz-ometer

I’m a devotee of black coffee. I find that Sainsbury’s Continental is the best buy, but it takes about four tablespoonsful per cup to achieve the state of zen-like heightened awareness which allows me to stay awake in meetings.

My problem is that’s it’s very easy to keep drinking the old trimethylxanthine all day: probably not good for various bodily systems, or one’s ‘sleep hygiene’ (to say nothing of the effect on the wallet). Drink enough coffee and your pupils eventually dilate significantly -but exactly how much is enough?


The amount of caffeine per cup varies a lot from source to source. Counting cups isn’t very reliable. Today’s invention is therefore a personal caffeination monitor.

Each paper cup would have attached to the inside, at a uniform height, a small reflective sticker on the surface of which would be imprinted a grid of dots. As the drinker holds the cup to his/her mouth, the reflection of one eye can be seen on this surface and the width of the pupil measured in dots.

This process would be repeated (if necessary on several different cups) these data providing a sign that it’s probably time to have some water and a nice lie down in a dark room.

#145: Hygiene logic

Even the cleanest public washroom is used by people who fail to wash their hands….it’s a fact that occurs to me when I’m just about to push the main door open as I leave. Not much point having disinfected my own hands if I’m then going to make contact with the skin fauna of 1000 insanitary males -let’s not even mention the peanuts-on-the-bar-story.

You could always have an automatic body-sensing, proximity-detecting sliding door but that is apparently not acceptable for public toilets (to say nothing of the cost associated with installing all this kit or the effects of halfwits playing chicken with it).


So, today’s invention is a way to use public toilets without getting an infection. The solution is to have a heavy conventional slamming door on the mensroom, but only to house lavatories and urinals in there. Have all the washhandbasins in an antechamber –with no external door. Then, even if you get covered in bugs from contact with the throneroom door itself, you get to sluice down properly afterwards.

The huge numbers of people who don’t wash can continue on their merry way to hepatitis, as usual.

#136: Body adornment kit

I’m amazed by the upsurge in numbers of tattoo parlours. It used to be that only sailors and soldiers had forearms emblazoned with “I love mum” or crossed swords emblems but now everyone who’s old enough to defy their parents (ie over about six) has got a butterfly on their shoulder, a dragon on their ankle or Polynesian-style razorwire across their backside.

So today’s invention is a new variant on this body defacement theme: a home branding kit. Guaranteed not to cause blood poisoning, this is based on the 800deg C ceramic hair straighteners which are now part of every teenage girl’s beauty toolkit.


In order to express their personality, kids could heat the branding iron and, using the collection of metal templates supplied, decorate their epidermis with the icon of their favourite football club or rock group.

By varying the local burn time, using the supplied timer, different shades from red to black can be achieved, thus creating a pallet of contrasting skin colours. This has got to be at least as safe as sun tanning, but without the cancer risk. The kit would come with a vial of anaesthetic and a strip of balsawood to bite into.

Don’t try this at home.

#131: Basic inkstink

Way back in the dotcom era, there were business plans aimed at making the web smell good. A series of inkjets (embedded perhaps in one’s computer) would be programmed to react to codes in a webpage and blast out scent at the unsuspecting surfer.

Today’s invention is an adaptation of that idea. Given that many existing inket cartridges have a chip on board that can regulate the amount dispensed precisely, I suggest creating a handbag-compatible scent ‘printer’. This would have an ipod-like interface and allow the user to dial up the amounts of each of, say, three or four scents in order to deliver a blended smell that would be unique to the individual.


If uniqueness were particularly important to the marketing process, each machine might be enabled to dispense only a certain subset of possible scent combinations, as authorised by the codes on a prepaid swipe card. Scent intensity might be automatically varied with the time of day, becoming ‘heavier’ for evening events.

A simpler approach might be to cannibalise existing inkjet technology on the desktop and allow it to fill a conventional spray bottle with the right proportions of material.

For the more desperate male customer, a range of pheromone extracts could of course be supplied. People might be allowed to swap or trade scentcodes and, on foming relatiionships, hybridise their individual smells.

#123: Sock showcase

Socks are for most adults, a utility purchase: they aren’t on show when worn and therefore don’t self-advertise.

Today’s invention attempts to address the second class citizenship of socks in the world of high fashion.


Children have long been familiar with ‘jelly’ shoes, mostly as beach wear. I propose to create a range of similar, ultra simple clear shoes for adults and to sell, with each pair, six pairs of highly-priced, limited edition, ‘designer’ socks (think Swatch for feet).

With socks now highly visible, these would be a topic for conversation and a further opportunity for self expression (if people will wear Crocs, they will certainly go for this).

#104: Per ads ad astra

The Mars Rovers have been spectacularly successful in their mission. The cost though, for a species like ours that can’t even feed itself, has been high: a billion dollars, give or take.

Today’s invention is a way to help recoup some of the costs. Although Spirit and Discovery move at the pace of a NASA committee on decision day, their capabilities are constantly being enhanced by remote uplink from Earth. At some stage, they may be deemed effectively obsolete, at which point I propose that their speed be upped in order to allow them to draw messages on the red planet’s surface.


This would, for a while, be the prime advertising real estate in the Solar System. With the eyes of the world watching (having the robots fight or crash over a cliff would help here), corporations would be allowed to bid for ‘scratch-time’, ie to have their logos and other marketing messages engraved by the trowels and ploughs of the intrepid robot explorers…

#103: Litter litter

I’m always shocked when walking in the countryside to see how much litter is casually dumped everywhere. I can’t understand why anyone would carry a full bottle of lemonade up a mountain and then not bother to cart the empty down again (although I believe this is true even of professional mountaineers).

I tend to enhance my reputation for eccentricity by walking with a nylon sack and collecting as much of this crap as I can (from discarded crisp packets to entire glue sniffing kits).


Today’s invention would have been a robot capable of doing this work autonomously, but the greatest barrier to that approach is that it’s very hard to get a robot vision system to discrimnate reliably between rubbish and other objects in the countryside -determining items by eg their bright colours, as perceived by people, is a fiendishly hard problem. . Any such system might well cart back only boulders and cowpats.

Dogs, on the other hand are readily trainable to make this distinction (both in terms of colour and scent). Today’s invention is therefore a pannier system capable of standing stably on a rough path whilst a trained litter dog scampers about and gathers anything it has been trained to recognise as rubbish. When the pannier detects that it is full (by eg sensing the weight inside itself) it displays a small light. This alerts the dog to squeeze under the pannier and lift it home on its back.

Personally, I’d also train these dogs to bite anyone found making a mess, but that might be considered too enthusiastic (A dog-operated excrement scoop is already on my drawing board).

#99: Commuticopter

I admit it. I’m obsessed by flying machines. Not just aeroplanes, but especially those systems which can lift an individual and take him over the rooftops just like James Bond’s rocket belt in Thunderball. In these days when unmanned aerial vehicles are gaining credibility, I still want to get up there myself (as long as I’m not required to be a passenger).

I’d settle for a regular helicopter, but the price tag and running costs are on the steep side of vertical take-off. So today’s invention is a way to make commuting exciting again.


A high-spec. remote controlled model helicopter can be bought for $1,000. It will lift 5Kg +fuel and fly at 20mph under load for about 20 minutes. For a lot of people, this would be sufficient range to get them to work -if they weighed 5Kg.

So I propose to get together an array of 12 of these machines, attach them to a light aluminium frame using climbing rope and then secure myself to the frame with a hangliding harness.

Not having 24 arms means that all of them would be controlled using a single R/C system, tuned to the same frequency. The frame would prevent (most) collisions and in the event of some malfunction, the multiplicity of lift sources would provide ‘graceful degradation,’ of a sort.

Fuel consumption? Probably not that much worse than a thirsty, 4×4, school-run tank. Noise level? Off the scale. Think of it as a safety feature -no one can claim they didn’t hear you coming.