I’ve been thinking a great deal about asteroid impact.
The probability of an earth-destroying impact is very tiny…and there is nothing that can be done about them anyway -beyond having a global lottery for places on the last Virgin Galactic flight.
The most significant opportunity to outlive an asteroid impact is surely to deal with the problem of medium-sized bodies hammering into a major city.
Today’s invention is therefore an asteroid-proof metropolis.
Build a city on a wheeled platform which is free to move on a special set of orthogonal railway lines, as shown (we already create whole airports on roller bearings, in areas of earthquake activity).
A few hours before being struck, a city of this type could be powered out of the predicted line of fire. There would be significant damage to the surrounding landscape, but the city itself would avoid catastrophe.
There have been many crazy schemes for dropping soldiers from the sky to the ground.
Today’s invention is in that proud tradition.
Imagine a bungee cord attached to a soldier via a harness. The other end of the bungee is wrapped around a high speed winch in a helicopter.
The winch adjusts the cord length continuously so that its stretched length (based on the weight of the individual soldier) is always 1m less than the altitude of the helicopter.
The soldier jumps out with a laser tape-measure attached to his boot.
When he comes to zero vertical velocity, at 1m above the ground, the tape measure detects this and sends a signal to detach the bungee from the winch.
The soldier then can drop from 1m without harm (but needs to avoid the descending cord).
(This provides a more rapid drop from low altitude than abseiling and with the required degree of derring-do).
I fell off my motorcucle once, mercifully at low speed, and developed a bruise on my hip that strongly resembled the stars and stripes.
Today’s invention is a temporary alternative to the tattoo.
A small template in the desired shape would be snapped against the skin, probably using a spring mechanism something like a mousetrap. This would create a bruise and with no more pain than the conventional process induces.
It should also be possible to vary the local colour in such a bruise by applying a sequence of differently sprung templates to different parts of the body area involved.
Although this would not give the high definition of a conventional tattoo, this approach has the advantage that, when the love of your life changes, you need not be burdened by his/her initials forever.
Today’s invention is a mobile skyscraper.
Actually it would be a metal frame tower on rollers. This would be designed to fit within the width eg of Manhattan’s long, north-south avenues.
A small number of such mobile towers would move up and down each avenue, supported on rollers near the sidewalks and leaving a tunnel open on their ground floor so that traffic could pass through unimpeded.
The upper decks would have gangways which would move inwards and outwards automatically to allow access for the inhabitants of conventional skycrapers as the frame towers slowly passed.
These towers would enable people to walk across the street from building to building, without going to street level.
They would also accommodate meeting spaces, retail and recreational facilities (such as gyms).
This would offer comparatively cheap, extra space in cramped environments, but without closing roads or permanently damaging the character of these cities.
Today’s invention is a massive musical instrument, based on a construction crane.
This would have several cables suspended from trolleys on the main boom.
The cables would have different weights attached, each of which would also incorporate a loudspeaker chamber (red, yellow and blue).
Using a computer to control trolley movements, these could be made to bump into each other, creating some loud chords across the building site.
It would be a challenge to write some popular music for such an instrument.
Failing which, this might be used, when not actually building, as a modern equivalent of a clock tower’s bells, striking the hour.
The idea here is to provide people with a digital display watchface on which all of the hands move at the same speed on circular scales with radii differing by factors of sixty.
The red circle and attached hand represent seconds, so that the hand completes one revolution per minute.
The black circle has only a segment visible and its hand moves at the same speed, but represents the passage of minutes.
Similarly, the blue circle and hand represent hours.
As time increases from the left to right hand diagram, so the hands all move clockwise at equal speed and the visible sections of the arcs on which they move are adjusted continuously.
Why would anyone want this? Well it makes the passage of even hours visible (imagine zooming in on the small-scale movement of a conventional hours hand).
In a bygone innocent era, children used commonly to attach little flags to the spokes of their bike wheels so that they’d make a clicking noise by contact with the forks as the wheels rotated past them.
Today’s invention is an improvement on that system which could be hacked by anyone with an Arduino microcontroller and a redundant printer.
This involves attaching a printer arm to one’s front fork (and/or rear frame).
The arm (grey) carries a metal reed (yellow) which plucks the spokes as they pass.
Driving the print head backwards and forwards radially allows a given spoke to impact the reed at a chosen position along its length so that the spoke emits a frequency corresponding to that position.
As the bike moves along, the printer moves the reed to a different position for each oncoming spoke and can thus be used to play a variety of tunes.
Having two such systems fitted to one bike would allow for the simulation of a harp duet.
Thus a cycling club outing becomes a string ensemble performance.
Body armour is heavy and inconvenient to wear, so that when someone shoots at you, it had better not be on a day when you decided to leave it at home.
Today’s invention is for anyone who has already suffered an injury requiring internal surgery.
During that process, assuming an individual would be capable of returning to work or active duty, a mail or mesh made of kevlar and ceramic links can be inserted inside the body cavity so that major organs are protected (shown in red).
This would be attached to the inside surface of some ribs, leaving breathing minimally affected.
The mesh, made of biocompatible material, would be flexible enough to allow its folds to slip over one another so that mobility was also unimpaired.
There has been a lot of work done which indicates that researchers are more effective if they have more opportunities to bump each other serendipitously during the course of the day.
The Applied Maths facility at Cambridge has whiteboards in the toilets and today’s invention aims to promote that kind of always-on thinking.
Academic and research institute corridors tend to be a bit soulless and designed to allow ease of movement.
Imagine therefore a series of half-height barriers, each hinged to one wall and supported by castors. These hinges would be lightly sprung so that in an emergency (or when Prof Hawking is on the move) they would easily be pushed past.
Each of these baffles would offer an opportunity for academics, who may ordinarily avoid eye contact, to pause and say ‘after you’ or at least pause long enough to be reminded that the other person is that Latvian postdoc who wrote the thesis on Xian algebraic spaces.
These small, random social contacts are the kinds of events which seem to promote collaboration (and siting coffee and a pencil on a chain on a few of them would add to the effect).
Today’s invention is a system intended to make buying drinks in a bar more interesting and less time-consuming.
A group of people would sit at a table with an interactive surface.
When someone wants another drink they type in a pin code and select a drink from a menu which appears beside their glass.
The system knows the exact current position of the glass and authorises one of a number of tubes behind the (unmanned) bar to fire the drink through the air, over the heads of patrons, and into the glass. (Glasses might need to be more like brandy balloons to avoid spillage.)
Given reasonably still air in the room, this could be achieved over distances of perhaps 5m.
Yes, of course some people will move their glasses out of the way and attempt to interpose their mouths.