#45: Simple driver monitoring systems

The oddly-named “More Than” insurance company has done some ‘research’ in which they claim that one in five drivers admit to concentrating behind the wheel less than 75% of the time (mostly people answering this questionnaire said they thought about sex; hardly a surprising result but not very reassuring when you are nose-to-tail at 70mph).

Other studies have shown that driving skills are at their best when in a ‘flow-state’, so it’s not obvious that hypervigilance avoids accidents anyway.

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Having said that, driving with your hands on the wheel at the ten-to-two position is apparently reliably indicative of safe, alert driving.

Today’s invention is therefore a simple alert message which is issued when the contact pattern of the hands on the steering wheel differs from the correct one for more than a second or two -a ‘dead-man’s handle’ for the modern era. This could be achieved by simple template matching of a pattern on a touchpad embedded in the wheel surface with one stored by the driver on taking possession of the vehicle. It would still allow the occasional sleight of hand required for a rapid three-point turn.

A more elaborate system could detect whether a driver was failing to undertake the recommended ‘mirror-signal-manoeuvre’ procedure. A face detecting camera could assess the orientation of the driver’s head in relation to the mirror and then confirm that the indicator was in operation before the wheel was turned. If the driver was persistently not undertaking the sequence safely, it might suggest that more training was required or that the driver was drunk (see also this article).

#44: Market scentiment

There is a lot of effort currently being expended by organisations convinced that they can detect ‘market sentiment‘ by automated analysis of eg blog language.

My approach would be different. One way to detect whether it’s a good day to buy or sell hard is to sniff the traders themselves.

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Since we know that various animals are fully capable of reacting reliably to various emotional states within people by the smell they give off, why not take Rover for a walk on the floor of the NYSE? Obviously it’s not quite as simple as that, since some heavy would no doubt throw even a blind person and their guidedog out on the street (not to mention that the visitors’ gallery looks to me as if it’s hermetically sealed from the trading floor itself -probably to stop mischevious entrepreneurs from injecting nitrous oxide).

Inspired by the story of the Newtonian Casino, I’d suggest training an artifical nose, carried covertly in the pocket of a trader. This could be allowed to sniff the odour within the trading room on a large number of occasions and its neural network trained to recognise which days would have been bullish or bearish. This would then allow anticipation of a forthcoming crash or surge in time to buy or sell.

Canny traders, please contact me for more info.

#43: Optical hygrometry -on a budget

Two birds with one stone time again…

I am always surprised by how much good stuff gets thrown away. Contact lenses are a case in point. They aren’t all that cheap, yet we jetison them daily in the interests of convenience and health.

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A wonderful invention in themselves, soft ones also have the property that they flatten out when left to dry. This suggests a possible way to re-purpose the technology.

If a lens is placed in a container whose dryness requires only crude monitoring, a simple light beam shone through the lens can be made to focus on some kind of cheap photodetector. As the local atmosphere dries, the lens flattens and the light will be refracted much less, causing the photodetector to receive fewer photons.

Perhaps (sterilised) lenses could be used in this way to monitor the environment within large numbers of eg individual food packages.

#42: Deleting non-responders

Another time saver…

I want to propose a footer mechanism in all my email which allows anyone who receives one to click on it and automatically be removed from my address book, so as to never receive email from me again.

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I thus save a lot of time by not chasing people who can’t be bothered to reply (You know who you are!).

Unsubscribing from me so comprehensively in this way sends the additional message that what I thought was a mutually valuable last meeting actually left you feeling bored, scared, or just too confused.

#41: Sticky tape end locator

Ever been frustrated by the time you waste finding the end on a roll of sticky tape?

I’d like to suggest that during the manufacturing process, a continuous, coloured line be applied to the shiny side of the tape (perhaps by the use of the now ubiquitous ink-jet technology). This line would run in the long direction of the tape and its colour would change continuously so that the colour at the free end would always be different from the colour of the line on the previous winding (eg yellow line on blue line, never blue on blue).

If we were worried about the possibility of a fixed spectral sequence accidentally causing overlap of two identical shades, we could always build an interactive system that said “I’m looking at a blue spot, on the layer beneath, so I’ll now apply a spot of contrasting colour”.

On behalf of our colour-blind brethren, the line could also be made to oscillate laterally, so that the free end would always be discriminable by never being aligned with the penultimate winding underneath.

Ideally, the printed line could be water soluble (not glue soluble) so that wiping it with a dampened finger, once the tape had been applied, would return it to pristine transparency.

#40: 15 seconds of fame

In order to discourage the spread of graffiti, I’d like to propose providing some giant wipeclean dryboards in city centres. Tiny minded scribblers could scrawl whatever ‘graphics’ they liked on these.

In order to provide an incentive, each exponent would achieve a few seconds of fame as the whiteboard would capture their imagery via webcam and display it on giant screens in Times Square, Piccadilly Circus etc.

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As well as BAZ LUVS SHAZZ, it might even inspire some new forms of artistic expression. Naturally there would have to be some form of ‘moderation’ in order to remove obscenities (like “Things go better with Coke.”) Thankfully there are now technological solutions capable of automating that part of the process.

Environmental protection and patronage of the arts in one virtuous package.

#39: Projected touch screen

Many shapes can be represented using a surprisingly small number of binary pixels. For n pixels, there are of course 2^n different patterns (although a huge proportion of these are not perceived as shapes).

Using an array of only a few hundred pixels allows eg the face of someone famous to be recognised.

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It should be possible to adapt existing projected keyboard technology to allow projection of an array of several hundred ‘pixels’ and thus form a general purpose touch screen capable of displaying a huge number of ‘clickable’ shapes.

An image displayed by this system could sense which ‘key’ was being pressed and substitute a zoomed image of the local region in question. In this way, all public touch screens, for accessing services or navigating plans or maps, could be replaced with projectors generating interactive, vandalproof content at minimal cost.

#38: SMS dating

For shy people, making the first move towards starting a relationship can be hell.

I suggest the following. People entering a bar or club can send a text message to the number displayed inside. This would consist of their personal profile: yes/no responses to up to a few hundred questions they have previously completed online. The SMS server would find the best match to their character and stated requirements amongst those people presently within the bar.

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A previously stored image of the newly arrived person would be sent to the matched person’s phone, who would have the option to say yes to a meeting. If the response is yes, then the matched person’s image would be supplied to the newcomer, giving them say 15 minutes to meet and introduce themselves. If a no were received, the next best match would automatically be sought.

On exit from the bar, each person would be reminded to text a goodbye message, removing their profile from the pool.

This use of technology would perhaps help to remove the over-reliance on appearance which rules out (or dooms) many relationships.

#37: Medical pattern detector

Access to anyone with a medical qualification is getting more difficult: and more expensive (This largely the result of the medical profession’s desperate attempts to maintain its fee rates -£100k on average, even for a caring, professional GP seems seriously wrong. In the UK, these people take no risk and are allowed to police themselves).

One contribution to the problem might be the following. If feeling unwell, people could visit their personal secure webpage on which would be displayed, a zoomable, detailed map of their body. They could use this to log any pains or other problems and provide a detailed description of any illness -just as they would if actually visiting a medic). When I say detailed I mean that they should also have the opportunity of describing how they actually feel -if they have a headache, exactly how is it spatially distributed? Does it seem to have a colour?  When does it bother them most? Is it ‘sharp’ or ‘dull’ or ‘throbbing’ etc.

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An expert system, aware of their history and genetic background, would monitor these inputs, ask further questions and alert the individual’s doctor in the case of any rapid change in symptoms. It would also watch for recurrent or correlated problems which may seem insignificant but which form a pattern, over time, that is often hard for a patient to spot.

Other functions might include providing hearing or sight tests on the screen, issuing reminders to an individual to take medication or do some exercise. It might even take in eg retinal imagery via webcam. This system would also gradually gather data from the population as a whole which could be mined for otherwise invisible patterns. Perhaps people who are about to die of a heart attack commonly experience a tingling in their limbs of which doctors are never made aware.

This could save the NHS the cost of a few hospitals per year, as long as it wasn’t implemented by the usual incompetent contractors.

#36: Agricultural advertising

Farmers are always in search of new ways to make some extra cash. If there’s no chance of grabbing a big grant for not farming their fields or of selling up to an airport developer, our ‘Guardians of the Countryside’ are often only too keen to line the roadside with containers bearing rustic messages like www.preownedbmw.co.uk or www.needaholidaynow.com.

As today’s invention, I suggest an alternative.

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The countryside is already full of underexploited four-legged billboards: ie cows and sheep. Get some waterproof ink in an inkjet device and spray each member of the herd/flock as they enter the byre/pen with a multicoloured, high resolution advert.