#15: Flatpack flap

If you’ve ever found yourself standing in the rain with a collection of flat-pack boxes just too much the wrong shape to get into your car (or perhaps even into Elvis’ car), here’s a suggestion you might like to make to the Ikea’s of this world. Or you could just knuckle under and pay them £80+ to deliver your chipboard….

The store should provide, alongside each cardboard box full of furniture components in the collection shed, an identical cardboard box containing nothing (in fact many of each of these spare boxes could be stored flat, adjacent to the goods themselves and at almost no extra cost).

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These empty boxes could be unflattened and carried with ease to your vehicle where you could then undertake a small experiment to see if the antique formica effect fitted kitchen you are about to buy will actually be coming home with you that evening. Even items which are not normally boxed, eg armchairs, could have a rough pop-up cardboard facsimile made for this purpose (or you could just take that home and sit on it, I guess).

This idea also saves our warehouse chums the costs and hassle associated with the ‘immediate returns’ department (who have to cater to people who made it as far as the rainstorm outside only to discover their Shogun Landcruiser inadequately proportioned).

#14: Escaping from tv advertisement mentality

14% of all spending on advertisements in Britain is now invested in online marketing. I expect a lot of that goes on slush funds and junkets to the Maldives, but even so, that’s a hell of a lot of money. I suspect two things are driving this:

1) That more people are frustrated by the low quality of contemporary tv.
2) That advertisers are starting to get the fact that in online advertising, you don’t just fire a campaign out there: you can actually monitor the results in terms of clicks, or even £ spent, as a result.

Which leads me to today’s idea. It’s hardly an invention, more just common sense.

At the moment, whenever I reload this page (with its admittedly diverse content) the ads which our friends at Google send to my browser include:

  • one from a driving school
  • one from a hotel in Manchester
  • one from a vacuum flange manufacturer
  • one from a rental villa near Disneyland
  • one for some medical gas systems
  • one for a red consumer product ‘as seen on tv’ which is so indistinct that it’s unclear what is being sold (maybe the mystery element is supposed to provide an incentive to click?)

Today’s idea is that one way to improve online advertising effectiveness is to place less emphasis on tuning the ad. content to reflect the page content…instead, if I haven’t clicked on an ad. in say the last two or three showings, it can safely be assumed that I’m not interested…so don’t show me that ad. again: ever. This can all be arranged easily via cookies, without placing that much extra strain on anyone’s ad. server. I’d be happy to opt-in, even if a privacy obsessed minority object (do they actually ever buy anything?) Given that the current click-through rate on banner ads is only 0.39%, this must surely be worth a try.

#13: Catflap with integral grooming

For those of us bothered by moulting cats…

Get hold of one of those small vacuum cleaners, the ones that are pretty much useless for anything else. Wire the cleaner so that it switches on as the flap is opened.

Arrange a section of the hose in a loop around an existing catflap aperture. Make a longitudinal slot in the hose and blank off the end, so that, on entry (and exit), all of that surplus fur, skank, rotten leaves, mouse entrails etc are removed from your furry friend.

You still have to brush down the apparatus weekly and remove the bag of course (unless your cat is valuable enough to warrant a posh, overpriced Dyson). It may also deter foreign cats who aren’t prepared to brave the blowdry on the offchance of some extra rabbit’s liver biccies.

#12: Cheaper parking?

Disgusted at the prices which councils are allowed to charge for car parking, I thought it might be possible to drive a car transporter into town, in the early morning, park it covering several bays and buy one ticket for the whole day.

Then, I’d charge people a lower-than-council rate to park their vehicles (with greater security) on the back of the transporter.

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Aside from the costs of a transporter (huge) and the fact that councils would at once disallow parking outside single bays, I rather fancy this.

#11: Evanescent structures

The countryside is littered with shopping trolleys, dragged there by shoppers, vagrants and yobs. The whole process of shopping with these things is a nightmare anyway, for store owners and shoppers alike.

Until someone invents home delivery (!) and all those ugly supermarkets close in favour of underground warehouses, I thought it might be interesting to consider the global proliferation of trolleys problem. Here is an alternative to the coin-in-the-trolley deposit approach (since I can never remember to bring the right coin with me anyway).

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Ice. Imagine a trolley which can be as large or small as your purchases require and which, when you have used it, just disappears. So why not just make the entire basket thing of ice? Answer: the cost is way too high…if we just reproduced existing designs, I reckon it would require removal of 4 MJ to cool water enough to generate a solid trolley in the existing design. So my suggestion would be to come up with a trolley ice mould which is sufficiently strong in design to carry the shopping, whilst minimising the material. Surely someone out there with a CAD system and some polymer engineering expertise could cut the required mass of ice by a factor of 10…or 100?

Maybe there’s a way to make a shell-like design which could be sprayed onto a standard former (ie fast) and still be sufficiently light and strong? It would have to run on detachable, ablative skids I guess, but at least the shopping would get home still chilled and you could have separate baskets which exactly fit your own car boot.

#10: Wind resistant traffic cones

I’ve noticed that in particularly windy parts of the country, two traffic cones are used at a time, one purely being employed to hold the other one down in high winds. It occurred to me that it would be better to equip each cone with a moulded-in compartment into which water could be poured from the cone laying truck. The weight would allow each cone to stay securely in place in even the wildest weather.

When the roadworks have been completed (it does happen sometimes) a plug could be pulled before loading cones back aboard.

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An alternative, involving no extra weight, would be for the base of each cone to incorporate an inverted aerofoil moulding which, as the wind rises, would suck it down harder onto the tarmac (a similar process to the ‘wings’ on F1 racers). This would also be a useful addition to the existing wheelie bin designs which routinely overturn in the wind, spilling household waste all over the pavement.

#9: Deadline downcounter

A clock which allows you to enter some deadline time and then says ‘Two minutes until deadline’, ‘One minute to go’, ‘You are cutting things a bit fine now’, ‘Get a bloody move on’ and eventually ‘…ok, you are now officially late.’

The voice could range from relaxed and encouraging to frantic and hectoring (Think 1980’s Montego but without the velour upholstery).

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#8: Autonomous satellite vacuum

An attachment for a standard vacuum cleaner consisting of a small, simple robotic ‘mouse’. The mouse is connected to the cleaner by a light flexible, smallbore hose.

It is capable of moving itself about randomly on a floor surface using only tiny battery-powered motors and its small size means that. it can reach into corners and under furniture. The suction is provided by the main vacuum cleaner which remains stationary.

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Based on existing, low-cost robotic mouse toys, this device could be fitted with a timer and clean a small section of a floor each day without the owner’s intervention -and it can reach places the $300 Roomba fears to tread.

#6: Vertical access shopping trolley

A shopping trolley (or basket) which contains a fold-out step and allows small people to reach stuff they can’t get to on supermarket shelves (I’m constantly being asked by people to get them a packet of high-altitude cornflakes).

This would enable more stock to be accessible and make better use of expensive floor space. It might also allow extra pricing differentials/incentives: “Reach up for lower prices.”

If insurance companies stymie this, because they won’t allow shoppers to take on the dangerous task of climbing a step, then maybe some kind of vertical ‘magazine’ can be arranged, whereby products are fed in at the top and customers extract them at the bottom, automatically making available the next item. This would have the added advantage that products could be delivered to the shop in such feeder tubes…and the tubes themselves could announce to the stock control system when a tube was empty. In addition, the current danger of getting a glass jar of mayonnaise on the head would be eliminated.