#1397: SootNote

I’m sick of having to breathe the exhaust fumes from cars. Carbon dioxide is bad enough but particulates must surely be doing everyone immediate harm.

Today’s invention is an attempt to bring home to people the consequences of driving dirty vehicles.

It consists of a short, porous paper tube (made of eg coffee filter material) which can be placed over the end of a smoky exhaust pipe, without damaging the engine. The closed end of the tube can accommodate a cardboard disc. This disc can be pre-perforated by eg a knitting needle.

When this paper is eventually discovered by the driver of an offending vehicle, a message is highlighted on it by the preferential passage of soot through the piercings -just like the action of a can of spray paint used with a template.

This might say ‘Time for a service?’, ‘This is what you’re doing to my lungs’ or something more direct. I’d be particularly keen on attaching this to taxis which keep their engines running all day.

#1393: Meshh

Today’s invention is a refinement for noisy, networked office machines.

A device on the network detects when a telephone (mobile or wired) is answered in the vicinity and pauses its activity so that the ensuing conversation won’t be disturbed by the noise of printing, shredding or blowing air.

Similarly, if there are active phones in the room, any ringtones emanating from additional incoming calls will be automatically told to mute themselves somewhat.

#1354: LiftLess

Today’s invention is a way to improve the fitness of occupants of a skyscraper or tower block.

At, say, the seventh floor, the lift controls would only allow the lift to be called to travel to floors 9+ say and 4- to stop anyone using it to travel up or down only a small distance (buttons labelled 9,8,7,6,5 and 4 would simply be omitted or covered on that floor).

This would encourage people to make those small journeys via the stairs.

There would need to be a dedicated, keycard-access lift for disabled people in the building.

#1353: Hingebike

I’m always impressed by people who make working technology using junk.

Today’s invention is a bikeframe that can be built using a few planks and a hinge or two.

Three wooden triangles (blue and grey) made of planks, or whatever else is lying around, are bolted together and hinged where they meet (blue/grey interface).

You get some odd handling but your cerebellum will solve the dynamics problem quickly and your wallet will appreciate not having paid out £2k for the latest highly-stealable, magnesium/duralumin, hand forged sculpture from Cremola or whoever.

#1320: PipeDriver

Digging trenches for underground piping is so Victorian (not that I’ve got anything against Victorian construction: most of it is still standing).

These days, if you want to lay down pipes without closing the roads and building a trench network, directional boring techniques can be used, but it’s all pretty elaborate, costly and short-range.

Today’s invention is a way to build underground conduits without disrupting the streets above too much.

A hammer (orange) is used to drive a stiff, thin-walled curved pipe underground. The hammer arm length and pipe bend radius can be selected beforehand according to the required distance to be piped.

Segments of pipe are attached together in a sequence (using different bend radii can provide extra directional control).

When the pipe surfaces, it can be driven backwards by the hammer, attached to a reamer of slightly bigger diameter. Finally, a conduit (perhaps containing fibre cables) can be driven through the arc-shaped tunnel and cemented in place.

#1315: LabourHarbour

I’ve been talking to some engineers this week who design harbours. There is a fashion for vaguely annular ones, apparently, among the super-rich.

When they have walls (ie they aren’t just jetties), wave action is intensified within them (acting as lenses) and the boats on the inside end up crashing up and down on 10m waves.

Today’s invention is to make use of this by designing a harbour which can accommodate larger vessels. This would have a conical underwater base into which debris from the ships would fall after waves had smashed them together for a few days. The cone could be dragged onshore using a winch and the contents reprocessed to smaller scales.

The noise would be dreadful, but this would eventually reduce even ships to fragments in a lower cost way than having people with blowtorches do the job in months.

#1275: MatrixMat

Today’s invention is a doormat which consists of a flat matrix of short, vertical, plastic tubes all of which are sealed into a base tray.

The tray is connected to a vacuum cleaner device.

When someone is sensed to have stepped onto the mat, the vacuum cleaner motor starts up and draws air down through the matrix of tubes.

This extracts from the feet of the visitor a large volume of dust and debris which would otherwise be walked into carpets etc. This collected mess can occasionally be tipped from the tray into a waste bin.

#1263: BarrAsh

Following the recent furore about volcanic ash in the atmosphere, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has decided that 2mg/ m^3 is the airborne ash density below which it’s ok to fly.

Military aviators are a lot less cautious about air quality. They also have a range of countermeasures they can employ when being pursued by their opposition. Having seen the damage which ash can cause in a jet engine, today’s invention is a countermeasure based on this.

When followed by a jet aircraft, the target plane would start to inject some of its own ceramic engine outlet components into its exhaust stream, so that they burned (like an ablation shield on a space capsule).

This would periodically cause visible, dense puffs of silica ash (locally >>2mg/ m^3) to be ejected and cause any pursuing aircraft to avoid the clouds. The clouds themselves would remain airborne, a little like barrage balloons, until normal turbulence dispersed them.

#1256: FareShare

Most people have an aversion to car sharing. Most people also have an aversion to fuel price-induced poverty…not to mention the damage which road transport does to the environment and our health. So we will increasingly have to choose to travel with other people (whom we may not know).

Today’s invention is therefore a modification to the electric urban vehicle of the future. We can get away with about 1/4 as many of these roaming the streets by building them so that they will only move when occupied by four people.

This could be detected by a hard-to-fake combination of bodyweights in seats, heartbeats recorded via seatbelt sensors and fingerprint-reading door handles.

To make a journey in such a vehicle, you would go to a stop and indicate your destination on a touchscreen. If you hadn’t bothered to coordinate with three friends, others waiting at the stop could then join you for parts of the journey along a designated route.

If someone got out before your end-point, you might have to wait at that stop until someone else wanted a ride on the same route. This alone would encourage people to finish an increasing proportion of journeys on foot.

Once these vehicles were in place, it might be possible for say two occupants to agree to pay a hefty surcharge to be allowed to travel without others on board.

#1250: n-ike

If we can have bikes and trikes then why not an n-wheeled vehicle called a n-ike? (just waiting for the ‘cease and desist’ letter from the world of humourless chinese trainer manufacturers).

Today’s invention is a simple way to make a bicycle frame using wheels. Two would be used to hold the rear axle and the seat. One more would be clamped between these to hold the drive sprocket. A fourth would be clamped to this one to hold the steering yolk.

With the two on the road that makes six wheels in total. This arrangement offers lightness, ease of manufacture, a way to reuse old wheels and the possibility of personalising the riding geometry by changing the clamping positions.