#1302: SmokeSkin

Today’s invention is a set of light, transparent, hollow panels corresponding to the body panels of a particular car.

To the narrow space within each is attached an inlet pipe at the front edge and an outlet pipe from the rear edge. These are used to pump smoke through the narrow space from a central reservoir.

The smoke can be made to change colour rapidly (as happens with eg a distress flare or firework). This provides something close to programmable colouration for the vehicle.

Streaklines in the smoke flow can also create the illusion that the vehicle is travelling faster than it really is, thus adding drama to driving slowly and perhaps reducing accidents.

#1301: Penalty boxes

Penalties are always controversial as well as dramatic in soccer.

To add to the drama, today’s invention involves displaying a big-screen image of the target goal, with a numbered grid superimposed (say two rows of four boxes).

Spectators would have two minutes to text the number of the square they wanted the shot to be directed at (and perhaps even win bets or prizes if a score was deemed to have occurred via their chosen box).

The penalty taker and goalkeeper could each choose to respond to this advice or ignore it, but either way the crowd could claim increased influence over the game (especially as statistics were amassed about the preferences of individual players).

(A sneakier version might involve showing the crowd’s preference to only the goalkeeper or the penalty taker).

#1295: LandingSight

I am paranoid about the safety performance of commercial airlines (despite their being statistically safer to travel with than driving to the airport).

If there is some kind of an emergency landing required, I’d really rather not have to rely on the pilot peering out the window in the hope of making a splashdown on a calm Hudson River.

Today’s invention is to provide pilots in an emergency situation with a visual display (based eg on Google Earth) which shows the real-time best landing site (taking into account fuel load, engine conditions, terrain flatness, population density and control systems integrity).

Flying over land, this would provide a moment-to-moment visualisation of where to put down.

In a real emergency, where flight crew were unconscious, this map could talk to the autopilot landing program and increase the chances of getting down in one piece. In a real disaster, it might help the plane to crash with minimal damage on the ground.

#1270: HueView

This questionnaire in which people were asked to name colours takes no account of eg the adjacent hues or edge conditions, but it’s fascinating, nonetheless.

The map at the bottom was surprising, since you might expect a more uniform, rays-of-the-sun distribution within RGB space. Instead, it seems many more shades are labeled red than blue, for example.

If it’s true that we can discriminate many fewer blues than reds, then this immediately offers a new colour image compression algorithm.

At its simplest, each pixel in an image would be assigned a certain colour ‘depth’ in terms of bits. Fewer bits could be assigned to local shades of blue than to shades of red, for example, in proportion to the areas indicated on the XKCD map.

This could be extended to optimise discrimination at the boundaries between adjacent regions of the map (so that more bits could be allocated to emphasise the difference between eg a yellow and an orange).

#1258: LapStrap

Laptops are equipped with all manner of software-based security measures but that doesn’t count for a lot if someone can jab in a USB device eg and boot up your machine (If your BIOS isn’t password protected, for example).

Today’s invention is a simple device to make any such access to physical connections very much more difficult.

The diagram shows a plug placed in eg a USB socket and attached to a strap which passes under the machine and into a clamp fitted to the other side.

The strap can be locked in place, making attachment of any peripherals impossible without doing serious damage to the device or the machine.

#1255: Holdsmobile

Today’s invention is a new intuitive driving interface -something like a mouse moving on a mousemat.

A car driver grips a model car and moves it across the surface of a model rolling road inside the fullsize car. As the model car is turned, so the axial direction of the rolling road turns relative to the real car.

As the speed of the model is varied so the rolling road accelerates and the speed of the real vehicle responds.

A crude version of this could be achieved using eg an iPhone or Wii attached to the base of a model vehicle. It would be particularly good for people with a problem reversing or for those with physical disabilities (since there are no pedals etc required).

#1249: FacePlace

Google Street View is fun and also hugely useful.

Today’s invention is a way for occupants to express their personalities via this medium, if they choose to.

A property owner or tenant could mail a special division of Google with proof of their occupany. They would then receive a software key in the post allowing them to upload a limited number of facial images to append to their home’s image in Street View.

The faces could be automatically checked before being made public (to ensure that they weren’t all Obama or pac-men, etc).

These faces would then would lie on an optional overlay viewable by anyone interested in eg Who lives at number 58?

A slightly more advanced version would allow individuals’ Twitter feeds to be viewed by clicking on their facial images.

#1247: BinaryBinding

Today’s invention is stereo books, for secure reading.

A bookmark, shown in grey, can be cut to comfortably fit the brow of a user. This is placed between two pages (as shown).

Opposite pages each carry one of a stereo pair of images. The bookmark enables these images to be more easily ‘fused’ by the user so as to generate a 3-D image.

The book could be full of such images. It might also be used as a simple way to allow secure reading of confidential text eg on a plane or train, since each page could be composed of an illegible set of letter components.

#1244: Spacears

In space, no-one can hear you scream…so today’s invention is 3-D hearing for spacewalkers.

The number of people who work in the near vacuum of space is set to increase. These people hear only radio transmissions, the sounds of their suits and their own physiology.

First, equip each spacewalker’s helmet with stereo headphones. All astronauts, and anything movable, would be fitted with a small transmitter sending out a chirp of radio every second or so. These transmissions would be unique to the source person or object.

A processor aboard the Astro’s helmet would receive these and translate them into characteristic, realistic noises in stereo (an approach from the seven o’clock position by a friend or a passing robot arm could be perceived in advance, thus boosting safety and general ‘situation awareness’.

Toolboxes drifting off would soon be detected by their simulated wooshing into the distance as well as an occasional plaintive cry of ‘help’.

The headphones would also drown out one’s stomach rumblings when it’s time for that dehydrated stew, again.

#1241: iPath

Today’s invention is a toy which works with one’s iPad (remember when everyone thought that was a stupid name?)

The toy is a bristlebot variant which carries an optical switch pointed down at the screen.

As the bot buzzes about and lands on a dark region, it presses the screen causing regions to change their lightness/darkness. If the screen is locally light, the bot buzzes off somewhere else. Thus, the whole thing behaves according to nonlinear feedback (with some visual noise added).

Should be fun to set going in a browser window (with the screen adjusted to high contrast).