#1400: Flashare

When people take photographs using their cellphones eg at a concert, those cameras on board which have flashguns greatly deplete battery reserves because the cameras work independently.

Today’s invention is a way for such cellphone cameras to cooperate and share their flash illumination, so that everyone has enough light to take their shot.

When many people are poised to take a photo at the same venue, with their fingers on the shutter release at the same time, their cellphones could communicate this fact and calculate how much flash energy should be supplied in total. This would then allow the devices to share the load and individually produce only a small amount of light.

A more advanced version of this could, using GPS, take the relative positions and even orientations into account to create a well lit scene from almost all shooting positions.

#1380: Scalepaint

If you are into building scale model construction kits (and I used to be obsessed by the whole process), there is a problem with the paints you need to complete the job.

Essentially, a perfectly accurate duck egg blue or an olive drab coating, when applied to some model in 1/72nd scale, looks way too intense.

I’m not sure about the neurophysiology of why this is, but professional modellers know it’s true and dilute accordingly (otherwise that feldgrau Tiger tank looks black -even in 1/35th).

Today’s invention is model paints which are matched more correctly to the scale of model for which they are intended. Manufacturers could supply a separate range of paints for every scale, but more usefully a kit could be sold which would allow makers to dilute their own precisely (according to the measured perceptions of psychophysical test subjects as to which of a range of eg tanks looked the correct shade when set against images of the real thing).

#1344: Adtention

I was reading about this uninspired piece of robot research, when it occurred to me that there is an opportunity in the no-holds-barred business of advertising.

You have probably seen that old prank in which a person stares into the sky, at nothing, yet who then gathers a crowd staring in the same way. Well, today’s invention is based on a similar approach.

A webpage, or electronic billboard, has simulated pairs of eyes peppered around it between the content items. Advertisers can pay to have the pairs of eyes appear to move so as to look at their ad (drawing the attention of viewers).

Pay more and the eyes spend more time moving towards your advert.

(For a conventional hoarding, you might have robot mannikins in a nearby shop window shift their gaze towards them).

#1329: Tardisub

I know that submariners are supposed to be made of stern stuff but today’s invention is a low-tech way to help improve their living conditions.

Interior designers aren’t supposed to be made of stern stuff, but they do know about how to make small spaces seem much bigger. One way is by using mirrors.

Today’s invention is to fit mirrors (plastic, impact-safe ones would be fine) to the inside surfaces of some bulkheads and cabinets on board submarines. Although the Captains Nemo wouldn’t necessarily want to view their stubble close-up, the occasional reflective patch would provide much better light distribution and an increased sense of space for people in cramped conditions.

(I imagine a windowless Mars-bound spaceship would benefit similarly).

#1327: Rearflection

When a back-seat passenger gets out of a car, they usually find it impossible to make use of any rear view mirrors -or they may just forget to.

The door can easily be jabbed out into the traffic stream with obvious dangerous consequences.

Today’s invention is therefore a mirror fitted to the inside of the rear door of a car. As the door catch is released, this mirror pops up, drawing attention to itself and anything approaching from behind the vehicle.

#1316: Highsign

When a floor is being mopped, signs appear saying, effectively, ‘if you slip, don’t sue us.’

These actually introduce a trip hazard, especially when placed at the top of stairs, for example.

Today’s invention warns people of wet floors, but creates no such trip problem.

A lightweight sign with a clamp type suction device is attached to the ceiling, instead (this could be done using eg a balloon, but would probably be too fussy and shortlived). The sign might be mostly transparent, so that collisions between passing pedestrians could be minimised.

Also, an extendable neck version might be made to help with varying ceiling heights.

#1314: SeeSnake

People trip over cables all the time.

People also have peripheral vision which is very sensitive to movement (something to do with spotting dangerous beasties lurking in the long grass).

Today’s invention is a device which plugs eg into a USB port on a laptop and which flicks the power cord every few seconds.

This allows passers by to become more aware of the moving cable and step over it safely.

(A better version would be incorporated into plugtops in general, but that would require somewhat more complex design).

#1311: Redina

It seems that colour perception gradually develops a greenish ‘overlay’ as long as one is awake (and gets reset after a night’s sleep).

If you work in an industry where judging colours is important, such as interior decorating or fashion design, this may actually have a significant effect.

Today’s invention is a plugin for Photoshop (or Gimp) which takes this into account and very gradually changes the screen colour balance towards the reddish end throughout a day’s work.

Following a wakeful night, a colour matching test could be arranged at the start of the day to recalibrate the screen so as to provide a personalised, consistent starting point.

#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).

#1254: Entropen

New Scientist’s column ‘The Last Word‘ is often a great source of questions just waiting to become inventions.

I was inspired by it today to think about a pen which maximises the lifetime of its ink supply, without greatly diminishing legibility.

Today’s invention is therefore a pen incorporating a tiny inkjet printer with one printhead and a small camera.

As the pen is moved across the surface of the paper, it spits out dots at a uniform rate.

When the camera detects that the pen is changing direction or printing near other dots, it increases its print rate. In this way, sections of straight line, where the information content per dot is low, are represented by small amounts of ink -and vice versa.

(You might build a version with the background dot rate proportional to the acceleration, as determined by a small on-board sensor)