From time to time, I'm struck by something that I feel someone
should be selling (or, preferably, giving away). In the hope
that someone will take the hint, here is a list of some ideas,
with the understanding that I'm hereby not going to be making
any money out of them (although I wouldn't mind some credit
if anyone makes a million). Note that I merely haven't
seen these products, it doesn't mean that they don't
exist or haven't been previously patented.
I will be filling in fully detailed description pages for the following
shortly, so please excuse any headings on this page for which my
meaning is less than clear. If anyone has any feedback on these
ideas, please contact me.
- Car security
- Hide a wide-angle time lapse camera in a cigarette-lighter
sized fitting. Powered (or at least recharged) from the socket.
Might need to send images in real-time when changes are detected
(via MMS and GPRS?) rather than just recording, to avoid being
destroyed by observant car thieves. Sadly won't help with
- Very portable keyboard
- This requires (or at least it helps) a flat surface. I have
an ongoing plan of making a watch out of a StrongARM and a small
colour LCD; one input method I'm looking at requires placing the
watch on a flat surface. Then project (with a bright LED or
possibly a small semiconductor laser) an image of a keyboard
layout onto the surface, at a very shallow angle, from the
side of the watch. Using two planar rangefinders (or possibly
angle finders) on the watch corners, detecting intersections
within a couple of mm above the surface, would allow a "key
press" to be detected, and which key it affected. Would require
care to avoid hairline fractures (since there is no key "give"),
but it's much more portable than VR keyboard gloves (recently
demoed as a Bluetooth application) or a folding keyboard.
Working on ideas for a cheap planar rangefinder - I can see
expensive ways of doing it (such as sweeping lasers, in the
style of barcode readers).
- Virtual key caps
- Another keyboard design - this allowing real keys with
changing legends. The normal approach is to use a touch-sensitive
screen, but this allows proper (moving) keys. Initially I was
thinking of an LCD built in to the top of the keys, but this is
prone to breakage and has connectivity issues. The solution
I propose is to have a backlit LCD below the keyboard (or possibly
each individual key, depending on which is cheaper) and have
transparent keys supported around their edges, with a lens
projecting the LCD image to a translucent key top.
- Keyboard with air vents
- I find that when typing a lot, in cold weather my fingers get
very cold (I tend to switch to Dvorak keyboard layouts or my
Libretto, which has a small keyboard, to compensate), and in
hot weather my fingers sweat more than the rest of me. The
proposed solution, inspired by the Mattel Aquarius 8-bit micro
of the early 1980s, is to blow air out between the keys. A
small heating element would raise the temperature a bit, and
active cooling could be used at a push - although the extra
ventilation would probably be enough. This would also help
keep dust out of the keyboard, so long as the vent was out of
the way (the Aquarius sucked in at the bottom, and vacuumed
the carpet if you weren't careful). This could be combined with
a PSU fan (using an air hose alongside the keyboard cable)
- Varicolour handbag
- For the fashion conscious. Active heating and a thermochromic
material were what I was originally thinking, although in
retrospect a cuttlefish-style contractable colour bladder set
may be a better idea. One bag fits all costumes, in colour at
- Bag lighting
- Another handbag thing - this inspired by "it's in my bag" from
my other half. She keeps a cold light in her bag, on the key ring
clip, but I'd propose stitching the whole inner lining out of
a photoemissive material. This is one for the developers of
light emmitting polymers, although existing electroluminescent
materials (watch backlights) might be enough.
- Constant headlamps
- It's possible to arrange for the illumination from a headlamp
to be constant over an area in front of the car (by having a
more obscure shape than a parabolic reflector; I thought of
this in an A-level physics class, and still find life too short
to work out the shape). Assuming some non-constant illumination
is available beyond this range, it would be interesting (to me)
to know whether this would be any more pleasant for driving.
There is a loss of depth cueing, but then if the constant region
were tailored to stopping distance it could actually help. I
don't actually know the exact distribution the car industry
uses, so this may be a previously researched moot point.
- Teflon toilet bowl
- Not much more to be said. But I don't understand the fixation
on ceramic (and, in commercial situations, stainless steel).
Wouldn't whatever's easiest to clean be better?
- Electrostatic fluff guard
- The fluff guard in most tumble driers seems to be a bit of
gauze, both in my new tumble drier and the one my parents were
given to dry my nappies in (in 1974). Lots of fluff gets through.
Why not make it metal and give it a static charge to attract a
bit more? Or even use a Dysonesque cyclone?
- In the town where I grew up (Eye, in Suffolk) there is a wall
which is sinusoidal - this cunningly stops it from falling over,
since it runs quite a long way around a garden. It occurred to
me that of the base is sinusoidal the top can still be linear.
I have a rendering of the shape I mean (on-line shortly);
allowing for a slight slope of the top of each layer of bricks
towards the centre line, each sinusoidal brick row should be
self-supporting. It's only an interesting feature (it gives
lots of alcoves, whether you want them or not, so it may not
catch on) - but I think it's stable.
- Perfume alarm clock
- Given that smelling salts wake people up, why not use a
perfume spray as part of an alarm clock? Obviously the smell
needs to be one which will dissipate pretty quickly, and it
needs to be something which will wake you up without being
offensive. But it's a thought, and it's nicer to the neighbours
than an audible alarm - assuming there aren't air gaps.
- Air traffic control
- I saw a film a while back showing the abysmal user interface
air traffic controllers used. This may have been addressed, but
my immediate thought was a 3D view (manipualated by SpaceBall or
track ball) showing each air craft in its current position, and
with the flight plan fading into transparency in front of it.
A scroll wheel then allows a projected view in the future if
all current flight plans are observed. This wouldn't be hard
to program; the flight paths would show potential collisions
more clearly as they approached in time - allowing the controller
to avoid being overwhelmed - and the time wheel would allow
easy checking of potential problems. Maybe they have something
like this now, but it would be better than the classic lines
on a green screen and a set of numbers.
- De-lens flare night scope
- For night time driving, if the lens parameters are well
defined an electronic filter could produce a display of the
view ahead of a car, reducing bright lights to small saturated
regions of the image. This would help those, such as me, who
have trouble seeing to drive at night. The problem is compensating
for dirt and streaks on the lens; some adaptive filtering could
compensate for the problem (much harder than the lens geometry
itself), but a hardware solution such as a very small lens and
an air deflector may be the way forward. Ths hard part is to
keep the latency of such a filter low enough to be useful.
- Toast brownometer
- I really don't know why I haven't seen this. Given that toast
"looks done", why not point an LDR (and possibly a light, if
the heating element is insufficient) at the toast and stop
toasting it when it's the right colour? A few settings for
different kinds of toast and a "learning mode" would be easy,
possibly even without i/c control. This seems to me a better
solution than the traditional timer - although one might be
wise anyway, for safety reasons.
- Passive cigarette filters
- I don't like passive smoking. I've considered, in the past,
taking the filters from cigarettes and stuffing them up my
nostrils when in a smokey environment. I haven't tried it -
I doubt they allow enough air through. But someone could sell
such devices, with sufficient throughput, and I would probably
buy them if they were cheap enough.
- Flourescent bulbs
- This is about energy-saver bulbs - flourescent lamps which
plug into incandescent light sockets (e.g. bayonet fittings).
I have these all over the house, but a problem I have is that
although some designs are quite narrow, they are typically
longer than a standard incandescent bulb. This poses a problem
where the length is a limit - in uplighter lampshades, for
example. Why not make the tranformer electronics more linear -
in a narrow cylinder, preferably. Then wrap the flourescent tube
around it, giving not much more width than an incandescent bulb
and keeping the length down. This should still allow plenty of
external light emitting surface. Such a design might cost a bit
more (lots of curved glass, a more convoluted transformer), but
I'd pay a small premium for places where I can't use the current
- Endoscope electromagnet
- This is a vet thing. Given that a good proportion of foreign
objects imbibed might be metal, why not stick an electromagnet
on the end of an endoscope? Much less fiddly than a gripper, and
easy to arrange. Incidentally, vets should have metal detectors
in their surgeries; gets them out of doing an X-ray (or at least
an unnecessary one) under these circumstances.
- SpaceBall stiffener
- This is one for SpaceTek and similar companies who produce
input devices with six degrees of freedom, working off strain
guages. Since newer Spaceballs have a degree of give (which
provides a bit of tactile feedback), it would be nice to
combine this with the relatively new idea of force-feedback
mice. The problem is, of course, that the input device doesn't
actually move; could a stiffener be provided which is sufficiently
responsive that it would respond to the direction of the input
force in a way which is natural?
- Flymo wheels
- These may exist in some models, but my Flymo (i.e. hover
lawnmower) has the problem that if the lawn isn't flat, the
moment the front gets lifted and there is a gap under the
skirts, it crashes to the ground. For getting over bumps,
it would be nice if such lawnmowers had small wheels - low
profile enough not to interfere with the normal hover
operation, but enough to get the thing moving again.
- Flexible tracks
- Caterpillar tracks, while providing exceptional traction,
are traditionally inefficient when turning due to the
skidding of a linear track as it attempts to follow
a curved path. The efficiency could be improved by permitting
limited articulation between the elements of the track and
positioning the guide wheels along the curve of the turn
(in the manner that the front wheels of a car do not turn
equally). The additional articulation would weaken the tracks,
and this approach would require a great deal of flexibility
and range in the support wheels in order to support the
traditional ability of tank-steered vehicles to turn in place
(at least without resorting to skidding again). Note that it
is feasible only to move the support wheels, not the drive
wheels, which simplifies the additional movement. Nonetheless
the supports need to be both strong and forcefully driven
in order to begin the turn, although hopefully the energy
expended should be less that that required for the skid turn.
Track elements capable of rolling about the axis of forward
movement would reduce this friction, both in the case of a
bendable track and that of a traditional skid steer, but at
the cost of reduced lateral control and track strength.
Note that there is substantially more traction available
during turning in the case of a curvable track that for a
traditional skid steer.
- On Robot Wars
- I am a fan of BBC's Robot Wars and related programs - BattleBots,
Robots' Revenge, etc. - although not necessarily of the presentation
or of Mentorn's attitude to the participants (as reported; I'm not
actually a participant). As such, along with a number of my technical
minded friends, I have a plethora of ideas on combat robot building.
See my concerns about Robot
Wars, or my designs.
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