WorstPlans.com updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible plans and ideas!

Outrun a vicious pack of wild dogs as part of your weekly exercise routine! You won’t believe this new way to save money and promote physical fitness!

Background:

Two things that city-dwellers often require are:

  • Motivation to exercise.
  • An expensive dog-walker to walk their dog.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s easy to become lazy and not exercise, and dog-walkers are quite pricey! (Figure 1.)

1-run

Fig. 1: Left: these dogs need to walk, but someone is going to have to be paid to put leashes on them and walk them around the city. What an inefficient use of resources! Right: this person needs to get some exercise (by, say, jogging), but it’s easier to just stay at home and be completely sedentary.

Fortunately, these two modern conundrums can now be solved with a SINGLE amazing plan!

Proposal:

The solution is simple: during the commute home from work, the person who thinks they should go jogging (but is too lazy to motivate themselves to do so) simply ties a dozen or so strips of bacon (or other delicious meats) to themselves.

Then, they register their commute on a ride-sharing-like web site. As the commuter walks by a dog owner’s house, the dog owner gets a text message that they should release their hounds, who will then chase the bacon-laden jogger with single-minded determination. (Figure 2.)

2-run-bacon

Fig. 2: The pack of dogs provides ample motivation for this bacon-festooned jogger to continue running.

In this way, the pack of ravenous dogs will motivate the jogger very effectively. If the dogs are sufficiently fixated on the bacon, no leashes would even be required!

Conclusion:

The only downside is that the jogger will, at the end of their commute, need to somehow return the dogs to their owners. Fortunately, this will create a new business opportunity for an “Uber for dogs” ride-sharing company to return the dogs back to their owner: job-creation at its finest!

PROS: Increases fitness of both humans and dogs. Saves money for dog owners who previously had to employ dog-walkers.

CONS: May increase the rate of pack-of-wild-dogs-related dismemberments, which is currently at a historical low in urban areas.

3-concept-art

Supplemental Fig. S1: Original black-and-white drawing of this idea, perhaps for a patent application. Note the photorealistic dog at left, drawn in the style of Renaissance woodcuts. It’s hard to believe, but this was actually drawn on a modern tablet computer!

“Potemkin Maps”: Impress foreign dignitaries and out-of-town investors by following a GPS map route through a misleadingly-nice part of your city!

Background:

Phone map apps often have a few optional settings for a route, such as:

  • Avoid highways (for driving)
  • Fewer bus transfers (for public transit)
  • Avoid hills (for walking)

The issue:

Sometimes, you want drive on the most scenic route from point A to point B, without too much concern about efficiency.

For example, you might want to impress an out-of-town guest, or hide the seedier parts of a city from a visiting foreign dignitary or investor.

Proposal:

The “scenic route” to a destination attempts to route you through the highest-economic-value areas that it can find.

This method, called the “Potemkin Route” after the 1787 idea of the same name, uses the following data:

  • Tax records (to find the highest property values)
  • The police blotter (to avoid areas of high crime)
  • Elevation maps (to look for scenic views)

Then, it routes you to the optimum area to show off the most appealing areas of the region near your route (user interface mockup in Figure 1).

 

1-gps.png

Fig. 1: If you select both [AVOID HIGHWAYS] and [AVOID LOW PROPERTY VALUES], as the user has in this example, your route might be substantially longer.

Conclusion:

You could use this route yourself, even if you aren’t trying to impress a foreign dignitary.

PROS: Allows you to ignore the problems of your city.

CONS: Allows you to ignore the problems of your city.

Improve the grocery shopping experience by tapping into ancient hunter-gatherer instincts! You’ll never believe how much more delicious a pineapple is after you’ve tracked and hunted it for miles through the savannah.

Background:

It’s well-known that presentation affects the perceived taste of food (Figure 1). Can this be used by retailers to increase customer satisfaction?

 

1-snake-rating

Fig. 1: Some animals, like this extremely picky snake, do not like to eat food unless it’s clearly fresh (i.e., recently alive). Top: the dead mouse meal receives only a 1-star review from the snake. Bottom: the same mouse receives a 5-star rating, simply because it’s moving.

Proposal:

In order to leverage the same instincts, we propose that all foods should be presented in grocery stores in a “natural” environment to satisfy human hunter-gatherer instincts.

In Figure 2, we show how this might work for a pineapple, which can either be shown in a sterile and unnatural environment or in a jungle-like environment that evokes the thrill of gathering an edible fruit in some ancestral jungle.

2-pineapple

Fig. 2: This savvy shopper is unimpressed by the non-moving pineapple, yet is excited about purchasing the exact same pineapple “straight from the tree.” This might work for other foods too, like carrots and potatoes, even though it would make no sense for them to be dangling from a tree branch.

Conclusion:

Although fruits would be the easiest products to put in a faux “natural” environment (just hang them from a plastic tree), this system could also apply to other products, such as:

  • Reach into a giant beehive while being attacked by giant plastic bees in order to obtain a box of Honey Nut Cheerios.
  • Run through the store chasing a box being pulled by a wire on an overhead track. Once you manage to grab the box and open it, you discover a delicious steak inside.
  • Hold your breath and jump into a Olympic-sized swimming pool that is chilled to a near-freezing 1º Celsius. At the bottom of the pool, you will find a treasure trove of pre-wrapped packages of salmon.

PROS: Allows humans to get back in touch with their ancient roots. Simulates a pre-civilization existence without modern amenities.

CONS: Most shoppers would probably just use an app-based service to pay “sharing economy” workers to endure the bee hives and freezing water. This has the disadvantage of making an already-harsh job even worse, while imparting no benefits on society as a whole.

Trash Can with an alarm that screams if you jenga more trash into it

TITLE: Never be annoyed when emptying an over-full trash can again, with this new “screaming trash can” technology!

The Issue:

In shared-living or office situations, there is a strong incentive to wait for someone else to empty a full garbage can: the person who discards the last piece of trash has only contributed a tiny fraction of the total can’s volume, but has to expend the trash-removal effort for the entire can.

Thus, people tend to creatively stack trash as high as possible (Figure 1), forming a “Jenga“-like tower of precariously-balanced trash.

2-over-full.png

Fig. 1: People will often stack trash in unstable towers, as shown here, even if the stacked trash prevents the lid from closing.

Even worse, once trash is piled up in a tower, it can be difficult to fit it all into the trash bag (which makes it even less likely that someone will want to take it out).

Proposal:

The solution is simple: install a grid of “electric eyes” (the laser grids from every heist movie) that would monitor the top level of the trash can (Figure 2).

If the electric-eye beam is blocked for more than a few seconds, the trash can would know that the trash can needed to be emptied, and can take action accordingly.

3-electric-eyes.png

Fig. 2: The grid of sensor beams (labeled “electric eyes”) will, if blocked for more than a few seconds, trigger the “siren of shame” (bottom left). Instead of allowing the culprit to slink away in anonymity, the siren would wail until the trash-abandoner returned to take out the trash.

Gamification:

One could “gamify” the process (and help promote a dystopian 1984-esque future) with a trash can that would 1) have a camera to identify each user and 2) a weight sensor to keep track of the total amount of trash generated and emptied by that person. Perhaps stat tracking would encourage trash-can-emptying. Whether or not it actually helps, the manufacturer of such a trash can could always sell the face recognition data to advertisers and each country’s secret police, so it’s a win-win situation.

PROS: This would be a popular product for many homes and offices.

CONS: Creative individuals might be able to place trash in creative ways such that it does not obstruct the beams, but is still precariously stacked.

 

Never forget your laptop at home (or at work!) again! The ultimate briefcase / laptop bag for the sophisticated and discerning professional!

Background:

At many companies, employees take a laptop to/from work every day.

In the past, laptops were heavy enough that it would be incredibly obvious whether a laptop was in a bag or not.

The issue:

Modern laptops are light enough that it is possible to take a laptop bag (Figure 1) to work without realizing that there is no laptop inside. This can be an annoying and time-consuming mistake.

1-laptop-bag.png

Fig. 1: The briefcase shown here could easily weigh 5 pounds without a laptop inside, so it may not be immediately obvious whether or not a one-pound laptop is present inside or not.

Proposal:

Proposed here is a laptop bag that makes it unavoidably obvious that there is no laptop inside. The model shown in Figure 2 pops up a spring-powered flag whenever a laptop is not present.

2-flag-system-laptop-bag.png

Fig. 2: The high-visibility “Pack your laptop!” reminder flag (A) at left protrudes from the bag when the laptop compartment is empty. A proposed mechanism is shown at right: the flag is attached to a “laptop cradle'” (B) that is supported by several springs (C). When the laptop is placed in the bag, its weight compresses the springs and pushes down the cradle-and-flag mechanism.

The flag-based approach described above makes it incredibly obvious if a laptop is not present. It also has the advantage of being easily overridden by a user who is intentionally not packing their laptop: they can simply press down on the flag while zipping the bag’s laptop compartment.

Rejected simpler Idea:

One could imagine a laptop bag with a transparent panel that would allow visual confirmation of the presence/absence of a laptop. Although this would work (and requires no moving parts), it would still be easy to grab the bag in a rush without realizing that the laptop was missing. Additionally, it has the disadvantage of advertising the presence of a (highly-stealable) laptop to fellow commuters.

Tactile alternative to the “flag” idea:

For a briefcase, the handle could change texture when the laptop is present. For example, dozens of metal spikes could protrude from the handle until a laptop weighed down the laptop cradle, at which point the spikes would retract into the handle, like they were part of some kind of Indiana-Jones-style ancient temple trap. (This could be all done mechanically, with no need for electronics, using cables that connected the handle to the laptop cradle.)

Conclusion:

You should crowdfund a laptop bag like this right now! If you are successful, it will prove that a market exists, and hundreds of much-cheaper knockoffs will flood the market before your initial prototypes are even done!

PROS: Never forget your laptop again!

CONS: Any object that is similar in shape to a notebook computer (e.g. an actual notebook) would cause false positives.

 

If you obey the demands of this phone app, you’ll never have to wait at a stoplight again! If you are a pedestrian, anyway. Might also work for bicyclists and drivers!

Background:

In most American cities, four-way intersections with stoplights are the most common form of traffic control.

The issue:

As a pedestrian, these intersections are frustrating: if the stoplights are not synchronized, you’ll randomly encounter red lights while walking from block to block. But even when lights are synchronized, they are synchronized for car driving speeds. Thus, at normal walking speed, a pedestrian will inevitably spend a large fraction of travel time waiting at crosswalks for the light to turn green.

Although a pedestrian can increase or decrease their walking speed, it is difficult to select an optimal speed without knowing exactly when the light will change.

Proposal:

Fortunately, a phone app can easily measure walking speed and distance to the next traffic light, and then display a recommended walking speed that will get a pedestrian to the light when it is green (Figure 1).

2-stoplight-timer-app

Fig. 1: Since this phone knows how far the next light is and exactly when the light will change, it can recommend a walking pace that will get its owner to the light while the light is green. The green / gray arrow in the middle of the screen is a “progress bar,” showing the pedestrian’s current position relative to the previous intersection (base of arrow) and the next light (tip of arrow).

 

Using this app, a person can enjoy both a more leisurely pace at lights they’d miss anyway, and can walk ever-so-slightly faster (Figure 2) in order to make it through intersections just before the light turns red.

1-stoplight-timer

Fig. 2: In the top example (A), a pedestrian walks at a uniform pace that causes them to have to wait at two of the three lights. In the bottom example (B), the pedestrian is using our new app, and adjusts their walking speed to hit all the lights while they are green. Recommended walking speed is shown by the orange bar at the very bottom.

Conclusion:

This type of app would probably work for drivers and bicyclists as well (ideally through audio instructions).

PROS: Encourages walking in cities, thus improving national cardiovascular fitness.

CONS: Users of this app might wait at fewer lights, but would be at higher risk of being run over by a car / bicyclist / steamroller while distracted by the app’s various recommendations and statistics.

Stop getting hit by self-driving cars with this one fashion trick that involves putting weird labels on all your clothing! Don’t be the last one to catch on to this new fashion trend.

Background:

In a hypothetical future where self-driving cars are increasingly common, they’ll have to do a really good job of automatically distinguishing between things that require sudden braking (e.g. a person in the roadway) and things that are OK to hit (e.g. a tumbling empty cardboard box).

The issue:

This is a hard problem. When a car gets data from its various cameras (and other sensors), it needs to figure out what exactly it is that it is seeing (Figure 1).

1-self-driving-example.png

Fig. 1: This is probably a pedestrian in the roadway, but could it also be a billboard advertisement hundreds of feet away?

Although the specific “distant-billboard-or-close-pedestrian” question in Figure 1 can be answered just by using two cameras to estimate distance, there are situations where the problem must be resolved in a more complex fashion (Figure 2).

2-self-driving-problem.png

Fig. 2: Top: the image is interpreted correctly, and the car does NOT hit the pedestrian. Bottom: the car incorrectly believes that it sees a sunflower, and collides with it at full speed. Lest you think this is totally implausible, check out some specially-crafted adversarial examples (that can turn a panda into a banana) and a method of tricking lane-following algorithms into swerving the car into oncoming traffic.

Proposal:

We propose to place special “this is a human” symbols on articles of clothing that a human might wear (Figure 3).

When a car sees one of these unusual QR-code-like symbols, it will instantly say “ah, sunflowers do not wear specially-marked shoes, time to hit the brakes!”

To avoid this becoming a fashion disaster, these markings would not be apparently at normal human-visible wavelengths of light, but would only be detectable by special camera equipment.

Perhaps the markings could have fluorescent ink in them, and all cars could drive around with UV lights in the front.

3-shoes-with-markings.png

Fig. 3: Left: this is what the shoe looks like to a human—the markings are invisible to the naked eye. Middle: the camera can see wavelengths of light beyond human ability, and can detect these special markings (shown here as yellow checkerboards). Right: the camera sees the checkerboard, and the object-classification algorithm realizes that this shoe is likely to be attached to a human.

One common objection to many self-driving-car-related issues is “couldn’t some criminal put these markers all over the city, to trick self-driving cars?”

The answer is yes, but it would be as equally illegal as it currently is to put mannequins on a winding road (which would also confuse human drivers).

Conclusion:

This might be redundant with an infrared camera—in most locations, a human already is obviously distinguished from the background environment just by their warm-blooded glow in the infrared spectrum.

PROS: This will definitely make me a ton of money when it is licensed by major car manufacturers. Also, would someone please apply for and pay for a patent on my behalf? Thanks!

CONS: If one of these specially-marked shoes falls onto the roadway (perhaps by falling out of someone’s messenger bag while they’re biking), do we really want every car to come to a screeching halt at the sight of a single unattached shoe?