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Follow the cruel and unyielding demands of your phone in order to stay fit on a custom jogging route! Bonus feature: allows the user to participate in the “sharing economy.”

Background:

It’s easy to live a sedentary life in today’s world of modern conveniences.

The issue:

Unfortunately, this is not ideal. While there are already apps that remind you to periodically stretch or walk around, people tend to just dismiss the notifications if they’re busy.

What is needed is an app that has “teeth” and can motivate people to really get some exercise.

Proposal:

The idea is that the phone would hold your ability to respond to text messages “hostage” until you walked around to its liking (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: In this case, the orange “BLOCKED” text message will not be displayed until the phone’s owner has done the phone’s bidding.

This kind of phone-enforced demand could be as simple as a requirement to hold the phone in a specific way (to show that you’re standing up / stretching / whatever), or as complicated as a multiple-waypoints jogging route (Figure 2) that the phone requires you do go visit (thanks to the GPS, this would be difficult to fool).

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Fig. 2: In this case, the phone requires that the user go visit waypoints 1 and 2 before it will deign to show text messages again.

The blocked services on the phone could also include other apps, such as the web browser / videos / podcasts, and more.

Conclusion:

If the phone can require the user to walk to various places, perhaps this could also be part of the “sharing” economy: the phone could refuse to unlock until the user performs some commercially-valuable action, such as;

  • Delivering groceries from a store to a nearby neighbor
  • Walking someone’s dog on a specific route.
  • Going door-to-door on a route in support of a political candidate or religion of the phone’s choosing.

If humans are going to be ruled over by cruel machines in the future, this would be a good way to ease into it.

PROS: Allows a phone owner to get exercise and stay fit.

CONS: May cause the future from Terminator 2 to occur.

Home delivery of food directly to a refrigerator is apparently a thing now. But what if there was ALSO a socially-responsible service to get rid of almost-spoiled food (while it’s still good)?

Background:

As civilization reaches an apex of decadence not seen since the days of Caligula, new and exotic labor-saving schemes have arisen.

Specifically, you may soon be able to order food directly to your refrigerator, thus saving you from having to be present for delivery. Deluxe!

The issue:

While the process of delivering food directly to a home has been substantially streamlined, there is not yet a great way of getting rid of unwanted (but still good) food on a small scale [1].

([1] If you have 5000 apples that you don’t want, you can give them to a food bank. If you have five apples, the logistics involved in transporting those apples means that they will probably end up going into the compost instead.)

Proposal:

The solution is to apply the same technique used in the in-home-delivery service, but in reverse.

In the “normal delivery” situation, a delivery person gains access to your house temporarily in order to bring in a package (e.g. “Amazon Key”).

But in the proposed “reverse delivery” situation, you temporarily give access to your house to someone who is in the neighborhood and really would love to eat a free food item that is about to expire.

It would probably be too labor-intensive to require a human to constantly monitor their kitchen for almost-spoiled items, which is why a computer-vision-aided system (Figure 1) is also proposed.

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Fig. 1: This electric eye is constantly scanning for fruit spoilage in the fruit bowl on your kitchen counter. It should be able to give a readout of the approximate number of days remaining before each piece of fruit is no longer edible.

Once a nearly-spoiled piece of food is located, the system would automatically unlock your front door by communicating with a WiFi-enabled “smart lock” (Figure 2) and notify passers-by that there is free food for the taking.

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Fig. 2: The presence of nearly-spoiled food causes the system to unlock the front door and to send out a proximity-based alert to nearby individuals who may want this free slightly-over-ripe banana. The notification could be done though a phone app or by proximity-based SMS alerts.

PROS: Helps reduce food waste and provides yet another motivation for installing home automation.

CONS: None! Brings the “sharing economy” to your kitchen!

Re-visit the past with a new “old monitor nostalgia” mode for your expensive high-resolution television or computer display!

The issue:

Modern computers (and TVs) have large, high-resolution screens.

But sometimes people have nostalgia for the past—perhaps yearning for Cold War-era computing, when the harsh glow of a 9-inch CRT monitor represented the pinnacle of technology (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: This 1984 black-and-white Macintosh cost approximately $5500 in 2019 dollars, which will buy approximately 10 economy-priced laptops in the year 2019.

Proposal:

Modern monitors should have an option to emulate the behavior of various old display types.

For example, a high-resolution monitor could easily pretend to be the following:

  • A 1950s tube television
  • The tiny black-and-white screen of the 1984 Macintosh (Figure 2)
  • The monochromatic green display of the Apple //  (Figure 3)

 

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Fig. 2: In “Mac ’84 mode,” only a tiny fraction of the screen is used (left), in order to give the user that authentic 9-inch-screen experience. (The blue area represents an unusable border region.)

 

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Fig. 3: Apple // mode. After a while, you actually stop noticing that the whole display is green!

Conclusion:

Now that a “Dark Mode” theme has been implemented by nearly every operating system vendor, the next arms race is sure to be “retro display mode” or “retro CRT filter” mode.

PROS: Gives people a greater appreciation of modern technology.

CONS: May cause eyestrain.

 

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Supplemental Fig. S1: The actual number of pixels on a 2018 27″ iMac is 5120×2880 (14,745,600), as compared to 512×342 (175,104) on the original Mac. That’s 84.2 times more pixels, or 252 times more pixels if you count the R, G, B channels separately!

Speed up the passenger-pickup phase of a Lyft or Uber ride with this new conveyor belt system for ride-sharing cars!

The issue:

One transportation model used by ride-sharing cars (formerly called “taxis”) is the “carpool”-style trip, where multiple passengers are picked up and dropped off at various points along a mostly-shared route.

(Lyft Line and Uber Pool are currently the most well-known of these.)

This “carpool”-style trip is cheaper than a normal ride for each individual passenger, but the route may be slightly longer due to detours to pick up and drop off each person.

The issue:

Sometimes, a car will be partially full when it picks up a new passenger. If there is someone sitting in the curb-side rear seat, the new passenger will generally attempt to enter through that door first, then realize that someone is there and walk around the car to the other side (Figure 1). For maximum comedy, the passenger already inside the car may misunderstand and slide themselves over to the other seat, thus accidentally blocking the incoming passenger yet again.

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Fig. 1: If someone is already occupying the back right seat, then a new passenger who attempts to enter through that door (see arrow “A”) will be stymied. They will have to either walk around the car or else wait for the current passenger to slide over to the opposite seat.

This inefficient entry method wastes time and increases the chances that the stopped ride-share car will be hit by an inattentive motorist.

Proposal:

The fix to this situation is simple: the back seat can be replaced by a pair of conveyor belts (Figure 2). These conveyor belts will be controlled by a switch on the dashboard, and will allow the driver to slide any current passengers out of the way of new incoming passengers.

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Fig. 2: The back seat is replaced by a pair of conveyor belts. Note that this new configuration still seats three, so we haven’t lost any functionality.

 

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Fig. 3: The conveyor belts are synchronized, so any passengers on them will hardly notice as they are gently scooted over.

Conclusion:

Although this feature is not currently standard in any production automobiles, it would make sense for it to be an add-on, like heated seats or a sunroof.

PROS: Increases ride-sharing efficiency by reducing the new-passenger pickup time. This is especially important since ride-share company profits are currently in the “negative numbers” range.

CONS: It is unclear whether seat belts could be installed in this conveyor-belt seat system without strangling back-seat passengers. Possibly this system should be prototyped in countries with non-existent safety regulations.

Too lazy to be an informed voter? No problem—team up with a non-citizen who is interested in the democratic process! It’s a win-win situation!

Background:

The democratic process depends on at least some fraction of voters making an informed decision.

The issue:

However, many people find politics uninteresting (Figure 1), and vote semi-randomly and/or for the most candidate with the most camera-friendly smile.

This is not an ideal way to choose a country’s leaders.

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Fig. 1: “What??? They want me to vote either yes or no? Sheesh, who has time for that. If only a cruel tyrant would rule over the land, crushing all dissent and freeing me from these decisions!”

Proposal:

This one is simple: a web site (or app) simply matches up an uninterested / uninformed voter with a motivated-but-ineligible-for-voting individual (e.g. a non-citizen or some really motivated high-school civics student).

Now, the highly motivated individual can suggest candidates and referendum choices for the apathetic voter (perhaps by filling out a sample ballot beforehand).

(The eligible voter will still actually have to either go to the polls or fill out a vote-by-mail form, so this is still slightly more work than doing nothing at all.)

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Fig. 2: The benefits are obvious: the uninterested voter doesn’t have to slog through the ballot, and the motivated non-voter gets to be part of the democratic process! In theory, better-informed voters should also choose more competent civic leaders as well.

 

PROS: May save democracy.

CONS: If every single voter becomes so apathetic that they outsource their vote, it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with the country’s political situation.

Re-experience your youth in an amazingly annoying fashion with a “scaled up furniture” business featuring gigantic chairs and tables!

Background:

Almost everything in the world is designed for people of average adult size.

As a result, most everyday objects (furniture, stairs, door handles, etc.) are a totally inconvenient size for children or the extremely short.

This is somewhat surprising, since everyone spent many years facing these problems as a small child.

But it was so long ago that no one really remembers! (This is also a classic example of the market failing to address the needs of a demographic with zero purchasing power.)

Proposal:

Here, we propose re-furnishing a shopping mall so that every object is sized to give you (as an adult) the approximate impression of scale that a three- or four-year old would have.

In other words, we approximately double the size of everything in the mall in all three dimensions (e.g. a 3-foot high table is now 6 feet high, and doors are 15+ feet tall).

The building would also need to have an exceptionally high ceiling in order to accommodate the larger furniture (see Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: All the furniture is scaled up proportionately. This chair is now basically unusable by the average-height mall patron (left).

Additionally, if this “everything is enormous” business were to sell food or beverages, those should also be scaled up (Figure 2).

 

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Fig. 2: In the spirit of scaling up everything, a “regular sized” coffee would be served in an enormous gallon-sized mug (Figure 2). A hamburger scaled up in this way would contain approximately 6,000 calories.

Conclusion:

Since there are so many malls that have gone out of business due to the convenience of Internet shopping [1], there should be plenty of abandoned real-estate that can be repurposed for this plan.

PROS: Provides useful perspective to product designers. Also allows people to re-live their childhood in the most inconvenient way possible, thus saving them from unwarranted nostalgia.

CONS: The potential for breaking bones in this out-of-scale environment is extremely high. Not everything scales up in a strictly linear fashion (e.g. a fall off a 6-foot-high table would be more than twice as injury-causing as a fall off a three-foot-high table).

[1] (Some people dispute this, and suggest that another factor could have caused it, such as haunting by ghosts.)

Sleep-tracker smartwatches should be able to help you by recapping things you missed while you’re sleeping and/or pausing the streaming video that you’re snoozing through!

Background:

Some smartwatches now have a sleep tracking feature (Fig 1): the watch is able to figure out when you fall asleep and record how long you’ve slept.

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Fig. 1: This watch is able to record the length of your slumber, but it doesn’t do anything with this information except displaying it.

The issue:

It’s easy to fall asleep while watching streaming video or listening to a podcast.

But sleeping while a podcast plays may result in your podcast app marking 10+ episodes as “played” even though you snoozed through them. To fix things, you’ll have to figure out exactly where you left off (or just give up on those episodes entirely).

With a TV show, you might wake up to a plot-twisting spoiler. Horrifying!

Proposal:

With a sleep-tracking smartwatch, the watch could, upon detecting that you’re asleep, do one of two things:

1. Immediately pause the podcast / video, or fade it out over time.

2. Continue playing, but specially mark this region of time as “you were asleep, but the video was still playing.” This situation is shown in Figure 2.

 

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Fig. 2: In this scenario, the user fell asleep at 4:33 PM, but the app kept playing the podcast until 5:05 AM. A huge button marked “AUTO-REWIND” allows the watch-wearer to automatically return to the podcast material that they slept through.

This feature could also be useful for college students, who are famous for sleeping through classes at all hours of the day. A sample scenario is shown in Figure 3, below.

 

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Fig. 3: The student who was wearing this watch fell asleep 38 minutes into their class. Fortunately, the watch started recording the lecture as soon as the student fell asleep, so the student is able to review it by pushing the “REPLAY “NAP” LECTURE AUDIO” button.

Conclusion:

This auto-pause feature could be implemented in a manner similar to the way in which a phone already automatically pauses video / music when a phone call is received.

 

PROS: By pausing streaming video, this saves valuable Internet bandwidth that would otherwise be streamed to your closed eyelids.

CONS: Students may end up with even more disastrous sleep schedules if they know they can rely on this lecture-replay feature.