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Revitalize your city’s probably-terrible public transit system with a new and unexpected source of funding!

Background:

In many cities, there is no substantial funding for public transit. This results in extremely poor service (routes with minimal coverage of the city and few buses). This leads to a “death spiral” where people stop taking the (terrible) public transit, the service gets even worse, and so on.

These problems can, in theory, be fixed with enough money, but who wants to pay for it?

Proposal:

There is a simple way to encourage companies to pick up the tab for public transit. Currently, advertising is the only method of obtaining private funding for buses, but maybe we need to think of some other options.

Consider the bus route in Figure 1:

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Fig. 1: Here is a default bus route, before it is changed it due to corporate sponsorship. Circles indicate bus stops.

In order to entice a company to help pay for this bus line, we’ll let the company have some influence over where the buses go!

This could result in several possibilities, including:

Possibility 1: A bus route could be “detoured,” with a new stop added in front of a specific business (Figure 2). This would bring new customers to the business, and allow the business’ existing signage to reach more eyeballs.

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Fig. 2: If a chicken-themed fast food restaurant sponsored this bus route, the final route might be detoured as shown. Although the route might take a few minutes longer, the passengers would be delighted by delicious and economical fast-food chicken!

Possibility 2: One or more bus routes could be re-routed so that the route itself spells out a company name or slogan on the map. Since these routes would show up on online map searches for transit routes, the chosen phrase (e.g. “CHICKEN_4_LESS”) would be shown to countless map-viewing individuals, even if they didn’t end up actually taking that specific bus.

Possibility 3: As a more nefarious option, the sponsoring company could route the buses around competing businesses, rather than toward their own.

Conclusion:

This is a great way to fund public transit that does not require city bonds or taxpayer funding.

PROS: Helps promote the futuristic cyberpunk-style dystopia that was promised in 1980s science fiction.

CONS: Might slow down buses a lot, since these chicken-vendor-based routes are unlikely to be optimal for commuters.

Was your home’s scenic view obstructed by a new building next door? This issue is now solved, thanks to the “window periscope!” Homeowners, rejoice!

Background:

One of the most common complaints about nearby construction is the potential for new structures to block the views of existing residents.

The issue:

Existing residents in a neighborhood occasionally attempt to block nearby construction (often coming up with extremely implausible reasons as a smokescreen), when the real reason is that they just don’t want their current view blocked (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: The residents in the blue house at left had a nice view (across vacant lots that they, unfortunately, did not own) until nearby construction blocked it.

Proposal:

Fortunately, modern technology provides a solution that will satisfy the existing residents and allow new construction to proceed: the “window periscope” (Figure 2), a submarine-style periscope that elevates the view from a particular window.

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Fig. 2: Here, we see the solution: a “window periscope,” shown in red. This periscope consists of a set of mirrors that elevating the view above the roofline of the adjacent building, thus preserving the existing view.

Conclusion:

This is a great plan for suburbs and cities alike! It may pose a moderate engineering challenge due to high winds, moisture, and the difficulty of accessing such a structure for maintenance. But that will just create more jobs, so it’s really a plus. (For example, one could imagine a “chimney sweep”-style profession dedicated to maintaining these window periscopes.)

PROS: Preserves existing views even when new construction is placed right next door, thus reducing the amount of NIMBY-ism that frequently stalls construction.

CONS: May make it difficult or impossible to open the window. If this system becomes widespread, it could lead to an “arms race” of dueling taller and taller periscopes between adjacent buildings. Evidently this situation has historical precedent in the towers of San Gimignano, in Italy.

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Supplemental Figure S1: This photorealistic diagram shows the problem in a more abstract fashion.

 

Never worry about finding a parking spot again; park in extremely small spaces thanks to this new hydraulic automobile lifting system!

Background:

In many cities, there are a large number of “almost-a-parking-spot” locations (for example, between two driveways) that can only fit an extremely small car.

Additionally, most popular models of small cars have gotten substantially larger over time.

For example, a 1959 Mini Cooper is 120 inches long, while a 2005 model is 143 inches long (~2 feet longer). A 1966 Toyota Corolla is 152 inches long, while a 2015 Corolla is 182 inches long (2.5 feet longer).

The issue:

These longer cars no longer fit in many small parking spaces (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: This is an example of a spot that is almost a parking space. With some creative car redesign, we can still make it work, however!

Proposal:

Since parking spots rarely have a height maximum, there are a number of ways we could re-orient a car to fit it into a parking spot without crushing the car into a cube.

A hydraulic system could be added to a car to allow it to lift itself up in such a way that it now fits in one of these small spots (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: Left: the car has been modified with (A) a “foot” that can support the weight of the car, (B) an extendable rear axle that can move the rear wheels forward and down, and (C) an additional telescoping element to push the car up in the first place (and let it down gently). This telescoping element has a small roller on the bottom, rather than a full wheel. Right: the system after deployment.

Now, when a small parking space is found, the driver can line their car up with the back of the spot, get out of the car, and then engage “car lifting” mode to re-orient the car into a vertical orientation that reduces the car’s required horizontal space by approximately 40%.

Conclusion:

This would be a great selling point for people who live in cities with the combination of poor public transportation and poor parking options. Major car manufacturers should start redesigning their cars today.

PROS: Allows a car to fit into a number of previously-un-usable parking spots.

CONS: Cars are generally engineered with the assumption that gravity will always point directly down, so it’s possible that some elements of the car would need to be redesigned. Also, the driver should be sure not to leave any drinks in their cupholders before they engage this system.

This new eco-friendly smart shower head will save water from being wasted while not impacting your enjoyment of a shower! The new video-camera-based Internet-enabled shower is the inescapable trend of the future.

The issue:

When a person takes a shower, it is often the cast that some fraction of the water leaving the shower head lands directly on the shower floor without hitting the shower-taker (Figure 1).

This “off-target” water is totally wasted.

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Fig. 1: Here, the blue rays indicate water that hits the shower-taker, while the green “off-target” lines indicate water that just immediately sprays onto the floor of the shower.

Proposal:

Thanks to advances in computer vision and inexpensive electronics, it is now possible to figure out, in real time, where the water that leaves each shower nozzle will actually end up. Specifically, we need to determine if there is a human in the path of the water.

In order to accomplish this, a valve is added to each individual shower nozzle (allowing it to be independently opened and closed) and a camera is mounted on the shower head to allow it to track the shower-taker (Figure 2).

The camera feed from the shower is sent to a secure cloud facility, where an advanced machine learning algorithm analyzes it to determine which shower nozzles should be opened or closed. This system should be operable with latency of less than one-tenth of a second, which should be more than sufficient..

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Fig. 2: The camera can look at the shower-er and determine which shower nozzles are actually aiming at that person (shown as blue circles here). The nozzles that are just aiming at the shower floor can be closed automatically (red), thus saving water and potentially increasing water pressure in the remaining nozzles.

Conclusion:

This system sells itself: it saves water without negatively impacting the shower-taking experience.

PROS: Saves water and improves shower water pressure.

CONS: Some people might object to having a video feed of themselves in the shower being constantly streamed over the Internet, but it is very unlikely that an Internet company would have a security breach.

 

 

 

Never face “decision paralysis” due to a few one-star reviews on items you’re buying online, thanks to the “SURPRISE ME” purchase randomizer!

Background:

In the post-online-shopping world, there are now nearly innumerable purchasing options for every style of item.

If a person wanted to buy a particular style of baseball cap in the pre-Internet world, they would have the following option:

  • Go to a store
  • Purchase one of the, say, 4 or 5 suitable caps that are in stock.

But in the Internet-shopping era, the process is as follows:

  • Go online
  • Find literally thousands of options at nearly all price points
  • Find hundreds of reviews for each cap, ranging from “This hat saved my life ★★★★★.” to “This hat burned down my village and destroyed everything I ever loved. However, shipping was fast: ★★★☆☆.”

The issue:

A person may be unable to decide on a suitable purchase due to two factors:

  1. The overwhelming quantity of options (“overchoice“).
  2. The incredible amount of information available about each option (“analysis paralysis“). This is especially seen in purchasing of consumer electronics (e.g. a new stereo system or a television).

The solution:

Fortunately, the solution is very straightforward, and can be implemented by any web shopping site (see mockup in Figure 1):

  1. The user finds an item on the web site that is similar to what they’re looking for.
  2. The user adds this item to their shopping cart with a special button marked “SURPRISE ME.”
  3. Instead of adding the exact clicked-on item to their cart, the web site adds a similar randomly-chosen item that costs anywhere between 75% and 125% of the price of the clicked on item.
  4. The user is not informed of the actual contents of their shopping cart at checkout, only the total cost.
  5. A few days later, the mystery item arrives at the user’s house by mail.
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Fig. 1: Here, we see an online store that has a “surprise me” button that will allow the user to purchase a random item that matches their requirements (at left). (This is an alternate version of the situation described in the “solution” section above).

Conclusion:

Using the system above, decision paralysis can be avoided. This increases both the rate of all-devouring consumption of your customers, AND your company’s profit margins!

PROS: Could be legitimately implemented, probably does not break any local or national laws!

CONS: The rate of returns might be extremely high.

Vastly improve your whale watching tourism business with this new “guaranteed whale appearance” whale jail, A.K.A. the “cetacean cube.” Never disappoint a demanding and entitled tourist again!

TITLE: Vastly improve your whale watching tourism business with this new “guaranteed whale appearance” whale jail, A.K.A. the “cetacean cube.” Never disappoint a demanding and entitled tourist again!

Background:

Tourists in certain countries are willing to pay money to embark on a short boat trip in search of some sort of evidence of whales existing (e.g. a dorsal fin, waterspout, tail).

The issue:

Unfortunately, although this activity is billed as “whale watching,” there is no guarantee that a whale will make an appearance during the voyage, even if there is, in fact, a whale somewhere in the water underneath the whale-watching boat (Figure 1).

This is because the whales do not receive a cut of the tourist proceeds and thus, under capitalism, are not incentivized to appear at any particular schedule.

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Fig. 1: Despite there being many exotic marine animals in the water in this example, none of them are visible due to the opacity of the ocean water. The whale watcher is completely dependent on the whale deigning to come up for air at some point during the whale watching expedition. Outrageous!

Proposal:

The solution to this AWOL-whale problem is simple: an enormous transparent cube that is partially submerged into the ocean near the route of the whale-watching ship.

After the cube is partially submerged, most of the air in the top is pumped out, thus causing the water level to rise substantially above the normal water level (due to the lower atmospheric pressure in the cube).

The cube actually only has five sides: the bottom of the cube is open to the sea, thus allowing sea creatures to enter (or leave) the cube.

 

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Fig. 2: Thanks to this “cetacean cube,” the whale can be observed as if it is in an aquarium. Additionally, other sea life that does not need to surface for air can also be observed in the cube.

Conclusion:

This system should be of great use to coastal whale-watching tour boats.

PROS: Gratifies many tourists who would otherwise have had a whale-free vacation.

CONS: It may be difficult to create a structurally sound transparent cube for millions of gallons of water and to somehow anchor it in the open ocean. Even if it is possible to construct, it may be beyond the financial resources of a whale watching business.

Never get run over by a car again, thanks to this high-visibility LED modification for your laptop bag! Might save over one million lives per year in the world’s most crowded cities.

The issue:

In large cities, there are many perils for pedestrians: cars, bicycles, motorcycles, horses, etc.

Even the sidewalk is not a safe zone from scooters and bicycles!

At night, the problems are even worse, since pedestrians are generally un-illuminated and are frequently wearing all-black coats in the winter months.

Proposal:

Since many commuters carry a laptop bag, briefcase, or purse, it would be easy to put some sort of high-visibility indicator on this object: for example, an LED light (see animated designer laptop bag in Figure 1).

This would be less intrusive than wearing a high-visibility vest, and might be an easier sell to fashion-conscious commuters.

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Fig. 1: Fashionable designer laptop bag with caution tape and an LED light. Possibly OSHA-approved?

Figure 2 shows the same briefcase as a still image.

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Fig. 2: Thanks to this LED strip, the pedestrian holding the laptop bag is less likely to be hit by a scooter, bicycle, or car while walking on city streets.

Conclusion:

This is clearly the next evolution in fashion: reserve your designer laptop bag now!

PROS: Should reduce pedestrian fatalities and the city’s overall fashion rating at the same time.

CONS: May make your coworkers jealous and cause them them to plot against you.