Enhance your car dashboard with a “time to (maybe) crash” / imminent collision indicator. Safety first!

Background:

Cars have a lot of instruments. These typically indicate the car’s speed, the current gear, and various other qualities of debatable utility. Nowadays, cars have all sorts of additional sensors (potentially including LIDAR, cameras, GPS, etc…), but the dashboard instrument panel has not changed substantially since about 1950.

Proposal:

Let’s add a new indicator to the dashboard: a “time until a collision with the object directly in front of the car” indicator. This indicator would only use a simple rangefinder to make its calculation, and it would assume that whatever is directly in front of your car is not moving (e.g. it’s a wall or a car that just braked suddenly).

As an example, suppose that a a car is going 60 miles per hour (or 88 feet/second), and is 200 feet behind another car going the same speed. The “worst-case collision time” is that the car in front immediately stops (maybe a meteor hits it or something), so the dashboard indicator would read “2.27 seconds until collision” (200 feet / 88 feet/second = 2.27 seconds). Figure 1 illustrates what a similar readout might look like.

Fig. 1: One surprising conclusion of this dashboard is that there is practically no time to react when driving at highway speeds: even 200 feet of warning gives a driver less than 2.5 seconds to react at the relatively leisurely speed of 60 MPH.

The indicator could get progressively more alarming as the user had less time to react, as shown in Figure 2.

Fig. 2: The “time until collision” indicator should become more eye-catching as the time decreases.

Conclusion:

This is probably not a terrible idea, and could legitimately be a useful addition to a car dashboard.

PROS: Probably actually useful!

CONS: Drivers might pay excessive attention to this indicator and, while doing so, crash into the very object that the indicator is warning them about.

TikTok? YouTube Shorts? Instagram Reels? These short video ideas are fine and dandy, but what the people really clamor for is un-skippable mandatory long videos!

Background:

In the early 2020s, the appeal of short (< 1 minute) videos became widespread, with TikTok, YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels, and other services vying for market share. (Surprisingly, the earliest major entrant into this genre, Vine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vine_(service)), completely failed and was shut down in 2017).

The Issue:

Unfortunately, the popularity of “bite-sized” videos has caused people [who?] to become concerned [citation needed] that the attention spans of the nation’s citizens are getting shorter and shorter.

At the current rate, a person who was once able to easily listen attentively to an entire Feynman physics lecture will now barely be able to sit through half of a 30-second video montage of obese dogs rolling down stairs.

Proposal:

We do not propose to deny users the pleasure of watching dogs roll down stairs: instead, we will simply lock this “dessert” behind the “eat your vegetables” of a longer (and more plausibly educational) video.

The process is simple: after the user has watched enough “dumb” videos, their account is forbidden from watching any more videos until they have watched something long from the “educational” list (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: The user would love to watch “All Horse Jokes” or “Ghost Time” (bottom right), but unfortunately they need to watch another 1 hour and 27 minutes of “Algebra: A History” before their account is unlocked.

The use of sophisticated and intrusive 1984-esque tracking software (or maybe a quiz?) will ensure that the user actually watches the video.

Conclusion:

This is a great idea, or at least isn’t any worse than Quibi (which cost 2 billion dollars), Vine (which somehow failed despite being TikTok before TikTok was invented), or PlayStation Vue. The existence of these (and other) well-funded failures thus proves that this idea is, in fact, actually good.

PROS: Might increase the attention span of the citizenry, thus leading to important civic achievements.

CONS: It could be hard to convince people to use a video hosting service with this degree of behavioral micromanagement.

Class up the hotel and dining experience (actually, this works almost anywhere) with exotic bird sounds!

Background:

People who do not live in a jungle frequently associate the “sounds of the jungle” (e.g. the noises of birds and other miscellaneous creatures) with a sort of exotic and faraway mystique.

Proposal:

This idea is already used in theme parks, but there’s no reason we can’t apply it everywhere: any business that has even the vaguest justification for (possibly) hosting a flock of squawking jungle birds can just set up a bunch of speakers that constantly play bird noises (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Although the “Motel Jungle” might not be the classiest establishment, it can easily get a couple more Michelin stars (probably: I’m not sure how this works, exactly) by adding some speakers and playing royalty free bird songs.

Now, the user who might previously have been thinking thoughts like “wow, the paint is peeling on this crummy building” will instead be thinking “wow, what is that amazing bird I’m hearing—this establishment is incredible!”

Conclusion:

This system can class up even the seediest establishments. It might also work to drown out highway noise, airplanes landing, road construction, etc. It’s essentially an unusually assertive white noise (bird noise?) generator.

PROS: Even if humans pave over the entire planet and cause it to become a parking lot hellscape, this will allow people to experience what it might have been like to hear birds!

CONS: May cause people to associate jungle creatures with low-quality businesses, thus causing severe reputational harm to these unfortunate blameless beasts.

Encourage dental hygiene and proper brushing of teeth with exclusive short videos

Background:

According to the American Dental Association, the “general” recommendation is for people to brush their teeth for two-ish minutes, twice a day.

The Issue:

Two minutes is a long time! Maybe there’s some way to motivate people to brush their teeth for this long.

Proposal:

The incentive is simple: two-minute videos that are only viewable while the user is brushing their teeth.

This can be implemented by having a special phone holder that attaches to a toothbrush (Figure 1), which will allow the the phone to confirm (using the accelerometer and camera) that the user is in fact brushing their teeth. The phone will then authorize the user to view these uniquely-compelling two-minute videos.

Fig. 1: The phone is attached to the toothbrush by an articulated arm. The phone should be positioned at optimal viewing distance. The arm should also, ideally, move around to compensate for the tooth-brushing motion (perhaps using camera-stabilization technology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_stabilizer).

It might be initially difficult to incentivize video creators to produce material for such a niche use case, but that shouldn’t be a problem for long if this system catches on.

Conclusion:

A similar technique might work for hand washing; perhaps some short videos that could only be watched when a person was diligently scrubbing their hands for the recommended-but-never-followed “at least 20” seconds.

PROS: Could reduce incidence of tooth decay!

CONS: Might lead to dental disaster if people wear down their teeth to nubs by over-brushing their teeth while watching these compelling videos.

Do you know anyone who wants multiple pets (e.g. a cat, a dog, a fish), but only really has space for one? Thanks to augmented reality, the multi-pet-owning dream can come true!

Background:

Many people enjoy performing the stewardship of a beastly animal companion, generally referred to as a “pet.” Some people even like to have more than one pet!

The Issue:

It can be expensive and labor- and living-space-intensive to own multiple pets. For example, a single cat might be manageable, but owning a cat, and a dog, and a fish, and a bird, and a snake? This situation is probably just too much for most responsible pet owners.

Nevertheless, many people still wish they could have more than one type of pet.

Proposal:

We can fix this issue with the power of augmented reality!

The solution is so simple: the pet-owner must first acquire a single pet that can have varied behaviors during the day. (An especially-active cat or especially-relaxed dog might be good choices.)

Then, the user dons an augmented reality headset that shows their pet as a different animal under different conditions (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Here, the user’s “actual” pet is a cat (center, red), but the user will perceive this creature as a different type of animal, depending on the cat’s behavior. For example, when the cat is curled up in a cat bed, it will be displayed as a snake (bottom left).

Conclusion:

This system would also make it possible for any user to have 90% of the experience of owning an exotic and/or otherwise illegal-to-own-in-most-jurisdictions pet, such as a panda (fluffy dog → panda), elephant (large hairless dog → elephant), or tiger (basically any cat → tiger).

PROS: Brings exotic pet ownership to the masses with relatively few ethical concerns!

CONS: In order for the pet to be properly tracked by the augmented reality system, it might be necessary to glue some ping-pong balls (or other trackers, maybe QR codes) to the pet.

Increase the use of standing desks in the workplace. Healthy AND economical!

Background:

Standing desks are a semi-popular office furnishing at many workplaces. Most models of standing desk can be raised and lowered (either with a hand-turned crank or an electrically-powered button).

The Issue:

Regrettably, many people end up keeping their standing desks at the lowered normal-desk height for 99.9% of their work hours, thus depriving these employees of the probably-not-scientifically-validated alleged health benefits of the standing desks.

Proposal:

This proposal is simple: we simply remove fifty percent of the chairs from the office. Now, half of the employees will need to raise their desk to standing height (or hunch over their desk like some kind of caveman).

Employees can trade off the use of chairs, or perhaps chair ownership could be a free-for-all, and employees would be locked in an endless battle for chair privileges.


Fig. 1: Increasing standing desk usage is so simple: just remove the chairs! Here, we have taken a regular workplace with chairs at “A” and “B” and have (arbitrarily) removed chair “A.”

Conclusion:

This should bring great health benefits to the office workers of the “information economy.”

PROS: Easy to implement!

CONS: It might be extremely annoying to constantly have to re-adjust the settings on a shared chair.

Display the output of multiple security cameras on a 3d model—use video plus LIDAR to make a tiny ”diorama“ version of a building with security cameras!

Background:

Security cameras have become extremely cheap, and it’s economically quite feasible for a homeowner to have a really excessive-seeming number covering the entire exterior of their home or apartment.

The Issue:

As more cameras are added, more tiny security camera windows are shown. It can become overwhelming to even try to make sense of them. It should be the case that adding more cameras would improves a surveillance view, but instead it just adds more things to look at.

Proposal:

Imagine that we have a house with three cameras on the roof, positioned as shown in Figure 1.

Fig. 1: The purple arrows indicate the direction that each rooftop camera is pointed in.

With current camera-viewing technology, the view from these cameras would be three separate rectangular windows. But what if, instead, we synthesize a 3d model out of them, and have the “live 3d view” shown in Figure 2?

Fig. 2: The camera feeds are superimposed onto a 3d model of the neighborhood. Regions shown in color are displaying live video from a camera. (The black-and-white wireframe regions are not covered by any video feeds.)

With such a visualization method, the user could rotate their tiny 3d house model around and easily check it for unusual happenings. Adding more cameras would now just increase the resolution of the model, rather than adding more screens to look at.

There are a couple of obvious technical issues:

First, creating the 3d model in the first place might be a bit troublesome. Generally, people won’t want to do this by hand. Perhaps it can be done automatically with LIDAR (which can be used to generate a fairly accurate—at least, to the scale of a few inches—3d model in only a few seconds).

Second, if the 3d model is fixed and unchanging, then we have a problem: suppose a person is walking across the yard: we would want to see them as a three-dimensional object, but they’d actually show up as some weird moving slug-like smear on the existing flat grass (since the person doesn’t have a 3d model). This issue can probably also be solved by LIDAR: the person would show up as a person-shaped three-dimensional blob with a video feed superimposed on it. (A user could always view the “regular” video if they wanted to see details.

Conclusion:

This should hasten the implementation of the 1984-esque dystopian totalitarian nightmare state that we have always dreamed of!

PROS: Might legitimately be a cool way to intuitively monitor a large area. For example, security guards at a large public building could observe a tiny “live diorama” of the building instead of having to somehow maintain their attention on 30 different video feeds.

CONS: Moving objects would probably tend to always be weird 3d blobs. Users might have to always check the video feeds anyway upon seeing motion. It’s also possible that a user might monitor the 3d model feed in such a way that while the camera can see something, the user cannot (imagine there’s someone sneaking on the other side of the fence in the view in Figure 2: the camera can see that person, but the fence blocks our view, unless we rotate the model).

Increase corporate email efficiency and prevent “reply-all” email storms with this new maximum-email-chain-length feature!

The Issue:

One of the many issues with email is that it’s possible to end up in a super-long chain of multi-participant back-and-forth emails where nothing actually gets resolved.

Although this is possible in any communication medium, the (relatively) long delay between emails makes it possible for this situation to drag over many days.

Proposal:

This idea is simple: once an email chain has a sufficient number of replies (say, 20 in total), no further replies are allowed.

Instead, a link at the bottom of the email chain will allow the user to schedule a group video chat to resolve the issue under discussion.

Fig. 1: After 20 emails, the user sees that further replies are FORBIDDEN. They’ll need to schedule a follow-up chat, instead of emailing back-and-forth.

Conclusion:

This should greatly increase email efficiency, thus freeing up additional time for employees to become experts at FreeCell and Minesweeper.

PROS: Would prevent the annoying “reply all” email storms that sometimes happen when someone CCs too many people on a message (e.g. the “please unsubscribe me!” and “stop replying-all!!” reply-alls).

CONS: This system could still be bypassed by a determined user who would be willing to spend the 15 seconds to compose a new message with the same list of recipients (thus restarting the “20 emails” limit).

Clean your house with the power of augmented reality! Unbelievers cruelly mocked the “metaverse,” but now its true “killer app” has been revealed!

Background:

One of the various promises of “augmented reality” (or “AR”) is the ability for a user to wear a virtual reality headset that edits reality in some vaguely useful fashion.

For example, a maintenance worker might be able to overlay a diagram of the wiring inside walls, giving them a sort of “x-ray vision.”

The Issue:

So far, there have been few appealing consumer applications of “augmented reality.” But that is about to change!

Imagine the following situation: a person lives in a completely messy room (Figure 1), with junk piled up everywhere, spilled drinks, dirty laundry, etc.

Fig. 1: This desk area is a mess! We could clean it—but maybe there’s a better way.

Currently, the only recourse this mess-owning individual has is to laboriously clean their room. But technology may offer an alternative.

Proposal:

Thanks to augmented reality, the user can just put on a headset and (after a brief training period, where the user must indicate which items are “messes” that should be deleted), their room will be presented in a completely clean form—no more stress!

Fig. 2: Thanks to the power of augmented reality, the desk has been cleaned to its “reference, clean” state.

If the user is willing to clean the room at least one single time, it would be possible for the VR headset to save a 3D “snapshot” of the clean room, which would then be displayed no matter how disgusting the room got. 

This would save the user from having to manually designate each item as “mess” or “clean,” but would require that the user clean their room at least one time.

Conclusion:

Even people who keep a relatively orderly home could benefit from this technology, as it would redue the need for vacuuming, dusting, repainting, etc. A room could be caked in dust, with a cat-hair-infused rug and peeling paint, but thanks to augmented reality, this could all be safely ignored. (And there would be no tripping hazards in this scenario.)

PROS: Should save countless hours of recurring cleaning.

CONS: Since the “mess” items still physically exist, some hazards might be erroneously hidden: for example, imagine the calamity that could befall a user who hides their “pile of broken glass and hypodermic needles in the middle of the room” mess.

Increase your literary appreciation with this new web site idea (a replacement to the short-messaging service “Twitter”) that encourages—no, REQUIRES—long messages instead!

Background:

In the mid-2010s and 2020s, the service “Twitter” was a popular method for celebrities to share short messages with their followers. It had the unusual property of requiring short posts (originally only 140 characters). This was originally due to ancient historical limitations on sending messages (called “SMS”es) over phones, but a slightly-increased limit was preserved for nostalgic reasons.

The Issue:

Unfortunately, it turned out that encouraging people to winnow down their messages to the shortest and most inflammatory snippets was not necessarily a great way to encourage quality discussion.

Proposal:

A new service with the tentatively Twwwwwwwwwwtly, with ten “w”s instead of just one, would be the opposite of Twitter: instead of requiring comments to be under a limit, it would require that each post be over a limit. In this case, we would start by requiring that all posts and replies be at least 2800 characters (10 times the 2022 Twitter maximum).

Here’s what this looks like in practice:

A normal Twitter-style post:

Hey I saw a dog today and was like “lol what an ugly dog” but then I realized I was looking at a puddle and it was my own reflection (132 characters)

The same exact post, but in Twwwwwwwwwwtly format:

ESTABLISHING THE SCENE: I was walking along the road. There was no traffic. It was mid-morning, perhaps 11 AM, or maybe 12. I was in a country where people drive on the right, and was also walking on the right side, which is apparently not advised, although it’s a bit counterintuitive. It had rained the previous night, and the sidewalks and the streets were still wet. There were a number of puddles in the low sections of the road (caused, I am told, by a combination of heavy trucks and poor road maintenance. Incidentally, apparently cars are negligible when it comes to road wear, which is not at all obvious to a human, to which an 18-wheeler and a passenger car seem roughly equivalent).

PROLOGUE: As I walked, I looked around. This served both to alert me if any cars were coming (I was, as previously mentioned, walking on the right side of the road with the traffic) and to allow me to take in the scene. What a crisp day, I thought to myself. I marveled at my good fortune to, at this moment, be experiencing such a joy of this existence. I wished that everyone could have this opportunity. Perhaps they did? Who, truly, can say. In any case, it was a fine experience indeed. The cold weather reminded me of fall, specifically of my childhood in Ohio, where the trees had a very specific smell. Maybe the trees smell that way everywhere? There certainly was an “autumn” feel to it, anyway. As I walked, I noticed the number of puddles, and how strange everything looked in the reflections, almost as if I was seeing through into another world, some sort of parallel universe, perhaps. I idly wondered if, maybe in that universe, we had lost World War II, or perhaps the Battle of Agincourt had gone the other way, or maybe even the dinosaurs had never gone extinct.

ACT I: As I looked into the puddles, I thought the images therein would make for a great image, maybe in a watercolor or something? But then I realized that I had never really learned how to paint. Was it too late? Maybe not, but then, did I really want to spend the time painting? Especially now that, it seemed, at least, that computers were able to conjure up any image on demand: “Computer, paint me a watercolor in the style of Winslow Homer, it should evoke the feeling of melancholy and of the longing of a forgotten and perhaps never-real autumn of one’s youth.” Would we have to just give up on humanity entirely if such a painting could be created? Or would it be merely a parlor trick? I doubted that we were more than a few years away from such a creation, yet it vexed me that my phone still couldn’t even reliably filter out telemarketing phone calls. Was this the 21st century version of “they can put a man on the moon, but they can’t XYZ,” maybe? Probably.

THE INCIDENT: As I walked, a car drove by, through one of the puddles, leaving a distorted image of rippling water. I walked close and looked into it, and was startled at the image of a hideous dog wearing a red dog vest. As the water ceased to ripple and the image cleared, I realized that the image was, in fact, me. I laughed at my earlier uncharitable evaluation of the canine. (3133 characters)

The improvement is so obvious!

Conclusion:

The results speak for themselves, so no additional elaboration is required.

PROS: Might lead to a renaissance of stream-of-consciousness literature.

CONS: Phone keyboards are a bit annoying to type on, so 2800+ characters might be more than people are willing to tolerate.