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Replace your windows with television screens: save thousands of dollars of rent a year by VIRTUALLY moving your home or office to an expensive location, without paying any more rent!

Background:

People generally enjoy having a good view from their home or office windows.

However, some locations have a bad view (e.g. a dark alley or cement wall) or cannot accommodate windows at all (e.g. interior offices or basements).

Proposal:

Modern flatscreen displays can be as large as office windows (and some types consume very little electricity).

Thus, we can replace the nonexistent and/or bad windows with large-screen television monitors.

In order to provide a convincing view of the “outdoors” on these screens, we only need two things:

  1. The time of day, so the screens can show a proper day or night scene.
  2. The relative orientations of each screen (e.g., if one screen faces the sea, then a screen on the opposite wall could show a beach).

The scenes could be either real-world video (either live webcam video, or looped video from earlier), or computer-generated scenes. See Figure 1 for an example.

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Fig. 1: Instead of renting an expensive office in a city like New York or San Francisco (shown here), you could simply set the windows of your company to show scenes from that location. Think of the savings!

One additional benefit of virtual screens is that there is no requirement that the screens face out onto a practical (or even real) location (Figure 2).

For example, one could place an office:

  • On the surface of the Moon
  • Orbiting a distant science fiction planet or space station
  • Under the sea
  • In a windswept desert of endless sand dunes
  • Inside an M.C. Escher print, modeled in 3D (this might be extremely confusing)
  • Inside a video game (one could imagine a game development company setting their office windows to show scenes from the under-development game, in order to further oppress and crush the spirit of their programmers with the inescapability of the game)

Computer-generated locations could also feature 3D animations, like a buggy driving around the Moon’s surface or caravans crossing the desert.

 

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Fig. 2: There is no requirement that the virtual windows in your multi-screen room must face out onto a real-world scene. You could also imagine that your home or office was inside a giant abstract painting, as shown in this example.

Conclusion:

This project requires only consumer-level hardware and a web site to implement, so I am actually surprised that it appears not to currently exist. You can make an ad-hoc version by using a maps site with Street View (e.g. Google Street View) and adjusting the orientation of your multiple displays accordingly. (The only downside to this method is that the image will not update to match the current time of day).

PROS: Allows you to cheaply obtain a beautiful view for your home or office without paying exorbitant rental prices.

CONS: Large displays can cost up to $200 a year (2019 prices) to operate 24 hours a day, and the entire idea is essentially a huge waste of energy (unless you can use the extra heat generated by the screens).

Improve the odds of finding a lost pet with this over-engineered license-plate-based system! The ultimate computer vision project for a machine learning startup.

Background:

“Lost cat” and “lost dog” signs are often placed up on telephone poles (Fig. 1), but it’s unlikely that a specific person who sees a lost pet will also have seen the sign (or even know that the pet is actually lost in the first place).

 

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Fig. 1: A person who sees this sign will know to be on the lookout for a lost snake, but the chances of seeing both the snake AND the poster are quite low.

Proposal:

In order to add more people to the lost-pet-searching process, the proposed system is as follows:

On the searchers side:

  • Car owners can add a camera to their car (see license plate example in Figure 2) that constantly scans for unidentified animals. This requires no effort on the part of the driver.
  • The camera saves snapshots and GPS coordinates for every animal it sees, and uploads these to a “Find a Lost Pet” web site. Many of these animals are probably not lost, or even pets!

On the pet-recoverers side:

  • Anyone with a lost pet can post the details of their lost animal and a reward to the “Find a Lost Pet” site. Ideal information would include a photo, approximate location, and the owner’s contact information.

Once the “Find a Lost Pet” image analysis system detects a match between an uploaded image and a lost pet, a “bounty” is issued for the recovery of that pet, and nearby drivers are notified.

Finally, assuming the animal is safely returned in the same number of pieces that it was expected to be in (generally this number is “one”), the bounty is split three ways: the web site, camera owner, and animal-recoverer all get a fraction of the total reward. This aligns everyone’s incentives and encourages people to install pet-scanning cameras in the hope of a payout.

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Fig. 2: This license plate camera is a “dog-scanner” camera that is constantly on the lookout for unidentified potentially-lost animals. Backup cameras like this already exist, so producing the hardware for this system would be relatively straightforward.

PROS: This system will help find lost pets, and definitely won’t be repurposed to create a totalitarian police state.

CONS: Not especially useful in finding burrowed or aquatic animals, so try not to lose one of those.

Become a prey animal by putting eyes on the side of your head. Makes you a safer driver, but also encourages packs of howling wolves to attack you, so beware!

Background:

Human vision is limited to a ~180° horizontal angle (Figure 1) and an even smaller vertical angle.

This means you can easily be blindsided by objects coming from behind you. In ancient times, this was less of a worry, but with electric cars, electric scooters, and bicycles, there are a huge number of fast-moving and potentially-lethal objects that humans must be aware of.

 

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Fig. 1: Normal human vision only uses less than half of the total potentially-available visual information. Many prey animals have nearly 360º vision, so clearly this limitation is not an inherent limitation of biology.

Proposal:

Since cars are now the “apex predator” that is ranked above humans in the food chain, humans should adapt and become prey animals. This requires a visual adaptation to allow for 360º vision, which can be accomplished as shown in Figure 2.

 

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Fig. 2: These “earmuff cameras” feed into the glasses in front, which provide a highly-warped fisheye view of the wearer’s environment. Although binocular vision may be impaired, the benefits of total visual awareness cannot be overstated.

Conclusion:

The example in figure 2 requires complicated electronics, but there’s probably a way to create an optical 360º-vision system that uses no electronics.

A similar product already exists: rear view mirror spy glasses—inexpensive sunglasses with mirrored “wings” that allow you to see behind you.

PROS: May reduce the number of deaths and injuries from accidents caused by a lack of visual situational awareness.

CONS: Can the human visual cortex handle this type of input data? Only one way to find out—experiment on some undergraduates.

Keep track of the amount of time that interns and temporary employees will be at a company with an “employment countdown clock” on each employee badge.

Background:

Many companies issue ID badges to their employees.

Sometimes these come in multiple forms: one type of badge for permanent workers, and a different color for temporary employees.

Proposal:

In order make the time-limited nature of temporary employees more clear—and perhaps to remind the temporary employee to start applying for jobs again—a low-power timer could be integrated into the badge (see Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: These two styles of time-limited contractor badges make it easy to tell how long a temporary employee will remain at the company. On the right, the e-ink “progress bar” style gives an obvious visual indication of remaining time.

Conclusion:

This approach was illustrated in the 1976 film Logan’s Run, where a crystal in each citizen’s hand would change color when a citizen was about to “expire.”

If you run a a Silicon Valley-based startup, you should definitely integrate a timer into future employee badges.

PROS: Allows employees to avoid starting long-term projects with just-about-to-leave temporary employees.

CONS: E-ink displays are surprisingly expensive in low volumes, so these high-tech badges may cost slightly more. One cheaper approach would be a circular “countdown clock” wheel in each badge that employees would manually update on a weekly basis.

 

Re-experience the process of learning to read AND prevent spies from stealing your secrets!

Background:

Once you know how to read, it’s impossible to see text the same way as you did before—you will inescapably recognize the symbols as letters the instant that you see them.

The issue:

This “automatic” parsing of written language makes it easy to forget how much effort was required to initially learn how to read. This inhibits people’s ability to empathize with children and second-language learners as they acquire literacy.

Proposal:

In order to let you remember what it was like to not be able to read, this hypothetical browser plug-in will simply change all web fonts to an illiteracy-simulating “dingbats” font (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: With the “Wingdings” font replacing the standard web page font, every Internet site becomes totally incomprehensible, letting you re-experience the lack of ability to read. In order to obtain proficiency with this new alphabet, a user would need to learn 26 lower-case letters, 26 upper-case letters, ~10 punctuation marks, and 10 digits, for a grand total of ~70–80 symbols.

Note that the new “letters” actually do directly correspond to the letters of the English alphabet, so you could hypothetically re-experience the alphabet-learning experience by using this plugin.

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Fig. 2: Here is what a block of English text might look like to someone who is totally unfamiliar with Latin letters.

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Fig. 3: The importance of heraldry and easily-understood symbols is more evident when you cannot read!

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Fig. 4: This approximates what a medieval peasant would have experienced reading a manuscript about the Hundred Year’s War. Note how much more important the images seem when you can’t read the text.

Secret bonus feature:

If you set your browser to a “dingbats” font and actually learn how to read it, then you’ll be able to thwart spies who try to read your screen over your shoulder. The CIA should mandate that all of its laptops be set to this custom font mode.

Conclusion:

If you want to remember what it was like before you could read, you should set your browser font to Wingdings or another “dingbats” font.

PROS: Increases ability to empathize with people learning to read. Makes it difficult for spies to read your secrets.

CONS: Your browser might get stuck in this mode, and then you’d have to learn a totally new (yet almost completely useless) alphabet.

P.S. You can also experience this phenomenon by just going to a Wikipedia page in a language you can’t read. Try one of these: https://or.wikipedia.org/, https://am.wikipedia.org/ , or https://si.wikipedia.org/ (unless you somehow read all three, which is exceptionally unlikely).

Improve public transit efficiency and never worry about train delays again! One incredibly practical engineering trick that you won’t believe isn’t already a standard feature.

Background:

Rail-based transportation has an inescapable problem: in a single-track situation, there is no way for a train to pull over and let another train pass.

The issue:

Thus, a single stopped train can block an entire track indefinitely. And a slow train can’t be overtaken by an express train.

This can be solved by adding multiple rails, but that is prohibitively expensive except in very small sections of track. Additionally, it increases recurring maintenance costs.

Proposal:

There is one incredibly simple solution to this problem: just put an additional set of tracks on top of every train car (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Each train car has a set of standard rails mounted on top, shown here in red. The very front-most and last-most cars must have a ramp as well.

 

Now, a slowed or stopped train can be passed by simply driving the passing train over the stopped train (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: Here, the passing train (purple) is able to pass the stopped train by going onto the second set of tracks (red). The passing train would presumably also have a second rail on top, but it is omitted here for clarity, and definitely not because I forgot to draw it.

 

Conclusion:

As seen in the illustration above, this will definitely work on train cars weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds, so construction on this project can begin immediately without further testing.

PROS: Effectively turns every single track into a double track.

CONS: May cause complications if this method is employed while the being-passed train enters a tunnel during the passing process.

The “self-control facilitation grate” is a new home oven invention that saves the roof of your mouth from being melted by molten pizza cheese. Ask for—no, DEMAND—this option in your next high-end kitchen appliance purchase.

Background:

When baking a pizza in an oven, it’s it’s easy to remove the pizza from the oven and instantly start devouring it.

The issue:

Unfortunately, molten cheese (Fig. 1) cannot coexist with human tissue, so this causes severe burns to the impatient pizza-eater.

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Figure 1: It’s easy to remove a still-too-hot pizza from an oven and be punished for your impatience.

Proposal:

We can prevent further occurrences of this culinary tragedy by adding a secondary grating to the oven.

This secondary “pizza self-control facilitation grating” is a thin set of metal wires that extend across the opening to the oven (Figure 2).

After a pizza is done, the grating stays closed for a few additional minutes, while the pizza cools. Once the pizza has reached an acceptable temperature, the grating retracts and the user may obtain their pizza.

(Activating this grating would be done by selecting “pizza” mode when first setting the temperature. This would be similar to how a “popcorn” button on a microwave is used).

 

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Figure 2: This shows the “pizza grating” in action. The grating (shown here in blue) does not retract until several minutes after the pizza is done. If this method is insufficient to allow the pizza to cool (it is, after all, still in a very hot oven), the grating could be adapted to a “pizza cage” cube shape that would be attached to the baking rack.

Thermodynamic issue:

The pizza may become overcooked, since it must remain in the (hot) oven, yet it is also expected to cool off.

This may be solvable by either opening the oven slightly before the pizza is done, or by allowing the grating to be a complete cube shape (a “pizza cage”) that can slide out along with the baking racks, thus removing the pizza from the source of heat while still preventing the impatient pizza-eater from immediately accessing it.

PROS: Solves the health hazard of pizza-related first-degree burns. Possibly reduces your insurance premiums.

CONS: May be mechanically complex, due to the conflicting goals of 1) cooling off the pizza and 2) keeping the pizza in close proximity to (or inside of) a 400º oven.