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Month: February, 2020

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.