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Month: April, 2020

Did you forget to lock your door? Close your garage? Turn off the lights? Well, two out of those three scenarios can be solved with this new feature that should be on every car key fob and garage remote control!

Background:

When an action is routine and uninteresting (e.g. locking a door, turning off a light, etc.), it’s sometimes hard to remember if you did it at all.

The issue:

Occasionally, people find themselves wondering “did I close the garage when I left the house?” or “did I remember to lock the car when I parked it on the street?”

Proposal:

The solution to some of these scenarios is straightforward: every remote control device could have a small LCD screen to indicate how long it has been since the last time it was used.

For example, for a garage door opener, the display might read “5 MIN. SINCE “CLOSE”.” Then you would know that you had pushed the “CLOSE DOOR” button on the remote 5 minutes ago (and thus, probably did in fact remember to close the garage door).

Since LCD displays are so cheap, this would only increasing manufacturing costs by a few cents per device. See Figure 1 for a car remote-entry key fob mockup.

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Fig. 1: This car key fob allows the owner to remotely lock or unlock their car. It now has an additional feature: an LCD display indicating when the remote was last used. With this innovation, you will never again need to ponder whether or not you remembered to lock the car!

Upgraded Version Idea:

In order to reduce complexity, the system above only checks to see the last time a button was pushed, not whether the action actually occurred (most remotes are one-way, and do not have any way of determining, for example, whether or not the garage door did, in fact, close successfully).

Thus, a logical extension of the idea above would be to put a small receiver in the remote as well, so that the garage could send back a “yep, garage door closed successfully!” message. Then the LCD screen would be able to say “GARAGE DOOR LAST CLOSED 5 MIN. AGO” instead of the (somewhat weaker) statement “BUTTON LAST PRESSED 5 MIN. AGO.”

PROS: This seems like it could legitimately be a product, and it is unclear why it is not!

CONS: Adds a 15¢ cost to each device for the LCD display and additional plastic.

All-natural method for encouraging social distancing using a trained animal. Sssssssssocial distancing!

Background:

During the times of the COVID-plague, it has been recommended that people maintain “social distancing”—keeping apart by approximately six feet.

The issue:

Unfortunately, this advice is difficult to follow in many situations, for example, on public transit, in an elevator, etc.

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Fig. 1: Social distancing is easy when there is no one else around (left), but in a crowded situation (for example, in a supermarket or building lobby), people tend to cluster together (right).

Proposal:

This snake-based “sssssssssocial distancing” plan involves training a territorial species of snake to wrap itself around a person and then give a bit of a nibble to anyone who comes within six feet of it (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: The snake will need to be at least 10 feet long in order to have six feet of length remaining after it has coiled around the person who it is defending.

It might end up being uncomfortable to have the snake coiled around its host / owner, so one improvement could be carrying the snake in a backpack or some kind of modified wrestling championship belt.

Conclusion:

This system would also help discourage “close talkers” who do not respect a person’s need for personal space.

PROS: May reduce the spread of plague, creates valuable jobs for snakes.

CONS: You will probably get a different snake-borne plague instead.

Special Economic Note:

If there is high enough coverage of this system, costs may be reduced by requiring only three feet of snake coverage per person, and relying on the two independently-carried snakes to provide the total six-foot distance.

Thus, it is important to encourage widespread adoption of this system in order to make it more economical on a per-unit basis.

Yet another incredible technological development in dining utensils, the “clockwork wind-up fork” is a practical diet aid and not just a bizarre steampunk-themed hallucination!

Background:

Diet fads come and go, but most have at least one element in common: the requirement that individuals be deliberate about what they eat (rather than ravenously consuming everything like a starved beast).

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to have self-control when food is delicious and plentiful.

Thus, most people eat larger portions of food than they really would if they ate a bit slower (as has been discussed previously).

Proposal:

To encourage people to stop eating before they are absolutely 100% full, the following technical solution is devised: “clockwork utensils” that change shape over time (thanks to a spring inside).

This spring must be wound up before use: then, over the course of a few minutes, it unwinds and turns the normal utensil into a bizarrely barely-useable piece of abstract art (see Figure 1 and Figure 2).

 

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Fig. 1: A) a normal fork. B) The “wind-up fork”—when fully wound-up (using a wind-up key like you might see on a toy car or an old clock)—behaves like any ordinary fork. However, as the internal spring unwinds over time, the fork “fans out” and becomes more difficult to use, as seen in part C. Thus, as the meal progresses, the user must become more deliberate about using the fork.

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Fig. 2: A) A normal spoon. B) The “wind-up spoon” consists of a number of overlapping metal slats (numbered 1 through 7 here). When they are all deployed, as in part B, they approximate a normal fork. C) After the internal spring has partially unwound, some of the slats will have been pulled toward the handle. By the time the spring has fully unwound, the spoon will be virtually useless!

Conclusion:

Instead of buying a new set of silverware, you should put that money towards funding a manufacturing project to create the utensils describe above!

PROS: Could reduce over-eating!

CONS: May promote binge eating. It may also be difficult to wash the tiny mechanical parts of such a utensil.

With this enhanced hand-washing sink timer, you may reduce your chance of contracting a deadly plague!

Background:

It is well known that washing hands for a surprisingly long time (30 seconds!) substantially reduces microbial contamination (Figure W1).

 

W1-Wikipedia-figure-Hand_desinfection_test_with_blood_agar_plate.jpg

Figure W1. Image contributed to Wikipedia by user Pöllö, for article “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_washing“: “Microbial growth on a blood agar plate without any procedure (sector A), after washing hands (sector B), and after disinfecting hands with alcohol (sector C).” Source

The issue:

Unfortunately, people generally feel, psychologically speaking, that their hands are clean immediately upon rinsing them with even the slightest hint of water.

The challenge, therefore, is to encourage people to wash their hands for the recommended 30-ish seconds.

Although hand washing timers already exist, these are not sufficient—they don’t enforce the washing time.

Proposal:

To improve on the existing “hand washing timer” product, we will enhance the sink’s faucet with a “wash hands” button (Figure 2) that can control the faucet to perform pre-programmed behavior.

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Fig. 2: A regular sink (left), and a modified sink with a “wash hands” button (right). A user who wants to, say, fill a water bottle, would use the sink normally. But a user who just wanted to wash their hands would press the wash button instead of interacting with the faucet handle.

When the wash button is pressed, the tap performs the following actions (shown in timeline form in Figure 3):

  1. The tap turns on for ~5 seconds, allowing the user to get their hands wet.
  2. The tap turns down to a trickle for 20 seconds (allowing the user to wash their hands, but not providing enough water to wash off the soap)
  3. Finally, the tap turns on again, allowing the user to wash the soap off their hands.
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Fig. 3: Here, we see the timeline of water flow (Y-axis: flow rate. X-axis: time since the button was pressed). The interval lengths could be adjusted as desired.

Bonus fact:

Apparently water temperature doesn’t make a difference: “Contrary to popular belief however, scientific studies have shown that using warm water has no effect on reducing the microbial load on hands” (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_washing). You can fact check that one yourself, if you want!

PROS: May reduce the spread of deadly deadly.

CONS: Could increase the rate of dry hands; this discomfort must be weighed against the severity of any to-be-prevented plagues.