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Category: Design

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.

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.

Throw away your laptop privacy screen and use this camera-plus-software approach for the ultimate in security!

Background:

Laptop privacy screens (or “monitor filters”) reduce the viewing angle of a laptop screen in order to prevent evildoers from snooping on sensitive information on your laptop (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Since this laptop does NOT have a privacy screen on it, the suspicious individual at left is able to view this contents of the laptop (despite being at an extreme off-center angle).

The issue:

Unfortunately, these privacy screens have a few downsides:

  1. They are inelegant to attach. Often, the attachment points block a small amount of screen real-estate.
  2. They slightly darken the screen even when viewed directly head-on
  3. When collaborating with coworkers, removing and replacing the screen is time-consuming.

Proposal:

A high-speed camera could, in combination with facial recognition and eye-tracking software, be used to determine who is looking at the screen and exactly what part of the screen they are looking at.

Then, the privacy system simply scrambles the contents of your laptop screen as soon as it notices an unauthorized individual looking at your screen (Figure 2). (When you are the only viewer, the eye tracking camera can recognize you and not scramble the screen.)

 

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Fig. 2: With the camera-based privacy filtering system, the laptop instantly scrambles the screen as soon as it detects that someone besides the laptop owner is looking at the screen. Note that the contents of the laptop look similar at a glance, but are actually scrambled nonsense. This prevents passers-by from immediately realizing that a software privacy filter has been applied (and potentially attracting unwanted attention).

In an extra-fancy system, the scrambling mode could be operational at all times, with the laptop only unscrambling the very specific part of the screen that the user is looking at (Figure 3). This is similar to the idea of foveated rendering, where additional computational resources are directed toward the part of the screen that the user is actually looking at.

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Fig. 3: It might be possible to selectively unscramble only the part of the screen that the user is actively looking at. The region in the user’s peripheral vision would remain scrambled.

Conclusion:

If you own a laptop manufacturing company and are looking for an endless hardware task to employ your cousin or something, this would be a great project!

PROS: The laws of physics do not prevent this from working!

CONS: Might be impossible to use a laptop in a coffeeshop with this system activated.

An “audio radar” hardware device could theoretically bring positional audio and distance cues to both deaf gamers and people who just play games with the sound off. Maybe someone should crowdfund it??

Background:

Closed captioning (e.g. [Wind howling] or [Ominous footsteps] in a movie) supplements traditional subtitles with information beyond just dialogue.

For a movie, this information is usually sufficient: a viewer doesn’t usually need to know exactly how loud the wind was howling, or which direction the footsteps are coming from.

The issue:

Unfortunately, in video games, the direction and loudness information is important! But closed captioning does not provide this information. Even if certain sounds are close-captioned (e.g. [leaves rustling] or [zombie sounds]), this information is too vague to suggest a useful course of action.

Consider the following scenario:

You encounter a hallway lined with doors while exploring a haunted Victorian mansion. The text [“Zombie scratching at door: LOUD”] appears at the bottom of the screen.

Since you have no idea which door the scratching is coming from, your ability to push furniture in front of the correct door (and thus escape from brain-devouring) is down to complete luck.

Proposal:

Since it is unlikely that many games will include all sound information as text in the near future, we need a game-independent hardware device for this purpose.

Thus, the following proposal: a hardware “audio radar” (Figure 1) that plugs directly into the audio output for your game console or PC. This device would indicate the location and distance of any relevant sounds in the in-game audio.

 

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Fig. 1: This “audio radar” analyzes incoming sounds and provides a detailed description, location, and distance for each relevant sound. Above, the “dangerous” sounds have been highlighted in red, while the merely “suspicious” sound here is shown in purple.

This could probably also be implemented as a phone app, rather than a dedicated hardware device.

PROS: Might actually be useful!

CONS: People would definitely complain about this being cheating in a multiplayer game! (Unlike keyboard-and-mouse use in console games, however, this device would be completely undetectable.)