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Category: UI / UX

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.

With this new “dynamically uncomfortable” mattress technology, you’ll WANT to get out of bed in the morning! Become more productive and never have trouble waking up on time!

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of a comfy bed and face the cruel and merciless world.

Proposal:

We can solve this problem by making a bed that becomes progressively less comfortable as the desired wakeup time arrives.

Certain mattresses already have the ability to dynamically adjust their firmness (for example, the “Sleep Number” brand of air mattresses).

For this “progressively less comfortable mattress” system, we’ll need to go beyond just air mattresses: the bed will need an adjustable interior frame that can become jagged and angular (Figure 1), thus encouraging the bed’s occupant to get up.

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Fig. 1: Left: the mattress in its default “comfortable” state, where the springs all behave identically. Right: the mattress in “uncomfortable” mode, where a hydraulic mechanism stretches out some springs (shown in blue) and compresses others (shown in red) to make the mattress surface extremely lumpy and uncomfortable. As a result, it will be a relief to get out this horrendously uncomfortable bed even in the coldest and darkest of winter mornings.

The bed would also need an “alarm clock” function in order to cause the comfort level to be set by the time of day.

One could imagine also integrating other “smart health” functions and perhaps controlling the mattress settings via smartphone app (which will inevitably be discontinued within 2 years, leaving the whole system completely useless).

Conclusion:

This technology could also be implemented for futons, sofas, and other similar furniture.

So much effort has been expended on making sofas and beds more comfortable: perhaps it is time for more research to go into making them less comfortable. Really makes you think.

PROS: Increases productivity and makes it easier to be a “morning person.”

CONS: Might potentially stretch out the sheets in a weird fashion, causing them to fray more quickly.

Use your sense of SMELL to diagnose computer errors: the new “smell checker” spell checker is a revolution in error notification!

Background:

In programming, there is the notion of “code smell”—a subtle indication that something is terribly wrong in a piece of source code, but without any (obvious) actual mistake.

For example, if you saw the following:

print("E");
print("RR");
print("OR");
print("!");

instead of

print("ERROR!");

that would be a good indication that something extremely bizarre was going on in a codebase.

The issue:

Unfortunately, in order to notice “code smell,” a person must actively review the source code in question.

Proposal:

But what if code smell could ACTUALLY generate a strange or horrible smell (Figure 1)? Then a person wouldn’t have to actively look for problems—the horrible smell of rotting meat would indicate that there was a problem in the codebase.

This smell-based notification method wouldn’t need to be restricted to programming errors, either: spell checking notifications, software updates, and other information could all be conveyed by smell.

 

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Fig. 1: This bizarrely-formatted source code might cause the laptop to emit a boiled-cabbage smell.

Details:

  • A computer could have an incense-burner-like attachment that would allow it to emit various smells.
  • For example, a spellchecking warning could emit the smell of recently-touched copper coins (Figure 2), while “you have 100 unread emails” could emit the smell of curdled milk.
  • This would allow a user to know what items require attention on their computer without even having to turn on the screen!
  • This smell-dispensing attachment could be refilled just like printer ink, making it extremely eco-friendly.
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Fig. 2: Different warnings and errors could have different smells of various degrees of noticeability and/or unpleasantness. Here, the user might know that they have both a spelling error AND a grammar error by the mix of the spelling-smell (dog that has spent one hour in the rain) and grammar-smell (recently-touched pennies).

PROS: Allows computer errors to be conveyed without requiring the user to actively look at a screen.

CONS: People get used to strange smells fairly quickly, so these smell-based warnings would need to be addressed quickly, before the user adjusted to the smell and stopped noticing it.

Worried that a new student or a new employee will not get enough help in learning the ropes of their new situation? This problem, and many others, can be solved by a giant egg.

Background:

In many situations, such as political debates, the first day at a new school, or the first day on a job, making a good first impression is extremely important.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s hard for a newcomer to reliably make a great first impression if other people aren’t already predisposed to like them.

Proposal:

Fortunately, the animal kingdom has provided us with a solution.

Recall, if you will, how people are almost universally predisposed to have warm feelings for a newly-hatched baby bird (Figure 1).

1-bird-egg.png

Fig. 1: Humans, as a whole, are generally predisposed to nurture the baby bird in the image above, even though it is unlikely that it would make a good politician, classmate, or coworker.

The solution is incredibly obvious: a new student or employee should be introduced to their classmates / coworkers not in the standard fashion (e.g. “This is Zebulon, he’s the new network administrator”) but by hatching them out of a giant egg instead (Figure 2).

2-hatched-egg-employee.png

Fig. 2: New employee onboarding would consist of everyone standing in a circle around a giant egg, out of which the new employee would emerge in birdlike fashion. This could be applied in various situations, for example: 1) introducing a new employee, 2) introducing a transfer student at a new school, or 3) inducting an elite military operative to a shadowy black ops squad.

Conclusion:

As a result of this new employee introduction process, everyone would be predisposed to help the newcomer feel welcome. This is definitely practical, and will almost certainly soon be adopted by schools, corporations, and governments.

PROS: Reduces friction in employee / student / etc. onboarding.

CONS: Requires storing a giant egg somewhere: this might be impractical in situations in which real-estate is at a premium (unless the egg is collapsable or deflatable somehow).

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.
1-shop-online

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.

2-laptop-bag-with-green-belt

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).

1-privacy-invader

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.

3-bonus-smart-blur-for-just-the-owner

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.