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Category: Public Safety

Improve the safety of high-altitude mountaineering with this new permitting mechanism—never fear overcrowding on Everest again!

Background:

Certain mountains require that climbers obtain a permit before embarking.

Sometimes these can be expensive, but rarely is any mountaineering competency required. Everest permits, which are issued by the government of Nepal, cost approximately $10,000 (Wikipedia link).

The issue:

If too many people are crowded onto a narrow high-altitude route, disaster can result from increased amount of time that climbers spend in the inhospitable low-temperature and low-oxygen environment.

Proposal:

Instead of just giving out Everest permits to anyone who can pay the fee, why not make a climber show their dedication by first requiring that they summit a less deadly mountain?

Specifically, the climber must obtain a physical “summit eligibility token” from the summit of an easier peak, as shown in Figure 1.

This token—plus the standard entry fee—would then be required for climbing a more difficult mountain.

 

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Fig. 1: Left: the leftmost mountain is not too difficult, and can be climbed without a permit. On the top of that mountain is a token that will permit the climber to attempt the mountain shown in the middle of the diagram, and so on.

In order to make things slightly more interesting, the token is not just a simple card or coin, but is an extremely heavy metal ingot (Figure 2).

The climber would have to show their mountaineering prowess by somehow lugging this heavy ingot all the way back down the mountain.

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Fig. 2: The more advanced tokens are also heavier; in this case, the “Everest eligibility” token is a 20 kilogram (44 lb.) copper ingot. Restocking these ingots would be easy: they could simply be airdropped from a plane or helicopter, since the exact placement of the ingots is not crucial, as long as they are in the general vicinity of the peak.

Conclusion:

The Everest gatekeepers should adopt this idea, and should immediately start designing some interesting eligibility ingots (and figuring out which mountains they should go on).

PROS: Sets a lower bound on the amount of unqualified-ness of a prospective mountain climber, which may reduce the number of mountaineering fatalities.

CONS: May also reduce overall revenue obtained from permit issuance.

If you obey the demands of this phone app, you’ll never have to wait at a stoplight again! If you are a pedestrian, anyway. Might also work for bicyclists and drivers!

Background:

In most American cities, four-way intersections with stoplights are the most common form of traffic control.

The issue:

As a pedestrian, these intersections are frustrating: if the stoplights are not synchronized, you’ll randomly encounter red lights while walking from block to block. But even when lights are synchronized, they are synchronized for car driving speeds. Thus, at normal walking speed, a pedestrian will inevitably spend a large fraction of travel time waiting at crosswalks for the light to turn green.

Although a pedestrian can increase or decrease their walking speed, it is difficult to select an optimal speed without knowing exactly when the light will change.

Proposal:

Fortunately, a phone app can easily measure walking speed and distance to the next traffic light, and then display a recommended walking speed that will get a pedestrian to the light when it is green (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Since this phone knows how far the next light is and exactly when the light will change, it can recommend a walking pace that will get its owner to the light while the light is green. The green / gray arrow in the middle of the screen is a “progress bar,” showing the pedestrian’s current position relative to the previous intersection (base of arrow) and the next light (tip of arrow).

 

Using this app, a person can enjoy both a more leisurely pace at lights they’d miss anyway, and can walk ever-so-slightly faster (Figure 2) in order to make it through intersections just before the light turns red.

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Fig. 2: In the top example (A), a pedestrian walks at a uniform pace that causes them to have to wait at two of the three lights. In the bottom example (B), the pedestrian is using our new app, and adjusts their walking speed to hit all the lights while they are green. Recommended walking speed is shown by the orange bar at the very bottom.

Conclusion:

This type of app would probably work for drivers and bicyclists as well (ideally through audio instructions).

PROS: Encourages walking in cities, thus improving national cardiovascular fitness.

CONS: Users of this app might wait at fewer lights, but would be at higher risk of being run over by a car / bicyclist / steamroller while distracted by the app’s various recommendations and statistics.

Reduce your overall level of concern about pets and children drinking deadly household poisons, with this new incredible “decoy poison” that you can store under your sink in front of your household cleaners! BIG CHEMICAL hates this one incredible trick!

Background:

Every year, a large number of children accidentally poison themselves by drinking household chemicals. Cleaning products and pesticides (Figure 1) represent the cause of ~15% of poisoning cases in children under the age of 6, according to the National Capital Poison Center.

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Fig. 1: Many relatively common household products are deadly if ingested by humans.

The issue:

To a child who is illiterate and unfamiliar with conventional warning markings (e.g., a skull), a deadly chemical might plausibly seem like an interesting beverage (Figure 2). Some poisonous substances, like antifreeze, even have an appealing sugary taste.

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Fig. 2: If you find yourself asking “why would anyone, even a child, drink something that is so OBVIOUSLY poison,” consider the perplexity that you yourself would face if required to distinguish foreign-language-labeled energy drinks from automotive fluids. Transmission fluid, or energy drink? Who knows!

Proposal:

The idea is simple: to put a special “decoy” beverage into locations with deadly substances that a child (or pet!) might theoretically get into.

This “decoy” beverage is designed to cause vomiting (and a generally unpleasant experience), to discourage further sampling of the (actually poisonous) chemicals stored in the same area.

Additionally, this would inform the theoretically-paying-attention adults in a home that their “child-proof” cabinet locks had failed to work.

Since this “lure” beverage (Figure 3) would ideally be be the first substance consumed, it should be made to look as appealing as possible, with:

  • A convenient easy-open cap
  • A supplementary straw
  • Colorful eye-catching images on the outside. Maybe even a cartoon mascot!
  • A translucent container to show off the delicious liquid within

Obviously the container should also contain a description of the nature of the product, so that no one outside of the target demographic (i.e. the “about to drink a container of antifreeze” demographic) accidentally drinks it.

 

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Fig. 3: The “decoy” container is designed to be as easy-to-drink and appealing as possible, since it has to be the first under-cabinet substance that is ingested. If it’s the second-most-appealing liquid, then it might as well not even be present.

 

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Fig. 4: Here’s what an under-sink cabinet might look like with the new non-injurious “decoy” substance. Hopefully this will look more appealing than the rat poison or antifreeze!

Conclusion:

Research would be needed to see if the PRO and CON listed below cancel each other out, or perhaps even result in more poison ingestion than before!

PROS: This might actually legitimately work, and would cost almost nothing to produce, since it is just “existing non-deadly emetic plus re-designed product label.”

CONS: The appealing container could attract a child to investigate the “cabinet of deadly chemicals” when they would previously have ignored it. This could lead to the exact opposite of what we are trying to accomplish!

Chalk up another astounding win for the Internet of Things: another major plague on humanity is BANISHED thanks to a wireless chip in your blender.

Background:

People occasionally forget to lock the door before leaving the house, or leave a stove on by accident, or any number of other things.

“Internet of Things” aficionados often suggest that you could, say, turn on and off your stove from your phone, but now someone on the Internet thousands of miles away can also turn on your stove at a random time.

Proposal:

If your appliances could report their status wirelessly to a receiver on your door, then you could check your home’s status as you leave.

Anything that is amiss will glow in an obvious fashion that calls for more investigation (see mockup in Figure 1).

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Fig 1: Since this panel is on your main exit door, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally leave something on / forget to lock the door / leave the microwave popping popcorn for 90 minutes instead of 90 seconds / etc.

Conclusion:

Since this is a one-way channel of communication, you don’t have to worry about hackers turning on your microwave. (Additionally, high security is not crucial here; exposing the information “your microwave is on” to a hacker 8000 miles away is probably not a realistic concern unless you’re making a contrived scenario for a made-for-TV movie.)

PROS: As with all Internet-of-Things things, it solves a problem that actually does (juuuuust barely, anyway) exist, and (more importantly) provides a great hobby for engineers.

CONS: In five years, when your smart home hub supplier is out of business, none of your new appliances will work with your system. And when you buy a new dryer, you’ll have to research it for 80 hours to to see if it’s compatible with your version of the Smart Home hub, and then you’ll to have to dig around on the internet for a firmware update named SmartHouse_v_2.7_North_America_41.80.24b.dat.zip. Which will then turn out to be malware that turns your hub into a Dogecoin miner.

Five easy improvements to the despised “four-way or all-way” stop sign! End your confusion about road signage, and never get a ticket for rolling through a stop sign again!

Background:

The stop sign, for all its utilitarian simplicity, has a severe and critical shortcoming: it has two different roles, both marked by the same sign (Figure 1).

The two situations, and what the driver must do in each case:

  1. All-way stop: driver can casually check for other cars right there at the intersection, and then proceed.
  2. Two-way stop: driver must look far down the road for quite some distance to identify any fast-traveling cross traffic.

These two situations are TOTALLY DIFFERENT, but the sign marking them is the same (Figure 1).

 

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Fig. 1: Is this an all-way stop or a two-way stop? Who knows! See Figure 2 for the answer.

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Fig 2: Oh, it was a two-way stop. I hope the driver looked far down the road before proceeding!

Previous attempts at solving this problem:

This is a recognized problem, and sign designers have attempted to (poorly) solve it before, as shown in Figure 3.

So far, they have been completely unsuccessful.

Fig 3: Some (but not all!) signs specifically indicate “Cross traffic does not stop” or “All-way stop.” But just the fact that a subtitle is required is an admission that these signs are fundamentally flawed.

Proposal:

The “all-way” and “partial-way” stop signs need to be clearly different at a glance.

See Figure 4 for a proposal that is backwards-compatible with existing stop signs.

Fig 4: Proposal A (“Four leafed clover”): The traditional “octagon” stop sign (left) will now indicate partial-way stops: its meaning is now upgraded to “be EXTRA CAREFUL, because the cross traffic does not stop!”

The new “four leafed clover” stop sign (right) indicates an all-way stop, where the driver only needs to look for traffic at that stop sign before proceeding. Because existing stop signs are all the “be extra careful!” kind, we don’t need to worry about immediately replacing all existing stop signs.

stop-big-cut

Fig 5: Here is an alternative form of the “four leaf clover” sign proposed above.

Fig 6: Substantially altering the silhouette of the stop sign would make the difference even more obvious, as shown in this “emphatically on-fire” stop sign.

 

Fig 7: Sometimes it may be insufficient to just indicate whether or not an intersection is all-way or partial-way. For example, in a (rare) partial-way intersection with more than four intersecting streets, a driver may entirely miss a street.

Here, the number of dots on the stop sign indicates the number of non-stopping incoming roads. This allows the driver to know how many roads they should be looking out for.

So the five-dot sign would indicate a (very rare) 6-way intersection with only one stop sign, the three-dot one would be a four-way intersection (again, with just one stop sign), and the no-dot sign would indicate an all-way stop.

(A reflective yellow border would indicate that this is a “new style” stop sign, to avoid confusion with the previous no-border signs—otherwise, every old-style stop sign would seem to indicate an all-way stop.)

Bonus idea: It has been shown that humans have a deep-seated primal reaction to certain stimuli, such as a silhouette of a spider or of a snake about to strike. In order to make the stop sign stand out even more, so no one would ever miss it out of the corner of their eye, perhaps it could be fashioned into the likeness of a cobra, poised to strike.

PROS: May reduce traffic accidents, especially if a simple backwards-compatible system like the one in Figure 4 is adopted.

CONS: People might start to treat the partial-way “four leaf clover” stop signs like “yield” signs, and roll right through them.

You won’t believe how I never fell into a bottomless pit again, thanks to this one weird trick. Podiatrists hate it! Probably.

Background:

One of the leading causes of sidewalk-based injury is tripping on uneven pavement and/or falling into a manhole. Figure 1 illustrates one of the dangers inherent in modern sidewalks.

This danger has become even more pronounced now that people are more likely to be looking at their cell phones as they walk.

danger

Fig. 1: As you walk along the sidewalk, be on the lookout for obstacles in your path! This open telecommunications panel could easily trip you and/or cause you to fall into a tangled nest of wires.

Proposal:

An array of sensors on the front of the shoe will constantly scan for irregularities in the upcoming pavement.

  • Case 1: If the shoe detects an elevated obstacle (such as a stair step up or an object in the way), a cell-phone-vibrate-style motor located above the user’s toes will buzz.
  • Case 2: If the shoe detects a sudden drop (such as a stair step down, an open manhole cover, or a measureless abyss), a motor located below the user’s toes will buzz.
  • Case 3: If the shoe scans up and detects that the obstacle is extremely tall (e.g. a lamppost or just a regular wall), it can be configured to either buzz both motors (“don’t run into that lamppost”) or, if the user gets too many false positives from this situation (which would occur any time you were standing next to a door, wall, or other person), this situation could just generate no warning at all.

In this way, the user can easily tell if the upcoming danger is an object in the way (situation 1) or a “falling” danger (situation 2).

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Fig. 2: Here, the sensors in the shoe will scan ahead to look for dangerous obstacles (or a sudden drop-off in the path).

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Fig. 3: In this scenario, the two detection units on the right side of the shoe (green, with check marks) do not detect any danger, but the two units on the left side of the shoe will alert the wearer to the open telecom panel.

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Fig. 4: Physical comedy will be dealt a setback, as no one will ever again slip on a banana peel in this utopian shoe-with-detectors future.

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Fig. 5: “Falling into a snake pit” will no longer be a concern of yours, thanks to this new footwear technology! Computer vision has advanced to the point where a snake pit (which constantly slithers and hisses) can easily be distinguished from a normal sidewalk (which does neither).

PROS: You won’t fall into a snake pit again.

CONS: False negatives could be exceptionally deadly (e.g. “I stepped onto a pane of fragile glass above a chasm because the shoe didn’t sense any danger”). Does not protect against falling pianos or anvils.

Never get a contagious disease from a coworker again with this one tip. Use the healing power of crystals and bears to naturally fight off disease. OSHA hates it!

Background:

Sometimes, your coworkers will come to work with obvious contagious diseases, coughing everywhere and spreading disease and pestilence throughout the land.

Proposal:

The best situation in this situation is for you or your boss to say “hey you, sick individual, go home!”

This should save time and money by preventing others from getting sick, but is sometimes not an option.

Instead, the following technical solution is proposed for office-related jobs: for diseases in which the afflicted individual needs to blow their nose (Fig. 1, left), they are likely to at some point access a tissue box placed somewhere in the workplace.

Instead of just letting that individual take a tissue and return to disease-spreading, the idea is to ensnare the sick individual with a (non-injurious / non-lethal) trap at that location (Fig. 1, right).

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Fig. 1: Left: A standard tissue box. Useful for a person with a runny nose. Right: a possible type of tissue box trap: essentially a bear trap (but with rubber grips instead of bone-crushing steel jaws).

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Fig. 2: Illustration of the closing process. This non-injurious “bear trap” modification will hold the sick individual until they can be humanely released back into the wild.

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Fig. 4: A) tissue box. B) non-injurious padded rubber grips to hold onto the tissue-grabbing individual’s arm. C) support for the grabbing arms. D) to prevent the sick individual from just going back to their desk and working with a bear trap on one arm (and continuing to spread disease), the bear trap should be secured in place somehow.

PROS: Saves workplace productivity and reduces the spread of disease.

CONS: Won’t be effective in non-office jobs or for diseases where the plague-ridden individual doesn’t blow their nose.