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Category: Household

Home delivery of food directly to a refrigerator is apparently a thing now. But what if there was ALSO a socially-responsible service to get rid of almost-spoiled food (while it’s still good)?

Background:

As civilization reaches an apex of decadence not seen since the days of Caligula, new and exotic labor-saving schemes have arisen.

Specifically, you may soon be able to order food directly to your refrigerator, thus saving you from having to be present for delivery. Deluxe!

The issue:

While the process of delivering food directly to a home has been substantially streamlined, there is not yet a great way of getting rid of unwanted (but still good) food on a small scale [1].

([1] If you have 5000 apples that you don’t want, you can give them to a food bank. If you have five apples, the logistics involved in transporting those apples means that they will probably end up going into the compost instead.)

Proposal:

The solution is to apply the same technique used in the in-home-delivery service, but in reverse.

In the “normal delivery” situation, a delivery person gains access to your house temporarily in order to bring in a package (e.g. “Amazon Key”).

But in the proposed “reverse delivery” situation, you temporarily give access to your house to someone who is in the neighborhood and really would love to eat a free food item that is about to expire.

It would probably be too labor-intensive to require a human to constantly monitor their kitchen for almost-spoiled items, which is why a computer-vision-aided system (Figure 1) is also proposed.

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Fig. 1: This electric eye is constantly scanning for fruit spoilage in the fruit bowl on your kitchen counter. It should be able to give a readout of the approximate number of days remaining before each piece of fruit is no longer edible.

Once a nearly-spoiled piece of food is located, the system would automatically unlock your front door by communicating with a WiFi-enabled “smart lock” (Figure 2) and notify passers-by that there is free food for the taking.

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Fig. 2: The presence of nearly-spoiled food causes the system to unlock the front door and to send out a proximity-based alert to nearby individuals who may want this free slightly-over-ripe banana. The notification could be done though a phone app or by proximity-based SMS alerts.

PROS: Helps reduce food waste and provides yet another motivation for installing home automation.

CONS: None! Brings the “sharing economy” to your kitchen!

Evade pesky zoning laws with this one new scheme that lets you (maybe) turn a commercial building into a personal residence!

Background:

In order to support technological progress, many people are willing to endure great hardships.

The issue:

For example, most Americans are willing to drive for 30–60 minutes every day on their commute, just so that they can help create a market for new types of transportation [*].

One might imagine that a person in the hour-long-commute situation would just move closer to their job, but local zoning restrictions (Figure 1) often make this impossible.

[*] For example, the car, the diesel car, the hybrid car, the electric car, the “ride-sharing” car (actually just a taxi connected to a phone app), and the elusive and currently-hypothetical “self-driving” car.

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Fig. 1: In the city map above, red areas are commercially zoned, and purple ares are residentially zoned. There is often a long travel distance to get between zones. (Real zoning is presumably more complex than “residential” vs “commercial,” but 95% of the author’s knowledge here comes from SimCity, so give me a break, man.)

Proposal:

Here are two proposed ways to help people live closer to their jobs:

  • Start a new “night watchman training” business with extremely comfortable suspiciously-apartment-sized rooms, and charge people a rent-sized amount of money for on-the-job training / courses for students. (If the students somehow fail to stay awake, they can just keep paying for the course as long as they want.)
  • Start a “sleep study clinic” (Figure 2). Normally, this is a legitimate business that diagnoses sleep apnea and other issues. Our modified version would be similar, but cheaper to set up, since it would not require any expensive medical equipment: in fact, the only piece of equipment supplied is a 5-dollar stopwatch (included with the apartment). When a resident is about to go to sleep, they can start the stopwatch, and when they wake up, they will have a vague idea of how long they were asleep. Naturally, this would be a paid service (costing about the same as the prevailing rent in the local neighborhood).

 

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Fig. 2: By converting this building from a traditional office to a “sleep study clinic,” it will be completely non-suspicious to see a bunch of rooms that look like furnished apartments, occupied by residents who stay there overnight.

Conclusion:

This is a plan that some developer should definitely try, just to see what happens.

PROS: Might help people rethink their established notions of what a “normal” commute should be.

CONS: Some overzealous “spirit of the law, not the letter of the law” lawyers and city council members would definitely put an end to a scheme like this. Also you might go to prison and/or owe somebody a bunch of money in fines.

Improve the grocery shopping experience by tapping into ancient hunter-gatherer instincts! You’ll never believe how much more delicious a pineapple is after you’ve tracked and hunted it for miles through the savannah.

Background:

It’s well-known that presentation affects the perceived taste of food (Figure 1). Can this be used by retailers to increase customer satisfaction?

 

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Fig. 1: Some animals, like this extremely picky snake, do not like to eat food unless it’s clearly fresh (i.e., recently alive). Top: the dead mouse meal receives only a 1-star review from the snake. Bottom: the same mouse receives a 5-star rating, simply because it’s moving.

Proposal:

In order to leverage the same instincts, we propose that all foods should be presented in grocery stores in a “natural” environment to satisfy human hunter-gatherer instincts.

In Figure 2, we show how this might work for a pineapple, which can either be shown in a sterile and unnatural environment or in a jungle-like environment that evokes the thrill of gathering an edible fruit in some ancestral jungle.

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Fig. 2: This savvy shopper is unimpressed by the non-moving pineapple, yet is excited about purchasing the exact same pineapple “straight from the tree.” This might work for other foods too, like carrots and potatoes, even though it would make no sense for them to be dangling from a tree branch.

Conclusion:

Although fruits would be the easiest products to put in a faux “natural” environment (just hang them from a plastic tree), this system could also apply to other products, such as:

  • Reach into a giant beehive while being attacked by giant plastic bees in order to obtain a box of Honey Nut Cheerios.
  • Run through the store chasing a box being pulled by a wire on an overhead track. Once you manage to grab the box and open it, you discover a delicious steak inside.
  • Hold your breath and jump into a Olympic-sized swimming pool that is chilled to a near-freezing 1º Celsius. At the bottom of the pool, you will find a treasure trove of pre-wrapped packages of salmon.

PROS: Allows humans to get back in touch with their ancient roots. Simulates a pre-civilization existence without modern amenities.

CONS: Most shoppers would probably just use an app-based service to pay “sharing economy” workers to endure the bee hives and freezing water. This has the disadvantage of making an already-harsh job even worse, while imparting no benefits on society as a whole.

Trash Can with an alarm that screams if you jenga more trash into it

TITLE: Never be annoyed when emptying an over-full trash can again, with this new “screaming trash can” technology!

The Issue:

In shared-living or office situations, there is a strong incentive to wait for someone else to empty a full garbage can: the person who discards the last piece of trash has only contributed a tiny fraction of the total can’s volume, but has to expend the trash-removal effort for the entire can.

Thus, people tend to creatively stack trash as high as possible (Figure 1), forming a “Jenga“-like tower of precariously-balanced trash.

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Fig. 1: People will often stack trash in unstable towers, as shown here, even if the stacked trash prevents the lid from closing.

Even worse, once trash is piled up in a tower, it can be difficult to fit it all into the trash bag (which makes it even less likely that someone will want to take it out).

Proposal:

The solution is simple: install a grid of “electric eyes” (the laser grids from every heist movie) that would monitor the top level of the trash can (Figure 2).

If the electric-eye beam is blocked for more than a few seconds, the trash can would know that the trash can needed to be emptied, and can take action accordingly.

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Fig. 2: The grid of sensor beams (labeled “electric eyes”) will, if blocked for more than a few seconds, trigger the “siren of shame” (bottom left). Instead of allowing the culprit to slink away in anonymity, the siren would wail until the trash-abandoner returned to take out the trash.

Gamification:

One could “gamify” the process (and help promote a dystopian 1984-esque future) with a trash can that would 1) have a camera to identify each user and 2) a weight sensor to keep track of the total amount of trash generated and emptied by that person. Perhaps stat tracking would encourage trash-can-emptying. Whether or not it actually helps, the manufacturer of such a trash can could always sell the face recognition data to advertisers and each country’s secret police, so it’s a win-win situation.

PROS: This would be a popular product for many homes and offices.

CONS: Creative individuals might be able to place trash in creative ways such that it does not obstruct the beams, but is still precariously stacked.

 

Stop wasting water: with this new incredible invention, you won’t have to worry about leaving a water faucet running again!

The issue:

Once in a while, people accidentally forget to turn off a water faucet (e.g. a bathroom or kitchen faucet) and leave it running all day.

This wastes water, and is unacceptable.

Proposal:

There are existing solutions to automatically turn off faucets, but generally they are either incredibly annoying (the motion-activated faucets that work approximately 50% of the time) or require some powered / electrical component, which makes them unsuitable for normal home installation.

Since we want to avoid mixing electricity and water (and avoid having to call an electrician for this simple home improvement), the proposal is as follows:

  1. 1. A standard sink faucet that operates as normal under most circumstances, except for:
  2. It has a tiny waterwheel in the path of the flowing water that (very, very, slowly) winds up a spring. (Note that we are siphoning off an incredibly small amount of water pressure here, to power the water wheel.)
  3. Once the spring has been sufficiently wound up (over a period of, say, 5 minutes), it triggers and applies a force the to the faucet handle, causing the tap to close, as illustrated in Figure 1.

 

 

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Fig. 1: This automatically-turning-off water faucet is entirely mechanical, and has no electrical components to fail and/or electrocute the user. The waterwheel and spring/gear mechanism (not shown) would go in the path of the water flow.

Conclusion:

This automatic-tap-closing solution requires no electrical components and has very few moving parts.

Additionally, if the spring mechanism does fail, it will cause the tap to simply revert to being a normal tap, rather than negatively impacting the use of the faucet.

In the rare instance when the user does want to leave a tap running indefinitely for some reason, there could be a special lever that disconnects the waterwheel from the spring, letting the faucet run indefinitely.

The actual implementation of the waterwheel and spring is left as an exercise to the reader.

PROS: Saves water, maybe?

CONS: May be excessively mechanically complex for a situation that only occurs about 0.01% of the time someone turns on a tap.

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!

Even a tiny apartment can feel huge, thanks to motorized “slithering furniture” (or “slitherniture”). Replace your old furniture now!

Background:

It’s difficult to move heavy furniture around, so furniture is usually positioned for general use, even if there are specific setups that would be better for rare situations.

For example, your home might have a room that would be best configured in one way for watching movies, but a different way for a Thanksgiving dinner.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t make sense to move your furniture around every time you want to watch a movie, so furniture is almost always set up in a “good enough” general configuration. Until now, that is!

Proposal:

If furniture could “magically” move around on its own, it would be easy to have a room reconfigure itself so that you could, for example:

  • Optimize a room for exercise / yoga (Figure 2a), with a large empty space in the middle.
  • Have a “poker night” configuration (Figure 2b) where seating is clustered around a central table.
  • Have a single wall in your house dedicated as an indoor climbing wall, along with a padded floor mat that would slide out from “nowhere” (perhaps from under a dresser or sofa).
  • Have a large dining table that can automatically hide itself away when dinner is over.

Various layouts could be saved as furniture presets (Figure 1) that would be accessible at the press of a button. (This would be similar to how presets work on a motorized standing desk.)

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Fig. 1: All four of these layouts contain the same furniture, except for the red futon, which is mysteriously absent from the Yoga Zone layout. Maybe it slithered its way into another room.

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Fig. 2a: An example “yoga” layout, where the center of the room is cleared. These 3D views were generated using the program “Sweet Home 3D” (http://www.sweethome3d.com/) on the Mac.

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Fig. 2b: A “poker night” layout, featuring seating is arranged around an uncomfortably-low coffee table.

 

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Fig. 2c: A “movie night” configuration that focuses on the television.

Method of implementation:

Each furniture leg would sit atop a motorized omni-directional wheel.

Any time you need to reconfigure a room, you just push a single button (perhaps labeled “THANKSGIVING DINNER” or “YOGA STUDIO”), and the furniture rolls into the pre-determined new configuration.

The furniture would need a few sensors in it, so that it would be able to detect unexpected obstacles / pets / etc. in the way.

It might be annoying to keep your furniture batteries charged, so the motorized furniture could automatically seek out power outlets and charge itself overnight while the homeowner is sleeping. (As a proof-of-concept of this idea, the Roomba vacuuming robot is capable of automatically returning itself to a charging station.)

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Fig. 2d: This is what the room above might look like in an awkward but perhaps “good enough” default configuration that isn’t optimized for any specific use case.

Conclusion:

You should throw out all of your existing furniture and get new Internet-connected furniture with powered wheels.

The problem of dealing with plugged-in electronics (like a television or set of speakers) is left as an exercise to the reader.

PROS: Even a small apartment can now feel enormous, since it can be reconfigured for every use case.

CONS: This “Internet of things” furniture will probably be hacked by someone who will randomly move your furniture around just for amusement.