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Category: Small Business

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.

 

Replace your windows with television screens: save thousands of dollars of rent a year by VIRTUALLY moving your home or office to an expensive location, without paying any more rent!

Background:

People generally enjoy having a good view from their home or office windows.

However, some locations have a bad view (e.g. a dark alley or cement wall) or cannot accommodate windows at all (e.g. interior offices or basements).

Proposal:

Modern flatscreen displays can be as large as office windows (and some types consume very little electricity).

Thus, we can replace the nonexistent and/or bad windows with large-screen television monitors.

In order to provide a convincing view of the “outdoors” on these screens, we only need two things:

  1. The time of day, so the screens can show a proper day or night scene.
  2. The relative orientations of each screen (e.g., if one screen faces the sea, then a screen on the opposite wall could show a beach).

The scenes could be either real-world video (either live webcam video, or looped video from earlier), or computer-generated scenes. See Figure 1 for an example.

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Fig. 1: Instead of renting an expensive office in a city like New York or San Francisco (shown here), you could simply set the windows of your company to show scenes from that location. Think of the savings!

One additional benefit of virtual screens is that there is no requirement that the screens face out onto a practical (or even real) location (Figure 2).

For example, one could place an office:

  • On the surface of the Moon
  • Orbiting a distant science fiction planet or space station
  • Under the sea
  • In a windswept desert of endless sand dunes
  • Inside an M.C. Escher print, modeled in 3D (this might be extremely confusing)
  • Inside a video game (one could imagine a game development company setting their office windows to show scenes from the under-development game, in order to further oppress and crush the spirit of their programmers with the inescapability of the game)

Computer-generated locations could also feature 3D animations, like a buggy driving around the Moon’s surface or caravans crossing the desert.

 

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Fig. 2: There is no requirement that the virtual windows in your multi-screen room must face out onto a real-world scene. You could also imagine that your home or office was inside a giant abstract painting, as shown in this example.

Conclusion:

This project requires only consumer-level hardware and a web site to implement, so I am actually surprised that it appears not to currently exist. You can make an ad-hoc version by using a maps site with Street View (e.g. Google Street View) and adjusting the orientation of your multiple displays accordingly. (The only downside to this method is that the image will not update to match the current time of day).

PROS: Allows you to cheaply obtain a beautiful view for your home or office without paying exorbitant rental prices.

CONS: Large displays can cost up to $200 a year (2019 prices) to operate 24 hours a day, and the entire idea is essentially a huge waste of energy (unless you can use the extra heat generated by the screens).

Keep track of the amount of time that interns and temporary employees will be at a company with an “employment countdown clock” on each employee badge.

Background:

Many companies issue ID badges to their employees.

Sometimes these come in multiple forms: one type of badge for permanent workers, and a different color for temporary employees.

Proposal:

In order make the time-limited nature of temporary employees more clear—and perhaps to remind the temporary employee to start applying for jobs again—a low-power timer could be integrated into the badge (see Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: These two styles of time-limited contractor badges make it easy to tell how long a temporary employee will remain at the company. On the right, the e-ink “progress bar” style gives an obvious visual indication of remaining time.

Conclusion:

This approach was illustrated in the 1976 film Logan’s Run, where a crystal in each citizen’s hand would change color when a citizen was about to “expire.”

If you run a a Silicon Valley-based startup, you should definitely integrate a timer into future employee badges.

PROS: Allows employees to avoid starting long-term projects with just-about-to-leave temporary employees.

CONS: E-ink displays are surprisingly expensive in low volumes, so these high-tech badges may cost slightly more. One cheaper approach would be a circular “countdown clock” wheel in each badge that employees would manually update on a weekly basis.

 

When giving a slide presentation, show DIFFERENT slide decks to different groups in the audience! Never confuse your audience with an overly-technical presentation again. An amazing application of the same technology used in red-green-glasses-based 3D movies.

Background:

When giving a presentation to a diverse audience (e.g. of experts and non-experts, or of employees from two different departments in a company), you have a problem: you can only make one set of slides, but sometimes you might want to tailor different parts of the presentation to a different audience.

For example, one might want to give a presentation at an easily-understood overview level while also providing technical details for any domain experts in attendance.

Proposal:

Nearly all projectors and screens consist of three light-generating elements, in red (1), green (2), and blue (3).

By giving some members of the audience a pair of green-lens glasses (which block all red and blue light), we would be able to hide certain elements of the presentation that were not relevant to the green-glasses wearers. We can use a set of red-lens glasses and blue-lens glasses in the same way (see Figure 1).

With this technique, we can show up to three entirely different slide presentations, with the only limitation being that each presentation must consist of only monochromatic images.

Specifics:

  • Red glasses can see the following colors:  red, yellow, magenta, white [*].
  • Green glasses can see the following colors: green, yellow, cyan, white.
  • Blue glasses can see the following four colors: blue, magenta, cyan, white.

[*] Note that this is “additive” color space (where red + green = yellow), not the “subtractive” color space one might be familiar with from mixing paints.

Fig_1 3d_glasses_modified

Fig. 1: These glasses block certain wavelengths of light. By carefully constructing our slide decks, we can use these glasses to give up to three different presentations to the same audience at the same time.

So a slide that should be visible to everyone in the audience should be white (or shades of gray). Whereas if you only wanted to present to the red & green glasses-wearers (but not the blue ones), that text would be yellow. See Figure 2 for an example.

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Fig. 2: A sample presentation that is meant to provide both “optimistic” conclusions (green glasses) and “realistic” conclusions (red glasses). This is what the presentation looks like with no color-filtering glasses on.

 

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Fig. 3: The presentation from Figure 2 in “pessimistic / realistic” mode, as viewed through red lenses. All of the green text has disappeared!

 

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Fig. 4: The presentation from Figure 2 in “optimistic” mode, viewed through green lenses. Red text has disappeared.

 

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Fig. 5: Real-world demonstration: a color-enhanced version of what a red-blue version of this presentation looks like through red-blue “3D” glasses. The effect is almost 100% convincing for the human eye, but the camera actually manages to pick up a lot of the non-lens color, so this photo has been edited to more accurately reflect the perceived image.

A superior (but more logistically difficult) implementation:

It would also be possible to implement this same system with polarized glasses (as were used for some 3D TVs in the early-to-mid 2010s).

This would have the advantage of providing full color, but the disadvantage of not being compatible with a standard conference room projector. Additionally, you would be limited to two different presentations, rather than 3.

PROS: Improves your presentations by letting you tailor the presentation slides to multiple categories of audience members.

CONS: Greatly increases the amount of time required to make a presentation!

Stop wasting space when packing spheres and cylinders into a rectangular box! Use this new eco-friendly tip for saving on shipping costs and reducing the amount of wasted cardboard in the world.

Background:

When packing a box for shipping, some objects can stack perfectly with no wasted space.

However, some common shapes—for example, cylinders (e.g. toilet paper rolls) and spheres (e.g. oranges)—can’t be packed without wasted empty space in the box (Figure 1).

 

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Fig. 1: Note the two different types of wasted space while shipping toilet paper rolls: left) a cylindrical void in each roll, and right) the star-shaped region between rolls.

 

Proposal:

If someone orders a set of products that don’t pack together, a computer algorithm can automatically determine which additional items could be packed “for free” in the wasted space.

For example, if someone bought a box of 27 bowling balls, packed in a 3x3x3 cube, there would be remaining empty space in the middle for at least 8 caltrops to be packed.

Or, if someone orders 12 rolls of toilet paper AND 48 ninja stars, AND 6 candles, the orders can be perfectly combined into a single package with (almost) no wasted space: the candles go in the toilet paper roll tubes, and the ninja stars go between each roll (Figure 2). Additional packaging ideas shown in Figure 3.

 

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Fig. 2: These ninja stars can be shipped “for free” in the wasted space of the original order, and won’t requires a separate box.

 

 

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Fig. 3: Additional space can be filled with miscellaneous objects.

 

 

Conclusion:

When ordering products online, there could be a button on the checkout page with text like “add random things to my order so as to fill up 100% of the shipping box.” This would both drive additional product sales AND be more eco-friendly since less packaging would be wasted.

PROS: Allows web-based retailers to sell more products without incurring additional shipping costs by cleverly using 100% of the available packaging space.

CONS: This efficient-packaging technique may be difficult to apply beyond a relatively small subset of somewhat-regularly-shaped items.

Increase your profit margins with this one possibly legal trick for selling orange juice from a vending machine. Remember to consult a lawyer to see if product mis-labeling and consumer fraud is legal in your jurisdiction! I mean it might, be, right? But who knows.

Background:

Certain types of vending machines are capable of squeezing oranges and dispensing the freshly-squeezed orange juice right there at the machine. Generally speaking, these machines actually show you the oranges through a transparent window, so you can see the orange-juice-making process.

Most of these machines proclaim that you are getting “100% Orange Juice” or “All Your Vitamin C,” but typically they don’t bother to tell you that the orange juice is fresh—after all, you can literally SEE the oranges being juiced, so there’s hardly any room for confusion. The machines typically look something like the illustration in Figure 1.

vending-machine-exterior

Fig. 1: A futuristic vending machine that can dispense freshly-squeezed fruit right there at the machine.

Proposal:

Since the machines don’t always say that they are actually squeezing the oranges, it might be possible to have a magic-trick-style arrangement where the oranges go into an opaque grinding mechanism and then orange juice is dispensed—the customer will naturally infer that the oranges are being squeezed in the opaque mechanism, but what if this were not ACTUALLY the case?

Figure 2 shows a proposal for a system that keeps the oranges safe and sound (they could even be plastic oranges), while still appearing to squeeze them.

vending-machine-schematic

Fig. 2: An enterprising individual might be able to think of a workaround where the “100% orange juice” vending machine was dispensing much-cheaper juice and avoiding the mechanical hassle of actually squeezing the oranges.

Conclusion:

People usually enjoy food more if it looks good: orange juice that comes from a fresh source will probably be appreciated more than orange juice that comes from a huge drum labeled “50 GAL. LIQUID ORANGE PRODUCT.”

With this “placebo effect” in mind, maybe it’s not you who are to blame for mis-labeling your from-concentrate orange juice, but rather the customer’s taste buds!

PROS: Possibly more eco-friendly, as it allows orange juice to be transported in concentrated form, rather than in bulky whole-orange form. “Placebo effect” of the orange-squeezing process may increase perceived flavor of the orange juice.

CONS: Any claims of “freshly squeezed” oranges could run afoul of product labeling laws in your jurisdiction—word your vending machine text carefully! As always, consult a lawyer before perpetrating blatant anti-consumer fraud on your customers!