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Category: Technology

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.

Finally, a revolution in user interfaces: move BEYOND the keyboard for numeric input! You can easily type numbers on your phone using this one never-before-seen UI / UX paradigm. Free yourself from the tyranny of the keyboard!

When using a computer, phone, or tablet, it is occasionally the case that a user must type in numbers.

Typing numbers on a computer with a 12-digit physical numeric keypad is fast and easy (Figure 1). Unfortunately, laptops frequently no longer have these hardware keypads, and smartphones and tablets never did.

The issue:

The “soft” keypad on most phones provides no tactile feedback and is often a completely separate part of the onscreen keyboard interface (i.e. you may end up in a completely different “numeric input” mode instead of the standard alphabetical layout you are familiar with).

This may lead to the user inputting incorrect numbers or, at minimum, taking longer than is necessary to input their data.

 

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Fig. 1: The numeric keypad (A.K.A. “numpad”) shown on this smartphone is not easy to interact with. It would be easy to input the wrong number and have your pizza delivered to the wrong house (or some similar calamity).

Proposal:

Fortunately, modern smartphones and tablets have a number of additional sensors that we can repurpose for fast and unambiguous numeric input.

Below: see Proposal T (“Tilt sensor”) in Figure 2 and Proposal M (“Magnetic compass”) in Figure 3.

 

 

 

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Fig. 2: Proposal T (“Tilt sensor”): in order to input a number, the user simply tilts their phone to a specific angle and holds it there for, say, one second. The value entered is the number of degrees the user tilted the phone (from –90º to +90º). For single-digit inputs, we could make the process simpler and map the range from –45º to +45º to 0 to 9, as shown above.

 

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Fig. 3: Proposal M (“Magnetic compass”): here, the phone’s magnetic compass is used in order to determine the user’s compass orientation (a number between 0 and 359). The user simply physically rotates themselves (and their phone) to point in the direction of the desired numeric input. In the example above, we have divided the orientation value by 10 in order to reduce the degree of precision demanded from the user (as shown on the left side, an orientation of 270º results in the input “27,” as would 271º, 272º, etc…).

Additional Input Methods:

There are alternative input methods that may also be useful for numeric input. For example, to input the number N, the user could:

  1. Raise their phone N inches into the air
  2. Quickly cover up their phone’s camera N times
  3. Shriek at their phone at (50 + 5*N) decibels. This would be faster than relying on normal voice input, since it would not require complicated machine learning techniques to process.

There may be additional yet-undiscovered methods as well!

PROS: Frees users from the technological dead-end of the hardware keyboard. Finally, innovation in the user input space!

CONS: None.

Make microwaving even easier with a synchronized-turntable solution that prevents you from ever having to reach all the way into the back of the microwave to get your reheated beverage! The true chef’s choice.

Background:

The microwave oven is an amazing boon for the diligent cook and lazy food-seeker alike.

Sure, a microwave can heat something up in almost no time, with no open flame and using very little energy, but could it be even more convenient?

The answer is yes.

The issue:

Most modern microwaves contain a turntable, which allows food to be heated more evenly (Figure 1).

Unfortunately, there is a horrendous downside to this turntable: when a user puts an object in the microwave (such as a cold coffee), they tend to place it on the “near” side of the turntable (close to themselves)—but the rotation of the turntable may cause the object to end up on the far side of the turntable at the end of the elapsed microwaving time.

Now the user will have to reach all the way into the microwave to retrieve their warmed-up beverage.

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Fig. 1: The turntable feature allows food to be more evenly heated as it is subjected to the microwave’s deadly science fiction cooking rays.

Proposal:

This is a simple software-only fix: the turntable rotation speed should be synchronized to the total cooking time so that the turntable will have moved back to the starting position when the timer finishes.

E.g. a 40-second timer could result in a turntable speed of one rotation per 20 seconds, while a 30-second timer would require one rotation every 15 seconds.

Figure 2 illustrates the benefits of this new system.

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Fig. 2: In a traditional microwave, the resulting position of the coffee mug is anyone’s guess (it could be FAR (top right) or NEAR (bottom right)). But in the new and improved “ultra convenient synchronized turntable microwave,” the mug is guaranteed to return to its starting position (unless you open the microwave before the timer goes off).

Conclusion:

This is the next differentiator for high-end microwaves. You saw it here first!

PROS: Makes cooking even more decadent.

CONS: Does not work if you open the microwave early.

 

 

 

Follow the cruel and unyielding demands of your phone in order to stay fit on a custom jogging route! Bonus feature: allows the user to participate in the “sharing economy.”

Background:

It’s easy to live a sedentary life in today’s world of modern conveniences.

The issue:

Unfortunately, this is not ideal. While there are already apps that remind you to periodically stretch or walk around, people tend to just dismiss the notifications if they’re busy.

What is needed is an app that has “teeth” and can motivate people to really get some exercise.

Proposal:

The idea is that the phone would hold your ability to respond to text messages “hostage” until you walked around to its liking (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: In this case, the orange “BLOCKED” text message will not be displayed until the phone’s owner has done the phone’s bidding.

This kind of phone-enforced demand could be as simple as a requirement to hold the phone in a specific way (to show that you’re standing up / stretching / whatever), or as complicated as a multiple-waypoints jogging route (Figure 2) that the phone requires you do go visit (thanks to the GPS, this would be difficult to fool).

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Fig. 2: In this case, the phone requires that the user go visit waypoints 1 and 2 before it will deign to show text messages again.

The blocked services on the phone could also include other apps, such as the web browser / videos / podcasts, and more.

Conclusion:

If the phone can require the user to walk to various places, perhaps this could also be part of the “sharing” economy: the phone could refuse to unlock until the user performs some commercially-valuable action, such as;

  • Delivering groceries from a store to a nearby neighbor
  • Walking someone’s dog on a specific route.
  • Going door-to-door on a route in support of a political candidate or religion of the phone’s choosing.

If humans are going to be ruled over by cruel machines in the future, this would be a good way to ease into it.

PROS: Allows a phone owner to get exercise and stay fit.

CONS: May cause the future from Terminator 2 to occur.

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!

Re-visit the past with a new “old monitor nostalgia” mode for your expensive high-resolution television or computer display!

The issue:

Modern computers (and TVs) have large, high-resolution screens.

But sometimes people have nostalgia for the past—perhaps yearning for Cold War-era computing, when the harsh glow of a 9-inch CRT monitor represented the pinnacle of technology (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: This 1984 black-and-white Macintosh cost approximately $5500 in 2019 dollars, which will buy approximately 10 economy-priced laptops in the year 2019.

Proposal:

Modern monitors should have an option to emulate the behavior of various old display types.

For example, a high-resolution monitor could easily pretend to be the following:

  • A 1950s tube television
  • The tiny black-and-white screen of the 1984 Macintosh (Figure 2)
  • The monochromatic green display of the Apple //  (Figure 3)

 

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Fig. 2: In “Mac ’84 mode,” only a tiny fraction of the screen is used (left), in order to give the user that authentic 9-inch-screen experience. (The blue area represents an unusable border region.)

 

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Fig. 3: Apple // mode. After a while, you actually stop noticing that the whole display is green!

Conclusion:

Now that a “Dark Mode” theme has been implemented by nearly every operating system vendor, the next arms race is sure to be “retro display mode” or “retro CRT filter” mode.

PROS: Gives people a greater appreciation of modern technology.

CONS: May cause eyestrain.

 

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Supplemental Fig. S1: The actual number of pixels on a 2018 27″ iMac is 5120×2880 (14,745,600), as compared to 512×342 (175,104) on the original Mac. That’s 84.2 times more pixels, or 252 times more pixels if you count the R, G, B channels separately!

Speed up the passenger-pickup phase of a Lyft or Uber ride with this new conveyor belt system for ride-sharing cars!

The issue:

One transportation model used by ride-sharing cars (formerly called “taxis”) is the “carpool”-style trip, where multiple passengers are picked up and dropped off at various points along a mostly-shared route.

(Lyft Line and Uber Pool are currently the most well-known of these.)

This “carpool”-style trip is cheaper than a normal ride for each individual passenger, but the route may be slightly longer due to detours to pick up and drop off each person.

The issue:

Sometimes, a car will be partially full when it picks up a new passenger. If there is someone sitting in the curb-side rear seat, the new passenger will generally attempt to enter through that door first, then realize that someone is there and walk around the car to the other side (Figure 1). For maximum comedy, the passenger already inside the car may misunderstand and slide themselves over to the other seat, thus accidentally blocking the incoming passenger yet again.

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Fig. 1: If someone is already occupying the back right seat, then a new passenger who attempts to enter through that door (see arrow “A”) will be stymied. They will have to either walk around the car or else wait for the current passenger to slide over to the opposite seat.

This inefficient entry method wastes time and increases the chances that the stopped ride-share car will be hit by an inattentive motorist.

Proposal:

The fix to this situation is simple: the back seat can be replaced by a pair of conveyor belts (Figure 2). These conveyor belts will be controlled by a switch on the dashboard, and will allow the driver to slide any current passengers out of the way of new incoming passengers.

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Fig. 2: The back seat is replaced by a pair of conveyor belts. Note that this new configuration still seats three, so we haven’t lost any functionality.

 

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Fig. 3: The conveyor belts are synchronized, so any passengers on them will hardly notice as they are gently scooted over.

Conclusion:

Although this feature is not currently standard in any production automobiles, it would make sense for it to be an add-on, like heated seats or a sunroof.

PROS: Increases ride-sharing efficiency by reducing the new-passenger pickup time. This is especially important since ride-share company profits are currently in the “negative numbers” range.

CONS: It is unclear whether seat belts could be installed in this conveyor-belt seat system without strangling back-seat passengers. Possibly this system should be prototyped in countries with non-existent safety regulations.