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Category: Technology

Never forget your laptop at home (or at work!) again! The ultimate briefcase / laptop bag for the sophisticated and discerning professional!

Background:

At many companies, employees take a laptop to/from work every day.

In the past, laptops were heavy enough that it would be incredibly obvious whether a laptop was in a bag or not.

The issue:

Modern laptops are light enough that it is possible to take a laptop bag (Figure 1) to work without realizing that there is no laptop inside. This can be an annoying and time-consuming mistake.

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Fig. 1: The briefcase shown here could easily weigh 5 pounds without a laptop inside, so it may not be immediately obvious whether or not a one-pound laptop is present inside or not.

Proposal:

Proposed here is a laptop bag that makes it unavoidably obvious that there is no laptop inside. The model shown in Figure 2 pops up a spring-powered flag whenever a laptop is not present.

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Fig. 2: The high-visibility “Pack your laptop!” reminder flag (A) at left protrudes from the bag when the laptop compartment is empty. A proposed mechanism is shown at right: the flag is attached to a “laptop cradle'” (B) that is supported by several springs (C). When the laptop is placed in the bag, its weight compresses the springs and pushes down the cradle-and-flag mechanism.

The flag-based approach described above makes it incredibly obvious if a laptop is not present. It also has the advantage of being easily overridden by a user who is intentionally not packing their laptop: they can simply press down on the flag while zipping the bag’s laptop compartment.

Rejected simpler Idea:

One could imagine a laptop bag with a transparent panel that would allow visual confirmation of the presence/absence of a laptop. Although this would work (and requires no moving parts), it would still be easy to grab the bag in a rush without realizing that the laptop was missing. Additionally, it has the disadvantage of advertising the presence of a (highly-stealable) laptop to fellow commuters.

Tactile alternative to the “flag” idea:

For a briefcase, the handle could change texture when the laptop is present. For example, dozens of metal spikes could protrude from the handle until a laptop weighed down the laptop cradle, at which point the spikes would retract into the handle, like they were part of some kind of Indiana-Jones-style ancient temple trap. (This could be all done mechanically, with no need for electronics, using cables that connected the handle to the laptop cradle.)

Conclusion:

You should crowdfund a laptop bag like this right now! If you are successful, it will prove that a market exists, and hundreds of much-cheaper knockoffs will flood the market before your initial prototypes are even done!

PROS: Never forget your laptop again!

CONS: Any object that is similar in shape to a notebook computer (e.g. an actual notebook) would cause false positives.

 

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.

Stop getting hit by self-driving cars with this one fashion trick that involves putting weird labels on all your clothing! Don’t be the last one to catch on to this new fashion trend.

Background:

In a hypothetical future where self-driving cars are increasingly common, they’ll have to do a really good job of automatically distinguishing between things that require sudden braking (e.g. a person in the roadway) and things that are OK to hit (e.g. a tumbling empty cardboard box).

The issue:

This is a hard problem. When a car gets data from its various cameras (and other sensors), it needs to figure out what exactly it is that it is seeing (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: This is probably a pedestrian in the roadway, but could it also be a billboard advertisement hundreds of feet away?

Although the specific “distant-billboard-or-close-pedestrian” question in Figure 1 can be answered just by using two cameras to estimate distance, there are situations where the problem must be resolved in a more complex fashion (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: Top: the image is interpreted correctly, and the car does NOT hit the pedestrian. Bottom: the car incorrectly believes that it sees a sunflower, and collides with it at full speed. Lest you think this is totally implausible, check out some specially-crafted adversarial examples (that can turn a panda into a banana) and a method of tricking lane-following algorithms into swerving the car into oncoming traffic.

Proposal:

We propose to place special “this is a human” symbols on articles of clothing that a human might wear (Figure 3).

When a car sees one of these unusual QR-code-like symbols, it will instantly say “ah, sunflowers do not wear specially-marked shoes, time to hit the brakes!”

To avoid this becoming a fashion disaster, these markings would not be apparently at normal human-visible wavelengths of light, but would only be detectable by special camera equipment.

Perhaps the markings could have fluorescent ink in them, and all cars could drive around with UV lights in the front.

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Fig. 3: Left: this is what the shoe looks like to a human—the markings are invisible to the naked eye. Middle: the camera can see wavelengths of light beyond human ability, and can detect these special markings (shown here as yellow checkerboards). Right: the camera sees the checkerboard, and the object-classification algorithm realizes that this shoe is likely to be attached to a human.

One common objection to many self-driving-car-related issues is “couldn’t some criminal put these markers all over the city, to trick self-driving cars?”

The answer is yes, but it would be as equally illegal as it currently is to put mannequins on a winding road (which would also confuse human drivers).

Conclusion:

This might be redundant with an infrared camera—in most locations, a human already is obviously distinguished from the background environment just by their warm-blooded glow in the infrared spectrum.

PROS: This will definitely make me a ton of money when it is licensed by major car manufacturers. Also, would someone please apply for and pay for a patent on my behalf? Thanks!

CONS: If one of these specially-marked shoes falls onto the roadway (perhaps by falling out of someone’s messenger bag while they’re biking), do we really want every car to come to a screeching halt at the sight of a single unattached shoe?

 

 

Stay informed about current events and local news with this incredible printing tip that resurrects the printed newspaper, with a twist: the paper is replaced by your own skin. Fortunately for you, no printing press is involved.

The issue:

Using your phone to read the news has three major downsides:

  1. You have to hold your phone. You could easily drop it!
  2. It uses battery life, which might be in short supply depending on how often you can charge your phone.
  3. A barrage of linked “clickbait” articles (with interesting photos) attempt to lure you away from reading any serious journalism.

Proposal:

Here, we propose to re-introduce newspaper kiosks, but with a twist: instead of providing a newspaper, the kiosk simply prints the day’s news onto your arm, as mocked up in Figure 1.

Then, you can easily read it at your leisure, without being distracted by phone messages, annoying ads, and low-battery indicators.

 

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Fig. 1: Just put your arm on the surface above, and the printing apparatus will write the day’s news on it in less than 15 seconds. Convenient! Since the system is entirely automated, enough money is saved on wages to afford a full-time 1930s-era newsboy to stand next to it and shout “Extra, Extra!”

The result of this printing apparatus is shown in Figure 2.

 

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Fig. 2: News of the day, as written on one (or both) arms.

 

The mockup looks quite successful so far, but there is a caveat that will restrict its market size, shown in figure 3.

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Fig. 3: Variations in skin tone pose a challenge to the printing mechanism. Most inks can only darken the material they print on, which works for skin tones A and B, but results in unreadable text on dark skin tone C. A similar phenomenon is also observed in face-detection algorithms.

Fortunately, there is practical enhancement that will improve the experience for everyone (Figure 4).

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Fig. 4: Luminous ink (non-radioactive) is the solution: not only does this work well for both light and dark skin, but it also lets you read the news in the dark, as shown above. In fact, there’s no way to turn it off, so you can’t even avoid reading the news when it is dark out. Not that you’d want to anyway, of course!

Conclusion:

Perhaps this would be a way to resurrect print journalism.

PROS: Provides great way to stay up-to-date on current events without being distracted by ads and clickbait articles. This will lead to an informed electorate and strong democracy.

CONS: Of limited utility in ares where short-sleeved shirts are not worn. Ideal test market would be a tropical location with a casual dress code.

Never burn yourself with scalding hot coffee again, with this one new and majestic type of curly drinking straw! Impress your companions at a banquet with this sophisticated drinking accessory.

Background:

Sometimes, you want to drink a beverage, but it’s too hot.

The issue:

You could just wait for it to cool off naturally, but who has time for that!

And if you were drinking from an insulated thermos, this cooling-off process could take hours.

Proposal:

The basic idea is simple: an ultra-long curly straw that would give the liquid some extra time to cool down as it leaves the cup (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Since this curly straw is so long, there’s extra time for a hot beverage to cool down as it travels through the straw.

However, a standard curly straw will have a minimal cooling effect. Thus, an array of heat sinks are added to the straw, as shown in Figure 2.

 

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Fig. 2: The straw is covered in heat sinks like those used in a desktop computer. Hot liquid (indicated in red) quickly cools off as it travels down the heat-sink-enhanced straw.

Alternatively, a telescoping design could allow the enjoyment of both hot and cold beverages using the same straw (Figure 3).

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Fig. 3: An extendable version of this straw could be useful for both hot and cold beverages. For a cold beverage (A), the straw is collapsed, accordion-style to minimize travel time for the liquid. For a hot beverage (B), the straw is extended out, giving the liquid a longer time to cool down as it travels along the incredibly long straw.

Conclusion:

Don’t drink from a cup or bowl like an animal—only use this fancy straw for your future beverage needs!

PROS: Cools liquid to the optimal temperature for maximum efficiency of consumption. If widespread distribution can be achieved, it will save millions of hours per year (worldwide) that otherwise would have been spent waiting for drinks to cool.

CONS: None!

Save time AND the environment with this new gadget that encourages people to shut down their laptops more often. Finally, the product that the market has been clamoring for: the laptop remote-start key fob.

Background:

Some cars have a “remote start” feature to start a car before you actually get inside. This feature is typically used in regions with extremely cold  weather.

The issue:

Some people like to entirely turn off their laptops when traveling or over a weekend.

But then they have to wait a couple of minutes for their laptop to boot, log in, and start all their applications / open documents again.

Think of all the lost productivity!

Proposal:

Instead of losing precious time on Monday morning waiting for a shut-down-over-the-weekend laptop to boot, your laptop could have a special low-power “wake up” mode activated by a remote control. This would be exactly like a car remote-unlock key fob.

A comparison of laptops with and without this remote-start feature is shown in Figure 1.

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Fig. 1: Top: this old-fashioned laptop doesn’t have a remote-start feature, so someone is going to have to wait several seconds for it to boot. Bottom: thanks to the remote control, the laptop on the bottom is ready to go by the time its owner walks up to it.

Conclusion:

The laptop remote could be a new differentiator between brands in an otherwise commoditized market. When every other laptop is the same, surely consumers will flock to buy the one with the “remote start” option!

PROS: Saves valuable employee time. Additionally, probably several watt-hours per year per laptop, since it encourages people to shut down their laptops. The amount of energy saved probably offsets up to a whole day of increased energy usage due to global population growth.

CONS: It might take longer to locate this remote control than to just turn on the laptop by walking over to it.

Make your carpool / ride-sharing commute even safer with this amazing plan to add strobe lights to your car—legally! Bicyclists love this one weird tip!

The issue:

One ever-present hazard for bicyclists is the possibility of being “doored”—hit by a suddenly-opened driver’s side door of a parked car.

A similar issue confounds carpool passengers: when exiting a full vehicle, the driver’s-side passenger must open the door directly into traffic (since they cannot exit on the curb side). This presents the obvious risk of being hit by a car that is swerving around the temporarily-parked carpool vehicle, as shown in Figure 1.

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Fig. 1: A) The ride-sharing vehicle (blue) is stopped in the farthest-curbside lane, and a passenger is about to exit. A fast approaching-car (red) in the same lane is about to swerve around the parked car. B) The passenger opens the door (purple) and will step out into traffic. C) The red car collides with the open door.

There may be a lot of blame to assign in the scenario in Figure 1 (“the passenger should have waited longer before opening the door” or “the red car shouldn’t have gone around the stopped car”), but it’s easy to see how it would occur without any egregious negligence.

Proposal:

In order to make it obvious that a car door may be opening soon (i.e., that there is an occupant associated with a door of a stopped or nearly-stopped car), the following is proposed:

  • A row of lights are placed on the edges of the car, near the doors. These lights must be easily visible from behind the vehicle.
  • When the door handle is operated, these edge lights flash (see Figure 2). This would provide ~1–2 additional seconds for a driver or bicyclist to react before hitting the door.
  • Optionally, weight sensors in the car seats could detect whether or not someone is likely to exit via a specific door (if there are no passengers in the car, there is no reason for any of the lights to flash except for the ones on the driver’s door). Weight sensors are already used to decide whether or not to deploy passenger air bags, so this wouldn’t be a huge engineering challenge.
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Fig. 2: Flashing lights on the edge of the car can notify other drivers and bicyclists that a door might be opening soon (or is actively being opened).

Conclusion:

If you own an LED manufacturing plant, you should lobby your local government to make this feature mandatory, and try to avoid letting anyone do any scientific research to determine whether or not it’s actually effective.

PROS: Creates a new source of revenue for the LED light industry.

CONS: It is likely that there would be so many false positives—flashing lights for stopped cars at nearly every intersection, for example—that everyone would tune out these ubiquitous and uninformative warnings.