WorstPlans.com updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible plans and ideas!

Category: Technology

Never have your country’s submarines detected again, with this incredible Loch Ness monster-based top secret project.

Background:

Modern submarines use a periscope-like electronic camera (a “photonics mast.”) to view the world above the waves.

The issue:

The problem is twofold:

  1. If an adversary spots a periscope, there isn’t much doubt as to what’s under the waves: it’s a submarine (Figure 1).
  2. Periscope designs are apparently specific to each nation, so just seeing a periscope can be sufficient for an observer to determine what kind of submarine is lurking in the area.
1-periscope-is-obvious.png

Fig. 1: Technically, this periscope (left) could be a pipe or really weird fish, but realistically, any observer is going to know it’s a submarine (right).

Proposal:

Fortunately, we can easily disguise the periscope (Figure 2) to remove these problems.

2-loch-ness-monster-only.png

Fig. 2: Here, we see a proposed periscope disguise. A submarine-observer who noticed this above the waves would assume that they had seen a sea serpent or Loch Ness monster, not a submarine.

The disguised periscope is more likely to be reported as a new discovery in cryptozoology (Figure 3), rather than a submarine.

3-loch-ness-monster-disguise-full-scenario.png

Fig. 3: Expectation vs. reality. A submarine could carry multiple periscope disguises if needed; sea serpent, white whale, unusually ugly bird, marooned sailor adrift on a raft, etc.

Conclusion:

There is one added bonus to this system: under normal circumstances, a submarine is not aware that its periscope has been seen. However, in this new system, it is possible that the periscope-observer might post their findings online (“wow, I just saw a Loch Ness monster at these GPS coordinates!!!”), and the submarine could then check the Internet to see if “Loch Ness monster sighted” was trending online and/or had been posted on any cryptozoology enthusiast web sites.

(If they find a post about the Loch Ness monster at their current GPS coordinates, it obviously means that the submarine’s position is no longer secret.)

PROS: Pretty much all of them.

CONS: May slightly increase submarine drag, thus reducing fuel efficiency.

Use your sense of SMELL to diagnose computer errors: the new “smell checker” spell checker is a revolution in error notification!

Background:

In programming, there is the notion of “code smell”—a subtle indication that something is terribly wrong in a piece of source code, but without any (obvious) actual mistake.

For example, if you saw the following:

print("E");
print("RR");
print("OR");
print("!");

instead of

print("ERROR!");

that would be a good indication that something extremely bizarre was going on in a codebase.

The issue:

Unfortunately, in order to notice “code smell,” a person must actively review the source code in question.

Proposal:

But what if code smell could ACTUALLY generate a strange or horrible smell (Figure 1)? Then a person wouldn’t have to actively look for problems—the horrible smell of rotting meat would indicate that there was a problem in the codebase.

This smell-based notification method wouldn’t need to be restricted to programming errors, either: spell checking notifications, software updates, and other information could all be conveyed by smell.

 

1-code-smell.png

Fig. 1: This bizarrely-formatted source code might cause the laptop to emit a boiled-cabbage smell.

Details:

  • A computer could have an incense-burner-like attachment that would allow it to emit various smells.
  • For example, a spellchecking warning could emit the smell of recently-touched copper coins (Figure 2), while “you have 100 unread emails” could emit the smell of curdled milk.
  • This would allow a user to know what items require attention on their computer without even having to turn on the screen!
  • This smell-dispensing attachment could be refilled just like printer ink, making it extremely eco-friendly.
2-smell-check-spell-check.png

Fig. 2: Different warnings and errors could have different smells of various degrees of noticeability and/or unpleasantness. Here, the user might know that they have both a spelling error AND a grammar error by the mix of the spelling-smell (dog that has spent one hour in the rain) and grammar-smell (recently-touched pennies).

PROS: Allows computer errors to be conveyed without requiring the user to actively look at a screen.

CONS: People get used to strange smells fairly quickly, so these smell-based warnings would need to be addressed quickly, before the user adjusted to the smell and stopped noticing it.

Revitalize your city’s probably-terrible public transit system with a new and unexpected source of funding!

Background:

In many cities, there is no substantial funding for public transit. This results in extremely poor service (routes with minimal coverage of the city and few buses). This leads to a “death spiral” where people stop taking the (terrible) public transit, the service gets even worse, and so on.

These problems can, in theory, be fixed with enough money, but who wants to pay for it?

Proposal:

There is a simple way to encourage companies to pick up the tab for public transit. Currently, advertising is the only method of obtaining private funding for buses, but maybe we need to think of some other options.

Consider the bus route in Figure 1:

2-sponsored-route-before.png

Fig. 1: Here is a default bus route, before it is changed it due to corporate sponsorship. Circles indicate bus stops.

In order to entice a company to help pay for this bus line, we’ll let the company have some influence over where the buses go!

This could result in several possibilities, including:

Possibility 1: A bus route could be “detoured,” with a new stop added in front of a specific business (Figure 2). This would bring new customers to the business, and allow the business’ existing signage to reach more eyeballs.

3-sponsored-route-after
Fig. 2: If a chicken-themed fast food restaurant sponsored this bus route, the final route might be detoured as shown. Although the route might take a few minutes longer, the passengers would be delighted by delicious and economical fast-food chicken!

Possibility 2: One or more bus routes could be re-routed so that the route itself spells out a company name or slogan on the map. Since these routes would show up on online map searches for transit routes, the chosen phrase (e.g. “CHICKEN_4_LESS”) would be shown to countless map-viewing individuals, even if they didn’t end up actually taking that specific bus.

Possibility 3: As a more nefarious option, the sponsoring company could route the buses around competing businesses, rather than toward their own.

Conclusion:

This is a great way to fund public transit that does not require city bonds or taxpayer funding.

PROS: Helps promote the futuristic cyberpunk-style dystopia that was promised in 1980s science fiction.

CONS: Might slow down buses a lot, since these chicken-vendor-based routes are unlikely to be optimal for commuters.

Never worry about finding a parking spot again; park in extremely small spaces thanks to this new hydraulic automobile lifting system!

Background:

In many cities, there are a large number of “almost-a-parking-spot” locations (for example, between two driveways) that can only fit an extremely small car.

Additionally, most popular models of small cars have gotten substantially larger over time.

For example, a 1959 Mini Cooper is 120 inches long, while a 2005 model is 143 inches long (~2 feet longer). A 1966 Toyota Corolla is 152 inches long, while a 2015 Corolla is 182 inches long (2.5 feet longer).

The issue:

These longer cars no longer fit in many small parking spaces (Figure 1).

1-parking-problem-car-does-not-fit

Fig. 1: This is an example of a spot that is almost a parking space. With some creative car redesign, we can still make it work, however!

Proposal:

Since parking spots rarely have a height maximum, there are a number of ways we could re-orient a car to fit it into a parking spot without crushing the car into a cube.

A hydraulic system could be added to a car to allow it to lift itself up in such a way that it now fits in one of these small spots (Figure 2).

2-liftable-car

Fig. 2: Left: the car has been modified with (A) a “foot” that can support the weight of the car, (B) an extendable rear axle that can move the rear wheels forward and down, and (C) an additional telescoping element to push the car up in the first place (and let it down gently). This telescoping element has a small roller on the bottom, rather than a full wheel. Right: the system after deployment.

Now, when a small parking space is found, the driver can line their car up with the back of the spot, get out of the car, and then engage “car lifting” mode to re-orient the car into a vertical orientation that reduces the car’s required horizontal space by approximately 40%.

Conclusion:

This would be a great selling point for people who live in cities with the combination of poor public transportation and poor parking options. Major car manufacturers should start redesigning their cars today.

PROS: Allows a car to fit into a number of previously-un-usable parking spots.

CONS: Cars are generally engineered with the assumption that gravity will always point directly down, so it’s possible that some elements of the car would need to be redesigned. Also, the driver should be sure not to leave any drinks in their cupholders before they engage this system.

Never face “decision paralysis” due to a few one-star reviews on items you’re buying online, thanks to the “SURPRISE ME” purchase randomizer!

Background:

In the post-online-shopping world, there are now nearly innumerable purchasing options for every style of item.

If a person wanted to buy a particular style of baseball cap in the pre-Internet world, they would have the following option:

  • Go to a store
  • Purchase one of the, say, 4 or 5 suitable caps that are in stock.

But in the Internet-shopping era, the process is as follows:

  • Go online
  • Find literally thousands of options at nearly all price points
  • Find hundreds of reviews for each cap, ranging from “This hat saved my life ★★★★★.” to “This hat burned down my village and destroyed everything I ever loved. However, shipping was fast: ★★★☆☆.”

The issue:

A person may be unable to decide on a suitable purchase due to two factors:

  1. The overwhelming quantity of options (“overchoice“).
  2. The incredible amount of information available about each option (“analysis paralysis“). This is especially seen in purchasing of consumer electronics (e.g. a new stereo system or a television).

The solution:

Fortunately, the solution is very straightforward, and can be implemented by any web shopping site (see mockup in Figure 1):

  1. The user finds an item on the web site that is similar to what they’re looking for.
  2. The user adds this item to their shopping cart with a special button marked “SURPRISE ME.”
  3. Instead of adding the exact clicked-on item to their cart, the web site adds a similar randomly-chosen item that costs anywhere between 75% and 125% of the price of the clicked on item.
  4. The user is not informed of the actual contents of their shopping cart at checkout, only the total cost.
  5. A few days later, the mystery item arrives at the user’s house by mail.
1-shop-online

Fig. 1: Here, we see an online store that has a “surprise me” button that will allow the user to purchase a random item that matches their requirements (at left). (This is an alternate version of the situation described in the “solution” section above).

Conclusion:

Using the system above, decision paralysis can be avoided. This increases both the rate of all-devouring consumption of your customers, AND your company’s profit margins!

PROS: Could be legitimately implemented, probably does not break any local or national laws!

CONS: The rate of returns might be extremely high.

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).

1-privacy-invader

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.)

 

2-privacy-solution

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.

3-bonus-smart-blur-for-just-the-owner

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.

 

1-tablet-normal-numpad

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.

 

 

 

2-tilt-input.png

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.

 

3-compass-input.png

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.