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Category: Automotive

Improve the odds of finding a lost pet with this over-engineered license-plate-based system! The ultimate computer vision project for a machine learning startup.

Background:

“Lost cat” and “lost dog” signs are often placed up on telephone poles (Fig. 1), but it’s unlikely that a specific person who sees a lost pet will also have seen the sign (or even know that the pet is actually lost in the first place).

 

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Fig. 1: A person who sees this sign will know to be on the lookout for a lost snake, but the chances of seeing both the snake AND the poster are quite low.

Proposal:

In order to add more people to the lost-pet-searching process, the proposed system is as follows:

On the searchers side:

  • Car owners can add a camera to their car (see license plate example in Figure 2) that constantly scans for unidentified animals. This requires no effort on the part of the driver.
  • The camera saves snapshots and GPS coordinates for every animal it sees, and uploads these to a “Find a Lost Pet” web site. Many of these animals are probably not lost, or even pets!

On the pet-recoverers side:

  • Anyone with a lost pet can post the details of their lost animal and a reward to the “Find a Lost Pet” site. Ideal information would include a photo, approximate location, and the owner’s contact information.

Once the “Find a Lost Pet” image analysis system detects a match between an uploaded image and a lost pet, a “bounty” is issued for the recovery of that pet, and nearby drivers are notified.

Finally, assuming the animal is safely returned in the same number of pieces that it was expected to be in (generally this number is “one”), the bounty is split three ways: the web site, camera owner, and animal-recoverer all get a fraction of the total reward. This aligns everyone’s incentives and encourages people to install pet-scanning cameras in the hope of a payout.

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Fig. 2: This license plate camera is a “dog-scanner” camera that is constantly on the lookout for unidentified potentially-lost animals. Backup cameras like this already exist, so producing the hardware for this system would be relatively straightforward.

PROS: This system will help find lost pets, and definitely won’t be repurposed to create a totalitarian police state.

CONS: Not especially useful in finding burrowed or aquatic animals, so try not to lose one of those.

For your next job application / rental apartment selection / house purchase: you would be able to make an INFORMED decision about your commute thanks to this incredible piece of software!

Background:

In the United States, an employed person has two conflicting goals:

  1. To commute to their job as fast as possible (ideally by “hyperloop” or helicopter),
  2. …and to live as far away from their workplace as possible.

To these ends, thousands of man-hours have gone into new legislation preventing residences near places of employment (zoning laws which help with goal #2, above) and to developing new and complex commute-easing technologies such as self-driving cars or trains that travel at a thousand miles per hour (addressing goal #1).

The issue:

When accepting a new job, it’s hard to know how long or unpleasant your commute might be.

Although a person can get an idea of the total amount of time a commute is expected to take by checking an online map service, it’s a different matter to actually experience the commute.

Proposal:

In order to figure out if a commute is tolerable, a “Commute Test Drive” is proposed: this is just a piece of software that generates a realistically-long commute on the route that you specify (example in Figure 3, perhaps using data from OpenStreetMap) and then requires that you drive it in real-time.

 

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Fig. 1: This “Commute Test Drive” commute simulator would be similar to the delivery truck game “Euro Truck Simulator,” but with realistically-excruciatingly-large maps.

If a person wants to use public transit instead of driving, then a more sophisticated version of this software might allow the player to simulate the process of walking to a bus stop, waiting for a bus, and sitting on the bus for the correct amount of time.

By enduring the commute in the comfort of their own home (Fig. 2), a person can make a better-educated decision about accepting a job (or buying / renting a house) in a given area.

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Fig. 2: Although it would be possible to play this simulator with a gamepad or a mouse and keyboard, the steering wheel adds realism.

 

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Fig. 3: The route would be simulated with traffic and any other elements of a commute that might cause a delay (like railroad crossings, police checkpoints, and drawbridges).

Conclusion:

PROS: Inexpensively allows a person to make informed decisions about where to live and work.

CONS: This software probably already exists in some form as a fan-made Euro Truck Simulator mod.

Stop getting run over by those passenger-transport golf carts in airport concourses with this one incredible tip, brought to you by the Big Laser Pointer industry.

Background:

Airport terminals often have small golf-cart-like trams that can be driven around in the passenger concourses. These are often used to help people move around the concourses (for example, one might be used to help a passenger with a leg in a cast who is trying to make it to a connecting flight).

The issue:

These passenger carts can move quickly, and may run over pedestrians in the terminal. To help prevent this, the carts usually emit an incredibly loud and annoying beep (like a truck backing up).

However, it is usually not very obvious where a cart is based only on the annoying beeping sound, especially in a crowded concourse (Figure 1).

 

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Fig. 1: The annoying beeping coming from this airport golf cart lets people know that a cart is nearby, but requires pedestrians to 1) find the cart and 2) figure out what path the cart is attempting to take through the airport crowds.

 

Proposal:

Instead of only beeping, the passenger cart could also have a special set of headlights that would project a “danger zone” image in front of them. This would make it extremely obvious as to where pedestrians should not walk.

 

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Fig. 2: This updated passenger cart has special headlights that project a “danger zone” region in the path of travel of the cart. These headlights could be repurposed laser pointers with a more spread out pattern (instead of a single dot).

Conclusion:

These new headlights could be an after-market attachment, since most airports will probably not want to replace their existing fleet of golf carts.

The light would only turn on when the shuttle is moving and would only consume as much energy as ~10 handheld laser pointers, so it shouldn’t substantially reduce cart battery life.

PROS: Would make it much easier to avoid being run over by an airport carts.

CONS: Probably… none? Is this a legitimately good idea?

 

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Fig. 3 (bonus): Illustration for a hypothetical patent application.

Never worry about someone breaking into the un-secured space of your hatchback vehicle again thanks to “fake trash,” the amazing new invention that covers your valuables with a layer of trash that deters car break-ins. Hide your valuables in plain sight!

Background:

Many types of cars—e.g. hatchbacks, SUVs, “crossover” vehicles—do not have a secure trunk space.

Although these vehicles often come with retractable covers that can hide the contents of the trunk, they often don’t have 100% coverage.

(So if you have a laptop sliding around in the back of your car, it’s entirely possible that it’s visible to a thief with an eye for detail.)

Additionally, using the cover implies that there may be something in the back of the car—you ought to break in and find out!

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Fig. 1: Someone broke into this car, despite the storage area being covered! So why did a thief become intrigued? See Figure 2 for the answer!

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Fig. 2: A dramatic re-enactment of the scene before Figure 1 (in the same model of car, by coincidence!). If we look into the window, we can see a laptop in plain sight, despite the cover (left) being extended.

Proposal:

To make a hatchback storage area that is less appealing to break into, we have developed the following product: an easily-rolled-up layer of “fake trash” on a canvas backing.

Then, instead of attempting to hide your belongings, you simply put the layer of fake trash over your valuables.

This fake trash would make it look like the car belongs to an incredibly disgusting person who keeps all manner of trash and rotting food in the back of the car (Figure 3), and no one would suspect that a valuable laptop was beneath the trash.

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Fig. 3: Top: fake trash (left) and laptop (right). Bottom: the fake trash covers up the laptop perfectly! Additional improvements could  also be made; for example, a non-slide surface for the fake trash, or elastic straps to keep the laptop in place.

Conclusion:

This method is slightly better than just using the storage area cover: the cover implies that valuables might be present, whereas this method makes it seem that there is no possible place for valuables at all.

I’m surprised this isn’t already one of those “As Seen On TV” products for hatchback vehicles.

PROS: I think this product could legitimately be sold for $19.99, and people would buy them as gifts and/or pranks.

CONS: If this “fake trash” system catches on, thieves will recognize it and no longer be fooled.

 

Bonus: live video feed of this laptop: maybe someone will steal it on-camera while you watch! Better keep refreshing the page and visiting our sponsors in the meantime.

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Bonus figure: Live video feed of this laptop in an unsafe steal-able location.

You were driving a car SUPER RECKLESSLY without even realizing it! Stop using your car sun visor and upgrade to this new mechanically complex solution with dozens of possible points of failure!

Background:

Car sun visors are useful for avoiding glare while driving. But they require constant adjustment on winding roads, and they don’t work at all if the sun is too low in the sky (e.g. sunrise, sunset conditions).

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Fig. 1: Oh no, the horrible sun is blinding me as I drive!

Proposal:

Instead of having a sun visor, what if the sun was blocked by an “eclipse disc,” a small opaque disc that could slide around in front of the windshield (or perhaps inside a double-paned windshield).

Using a small camera in the dashboard and an eye-detection algorithm, the car can figure out: 1) the position of your eyes, 2) the position of the sun, and 3) the location where a small object (the “eclipse disc”) could block the sun that falls on your eyes.

Then, the car can automatically move the eclipse disc around to block the direct light from the sun (Figure 2).

 

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Fig. 2: As the car turns (or the sun sets), the eclipse disc can move around to shade the driver’s eyes.

Conclusion:

Adding a second disc for the front seat passenger (and perhaps another disc for the driver’s side window) would allow this system to totally replace the obsolete hundred-year-old sun visor. Embrace the future of automotive innovation!

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Fig. 3: The mechanism in photorealistic detail. A: the eclipse disc. B: the mechanical arm that moves the eclipse disc around (here, it’s mounted on a track on the left side of the windshield). C: the windshield. D: the approximate location of the rear-view mirror, just to provide context.

 

PROS: Prevents accidents due to glare-induced impaired visibility.

CONS: May lead to a moment of horror when you think the sun has been replaced by a black hole, until you realize that it’s just the “eclipse disc” sliding around on your windshield.

 

 

Speed recklessly with no regard for others with this one insane automotive tip! “BIG SPEED BUMP” hates it!

Background:

Sometimes, when driving through a residential neighborhood road, you may encounter annoying speed bumps, speed humps, or speed lumps (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Not the dreaded speed lump! (This is a real un-edited sign.)

The issue:

These speed bumps / lumps discourage you from taking the shortcut (Figure 2). But you’re important, and have places to be!

If only there were some way you could take these speed bumps at full speed, without slowing down at all.

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Fig. 2: Ugh, not speed bumps! Or speed humps! Or speed lumps!

Proposal:

A car could be enhanced with:

  1. An extra set of axles (so six wheels total, instead of four).
  2. A set of laser rangefinders that would detect speed bumps (and other irregularities in the road surface)
  3. A powered suspension that could lift the wheels a substantial distance up into the car (perhaps a foot or more).

Then, when the car detects upcoming speed bumps, it could preemptively move the wheels up just before the speed bump is hit (and then back down after the speed bump has passed (Figure 3).

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Fig. 3: Top: the car detects an approaching speed bump. Middle: the car moves wheel #1 up to avoid it. Bottom: now that the speed bump has passed, wheel #1 is pushed back onto the ground (and wheel #2 is lifted).

PROS: Ends the tyranny of the speed lump.

CONS: You might forget about this feature when driving another car and hit a speed bump at 45 miles per hour, which would probably not be great.

P.S. Apparently a variant of this was a developed as a proof-of-concept by Bose (the audio company!) in 1986: Youtube link (2 minutes)article link.

After this bad driver rudely cut you off in traffic, YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE what happened next with a laser that caused them to repent their wicked ways.

The issue:

Sometimes, drivers are terrible (Figure 1).

But there unfortunately does not exist any practical and useful way to accomplish the following:

  1. Let these drivers know that they have committed a traffic infraction
  2. Warn other drivers to watch out for these terrible drivers.
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Fig. 1: The blue car in this example is randomly weaving in and out of traffic, and is generally being a terrible driver.

Proposal:

This plan has two parts, shown in Figure 2:

1) Every car must be painted with a special photo-reactive paint, which will (temporarily) change color when exposed to a specific frequency of light.

2) Every car ALSO must have a laser gun mounted on it somewhere (for example, on the roof or on the hood).

Then, whenever you see a bad driver, you simply point the laser at their car, and it fires a beam that changes the target car’s paint color (Figure 3), letting other drivers know that that car displeased you in some way.

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Fig. 2: When a bad driver annoys you, you can just pull out your car laser and “paint” their car with bad-driving photon energy.

 

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Fig. 3: After being hit by the bad-driving lasers, the blue car’s paint is now a bright orange, lettering future drivers know to steer clear of this car, and letting the driver (or perhaps their parents, for student drivers) know that they committed some sort of traffic infraction.

Conclusion:

This would remove the need for the DMV, traffic enforcement, and traffic signs, thus saving countless dollars every year.

PROS: Saves a ton of money, works well for everyone.

CONS: The laser might cause blindness, which could be remedied by modifying every car to have special window glass that absorbed that laser’s frequency. Additionally, pedestrians could wear sunglasses, so really there is no downside.