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Did you forget to lock your door? Close your garage? Turn off the lights? Well, two out of those three scenarios can be solved with this new feature that should be on every car key fob and garage remote control!

Background:

When an action is routine and uninteresting (e.g. locking a door, turning off a light, etc.), it’s sometimes hard to remember if you did it at all.

The issue:

Occasionally, people find themselves wondering “did I close the garage when I left the house?” or “did I remember to lock the car when I parked it on the street?”

Proposal:

The solution to some of these scenarios is straightforward: every remote control device could have a small LCD screen to indicate how long it has been since the last time it was used.

For example, for a garage door opener, the display might read “5 MIN. SINCE “CLOSE”.” Then you would know that you had pushed the “CLOSE DOOR” button on the remote 5 minutes ago (and thus, probably did in fact remember to close the garage door).

Since LCD displays are so cheap, this would only increasing manufacturing costs by a few cents per device. See Figure 1 for a car remote-entry key fob mockup.

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Fig. 1: This car key fob allows the owner to remotely lock or unlock their car. It now has an additional feature: an LCD display indicating when the remote was last used. With this innovation, you will never again need to ponder whether or not you remembered to lock the car!

Upgraded Version Idea:

In order to reduce complexity, the system above only checks to see the last time a button was pushed, not whether the action actually occurred (most remotes are one-way, and do not have any way of determining, for example, whether or not the garage door did, in fact, close successfully).

Thus, a logical extension of the idea above would be to put a small receiver in the remote as well, so that the garage could send back a “yep, garage door closed successfully!” message. Then the LCD screen would be able to say “GARAGE DOOR LAST CLOSED 5 MIN. AGO” instead of the (somewhat weaker) statement “BUTTON LAST PRESSED 5 MIN. AGO.”

PROS: This seems like it could legitimately be a product, and it is unclear why it is not!

CONS: Adds a 15¢ cost to each device for the LCD display and additional plastic.

All-natural method for encouraging social distancing using a trained animal. Sssssssssocial distancing!

Background:

During the times of the COVID-plague, it has been recommended that people maintain “social distancing”—keeping apart by approximately six feet.

The issue:

Unfortunately, this advice is difficult to follow in many situations, for example, on public transit, in an elevator, etc.

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Fig. 1: Social distancing is easy when there is no one else around (left), but in a crowded situation (for example, in a supermarket or building lobby), people tend to cluster together (right).

Proposal:

This snake-based “sssssssssocial distancing” plan involves training a territorial species of snake to wrap itself around a person and then give a bit of a nibble to anyone who comes within six feet of it (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: The snake will need to be at least 10 feet long in order to have six feet of length remaining after it has coiled around the person who it is defending.

It might end up being uncomfortable to have the snake coiled around its host / owner, so one improvement could be carrying the snake in a backpack or some kind of modified wrestling championship belt.

Conclusion:

This system would also help discourage “close talkers” who do not respect a person’s need for personal space.

PROS: May reduce the spread of plague, creates valuable jobs for snakes.

CONS: You will probably get a different snake-borne plague instead.

Special Economic Note:

If there is high enough coverage of this system, costs may be reduced by requiring only three feet of snake coverage per person, and relying on the two independently-carried snakes to provide the total six-foot distance.

Thus, it is important to encourage widespread adoption of this system in order to make it more economical on a per-unit basis.

Yet another incredible technological development in dining utensils, the “clockwork wind-up fork” is a practical diet aid and not just a bizarre steampunk-themed hallucination!

Background:

Diet fads come and go, but most have at least one element in common: the requirement that individuals be deliberate about what they eat (rather than ravenously consuming everything like a starved beast).

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to have self-control when food is delicious and plentiful.

Thus, most people eat larger portions of food than they really would if they ate a bit slower (as has been discussed previously).

Proposal:

To encourage people to stop eating before they are absolutely 100% full, the following technical solution is devised: “clockwork utensils” that change shape over time (thanks to a spring inside).

This spring must be wound up before use: then, over the course of a few minutes, it unwinds and turns the normal utensil into a bizarrely barely-useable piece of abstract art (see Figure 1 and Figure 2).

 

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Fig. 1: A) a normal fork. B) The “wind-up fork”—when fully wound-up (using a wind-up key like you might see on a toy car or an old clock)—behaves like any ordinary fork. However, as the internal spring unwinds over time, the fork “fans out” and becomes more difficult to use, as seen in part C. Thus, as the meal progresses, the user must become more deliberate about using the fork.

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Fig. 2: A) A normal spoon. B) The “wind-up spoon” consists of a number of overlapping metal slats (numbered 1 through 7 here). When they are all deployed, as in part B, they approximate a normal fork. C) After the internal spring has partially unwound, some of the slats will have been pulled toward the handle. By the time the spring has fully unwound, the spoon will be virtually useless!

Conclusion:

Instead of buying a new set of silverware, you should put that money towards funding a manufacturing project to create the utensils describe above!

PROS: Could reduce over-eating!

CONS: May promote binge eating. It may also be difficult to wash the tiny mechanical parts of such a utensil.

With this enhanced hand-washing sink timer, you may reduce your chance of contracting a deadly plague!

Background:

It is well known that washing hands for a surprisingly long time (30 seconds!) substantially reduces microbial contamination (Figure W1).

 

W1-Wikipedia-figure-Hand_desinfection_test_with_blood_agar_plate.jpg

Figure W1. Image contributed to Wikipedia by user Pöllö, for article “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_washing“: “Microbial growth on a blood agar plate without any procedure (sector A), after washing hands (sector B), and after disinfecting hands with alcohol (sector C).” Source

The issue:

Unfortunately, people generally feel, psychologically speaking, that their hands are clean immediately upon rinsing them with even the slightest hint of water.

The challenge, therefore, is to encourage people to wash their hands for the recommended 30-ish seconds.

Although hand washing timers already exist, these are not sufficient—they don’t enforce the washing time.

Proposal:

To improve on the existing “hand washing timer” product, we will enhance the sink’s faucet with a “wash hands” button (Figure 2) that can control the faucet to perform pre-programmed behavior.

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Fig. 2: A regular sink (left), and a modified sink with a “wash hands” button (right). A user who wants to, say, fill a water bottle, would use the sink normally. But a user who just wanted to wash their hands would press the wash button instead of interacting with the faucet handle.

When the wash button is pressed, the tap performs the following actions (shown in timeline form in Figure 3):

  1. The tap turns on for ~5 seconds, allowing the user to get their hands wet.
  2. The tap turns down to a trickle for 20 seconds (allowing the user to wash their hands, but not providing enough water to wash off the soap)
  3. Finally, the tap turns on again, allowing the user to wash the soap off their hands.
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Fig. 3: Here, we see the timeline of water flow (Y-axis: flow rate. X-axis: time since the button was pressed). The interval lengths could be adjusted as desired.

Bonus fact:

Apparently water temperature doesn’t make a difference: “Contrary to popular belief however, scientific studies have shown that using warm water has no effect on reducing the microbial load on hands” (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_washing). You can fact check that one yourself, if you want!

PROS: May reduce the spread of deadly deadly.

CONS: Could increase the rate of dry hands; this discomfort must be weighed against the severity of any to-be-prevented plagues.

Make your dinners an ordeal of aggravation and regret! The new incredible trick to losing weight without even trying!

Background:

It has been demonstrated that people tend to over-eat in situations in which they can quickly consume a meal.

If a person has to consume a meal more slowly, they will (generally) realize that they are full and eat less.

The issue:

Unfortunately, in today’s decadent world, nearly every meal can be quickly devoured.

Proposal:

In order to reduce over-eating, we will borrow an idea that already exists for dog bowls. Specifically, certain “spiral dog food bowls” have a rim that curves all the way into the center of the bowl (Figure 1). This creates a raised edge that makes it harder for a dog to quickly wolf down the bowl’s contents—the spiral gets in the way.

Thus, the dog spends extra time and effort to get to the delicious food.

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Fig. 1: Top: dog bowls already exist in this spiral form factor. So why not adapt the same idea for humans? Bottom: the combination of chopsticks (instead of a spoon / fork / small shovel) and the strangely-shaped bowl should result in a meal that takes much longer to eat.

The spiral bowl above is a good start, but there’s really no limit to how intricate and annoying a dinner plate can become (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: This extremely inconvenient multi-level plate has an arrangement of wire “fences” defending the food. This means that every bite of food requires navigating a dinner-themed wire labyrinth.

Conclusion:

Throw all your current dishes in the trash where they belong—upgrade to this new health-conscious system today!

Hypothetically, this might qualify for reimbursement through your medical insurance! Who knows!

PROS: Reduces over-eating, improves national health, and saves the health care system billions of dollars a year.

CONS: These strange plates would probably be difficult to load into a dishwasher.

With this new “dynamically uncomfortable” mattress technology, you’ll WANT to get out of bed in the morning! Become more productive and never have trouble waking up on time!

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of a comfy bed and face the cruel and merciless world.

Proposal:

We can solve this problem by making a bed that becomes progressively less comfortable as the desired wakeup time arrives.

Certain mattresses already have the ability to dynamically adjust their firmness (for example, the “Sleep Number” brand of air mattresses).

For this “progressively less comfortable mattress” system, we’ll need to go beyond just air mattresses: the bed will need an adjustable interior frame that can become jagged and angular (Figure 1), thus encouraging the bed’s occupant to get up.

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Fig. 1: Left: the mattress in its default “comfortable” state, where the springs all behave identically. Right: the mattress in “uncomfortable” mode, where a hydraulic mechanism stretches out some springs (shown in blue) and compresses others (shown in red) to make the mattress surface extremely lumpy and uncomfortable. As a result, it will be a relief to get out this horrendously uncomfortable bed even in the coldest and darkest of winter mornings.

The bed would also need an “alarm clock” function in order to cause the comfort level to be set by the time of day.

One could imagine also integrating other “smart health” functions and perhaps controlling the mattress settings via smartphone app (which will inevitably be discontinued within 2 years, leaving the whole system completely useless).

Conclusion:

This technology could also be implemented for futons, sofas, and other similar furniture.

So much effort has been expended on making sofas and beds more comfortable: perhaps it is time for more research to go into making them less comfortable. Really makes you think.

PROS: Increases productivity and makes it easier to be a “morning person.”

CONS: Might potentially stretch out the sheets in a weird fashion, causing them to fray more quickly.

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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.
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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.

Worried that a new student or a new employee will not get enough help in learning the ropes of their new situation? This problem, and many others, can be solved by a giant egg.

Background:

In many situations, such as political debates, the first day at a new school, or the first day on a job, making a good first impression is extremely important.

The issue:

Unfortunately, it’s hard for a newcomer to reliably make a great first impression if other people aren’t already predisposed to like them.

Proposal:

Fortunately, the animal kingdom has provided us with a solution.

Recall, if you will, how people are almost universally predisposed to have warm feelings for a newly-hatched baby bird (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Humans, as a whole, are generally predisposed to nurture the baby bird in the image above, even though it is unlikely that it would make a good politician, classmate, or coworker.

The solution is incredibly obvious: a new student or employee should be introduced to their classmates / coworkers not in the standard fashion (e.g. “This is Zebulon, he’s the new network administrator”) but by hatching them out of a giant egg instead (Figure 2).

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Fig. 2: New employee onboarding would consist of everyone standing in a circle around a giant egg, out of which the new employee would emerge in birdlike fashion. This could be applied in various situations, for example: 1) introducing a new employee, 2) introducing a transfer student at a new school, or 3) inducting an elite military operative to a shadowy black ops squad.

Conclusion:

As a result of this new employee introduction process, everyone would be predisposed to help the newcomer feel welcome. This is definitely practical, and will almost certainly soon be adopted by schools, corporations, and governments.

PROS: Reduces friction in employee / student / etc. onboarding.

CONS: Requires storing a giant egg somewhere: this might be impractical in situations in which real-estate is at a premium (unless the egg is collapsable or deflatable somehow).

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:

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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.

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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.