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Tag: car

Increase driving safety AND driving enjoyment with this new speedometer-linked fan system. Ask for—no, DEMAND—this option in your next fine luxury automobile!

Background:

When traveling in a vehicle, a person’s intuitive sense of speed is partly determined by the feeling of air movement.

For example, going at 30 miles per hour on a bike (enclosed cabin: no) may feel faster than going 600 miles per hour in an airplane (enclosed cabin: yes).

The issue:

It’s important for automobile drivers to intuitively understand their speed, especially when driving on slick or windy roads.

But with a properly sound-insulated passenger cabin, it’s easy to ignore the fact that you’re going 70 miles per hour on a highway.

Proposal:

In order to help drivers intuitively understand their current speed, a fan should be added to the dashboard in order to blow air on the driver’s face.

This fan would be synchronized with the speedometer: more speed equals more airflow, thus resulting in intuitive “feeling” of car speed (Figure 1).

 

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Fig. 1: A fan mounted on the car dashboard would allow the driver to get an intuitive understanding of speed based on the sensation of airflow.

This system is basically a just a more complicated version of sticking your head out the car window.

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Fig. 2: Increased driving speed translates into higher fan speed. Fan is not to scale.

Fan Implementation Option #2:

The car’s existing climate control system could be used, instead of requiring an additional fan. The only downside here is that the car’s normal fans are probably not sufficient to fully convey the speed of highway driving. But on the plus side, this could be implemented entirely in software!

Fan Implementation Option #3:

The fan could be replaced by a simple duct leading from the outside of the car, which would direct outside air directly into the driver’s face. This has a few downsides, such as the possibility of venting ice-cold air or swarms of insects directly into the driver’s face, which may negatively impact driving safety.

Conclusion:

“Implementation option #2” could probably be an actual product. Not sure if it would run afoul of any automotive safety regulations, though!

PROS: May cause people to once again buy driving goggles, thus revitalizing a neglected manufacturing industry.

CONS: None! Only upsides found here.

Improve your car with the new bicycle-bell-inspired “secondary car horn” option. Now you’ll have options besides just honking at people! Unless you are a goose, in which case that will remain your only option.

The issue:

Imagine that you are driving a car down a narrow road and you see a person unloading groceries from a car trunk.

There are two common options:

  1. Continue driving: hope the person unloading the car doesn’t walk out into the street
  2. Honk the horn, to inform the person unloading the car that you are there

The second one is safer, but is considered extremely rude.

Thus, in real-world scenarios, most people will probably politely run over the car-unloading pedestrian rather than honk potentially unnecessarily.

The root problem here is that there is no “polite” way for a driver inform others of their presence. This is also becoming more of a problem as quieter electric cars become more common (so the car engine isn’t generating a “hey nearby people, a car is running” sound at all times).

Proposal:

This was solved ages ago for bicycles with the traditional bicycle bell, which conveys the sentiment “in case you weren’t aware, a bike is passing by!”

The car horn, on the hand, conveys the accusative sentiment “hey, you have committed some major driving error!”

What is needed is the bike-bell equivalent for a car—a “more polite” horn (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Left: a traditional steering wheel only features a startling “honk extremely loudly” option. Right: we can add a bicycle-bell-inspired “chime to inform pedestrians of a car nearby” button as an alternative to the normal car horn.

Conclusion:

Why isn’t this a feature, anyway? It seems like this should have been standard on cars since the mid-1980s.

PROS: Improves public safety and may reduce the number of people run over every year.

CONS: Adds one cent to the manufacturing cost of the steering wheel.

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.

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.

1-rider-in-seat

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.

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.

1-crash-scenario

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.

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.

Never run over a pedestrian or a bicyclist while looking for a parking spot, thanks to this new attention-saving idea! Personal injury lawyers hate it!

Background:

It can be difficult to safely drive down the street AND find a parking spot at the same time. Many locations look like parking spots until you get right next to them (Figure 1) and see the fire hydrant / driveway / red curb (Figure 2).

2b-issues-maybe

Fig. 1: This is a road with two opposing lanes of traffic separated by the dashed yellow line. Cars (black) are parked on both sides of the road. The red car is driving from left to right down the two-lane road. Question marks indicate possible parking spots, but which ones—if any—are valid and will also fit our red car?

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Fig. 2: Unfortunately, the locations above were all disqualified for reasons that were not immediately obvious (fire hydrant, loading zone, driveway, etc.). The process of disqualifying these parking spots is a dangerous distraction to the driver!

Proposal:

A system with a LIDAR / radar and an integrated GPS unit would be able to constantly scan ahead for valid parking spaces.

This “SpotFinder” would work as follows:

  • A LIDAR unit (a laser range-finder) scans in front of the car, looking for gaps between parked cars.

  • If a spot is detected, SpotFinder checks the LIDAR data to see if the spot is big enough to fit your specific car.

  • SpotFinder checks your GPS coordinates in a street map database, to see if there are any disqualifying reasons to not park in the spot (e.g. fire hydrants, driveways, etc.) even if there is physically enough space there to fit a car.

If all the conditions above are met, SpotFinder beeps and says something like “parking spot located, ahead on your right in 60 feet, after the blue parked car.”

 

3a-maybe-rightFig. 3: The LIDAR unit is looking at the right side of the street at candidate parking spot “E.” The spot is big enough to fit a car, but the map data indicates the presence of a driveway. No good!

3b-maybe-left.png

Fig. 4: Here, the LIDAR unit is assessing parking spots A, B, and C on the left side of the street.

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Fig. 5: Spot F is valid, but unfortunately isn’t quite long enough to fit the red car.

PROS: Increases safety by allowing drivers to focus their attention on driving instead of evaluating parking spots.

CONS: If the map database isn’t constantly updated, the system could occasionally suggest an invalid parking spot (for example, if a new driveway was constructed where a previously-valid parking spot had been). So the driver might get some false positives of suggested (but invalid) parking spots.

Protect your car from car thieves with this ONE WEIRD TIP from a banker! Upholstery cleaners love it!

 

Background:

Bank robbers have occasionally been foiled by dye packs, which can be placed into a bag of stolen cash and then detonated as the robbers make their escape. The dye sprays out everywhere and contaminates the stolen money, making it valueless.

 

dye-subset

Fig 1: The bag of cartoon money (top left) is rendered worthless by a dye pack that stains all the money into un-usability.

Proposal:

What if we could apply this same technology to deter car thieves?

Basically, instead of just a regular dome light, a car would have a dome light plus a set of dye-spraying nozzles that could spray a permanent ink all over the car interior (coating both the occupants and the seats).

There are several possible variants for how this would be deployed:

  1. Most expensive: the car could have a theft-tracking device that would allow the car’s lawful owner to remotely deploy the dye pack with a pre-configured password (hopefully not 0000). This would probably require a subscription service, so it could be expensive (and if you were willing to pay a monthly fee, you should probably just get a regular theft-tracking service).
  2. Slightly less expensive: the car could have a Wi-Fi antenna, and it would automatically connect to public wireless hotspots that happened to be driven by. The car would check a specific web site to see if it had been reported as stolen, and deploy the dye pack in this situation. This would not necessarily require a subscription service, but would probably be hilariously prone to hacking.
  3. Self-contained solution with no network connectivity required: whenever you start the car, an alarm beeps for 60 seconds (similar to a home alarm), indicating that you need to input a “disable alarm” code before you start driving. If the car is in motion AND the alarm code has not been accepted, the dye pack will spray dye everywhere. Does not require a data plan or other subscription service!

The dye pack deployment may need to be restricted to times when the car is completely stopped, so that it doesn’t cause a deadly hazard to other drivers if it deploys while on the highway.

Conclusion:

PROS: Substantially reduces plausible deniability of receiving a stolen car. While a normal stolen car might seem like a legitimate purchase, an obviously-covered-in-ink one probably would not be.

CONS: Option #3 (above) would be the bane of all valet parkers.

Never enjoy driving again with this one weird taxi meter tip!

Background:

It’s often hard to assess the total cost of renting vs buying.

For example:

  • Renting a house (plus renters’ insurance) versus owning a house (plus homeowner’s insurance, property tax, and maintenance, and possibly offset by property value appreciation)
  • Owning a timeshare versus renting a vacation house once a year
  • Taking a taxi / using a ride-sharing app versus owning a car (and paying for insurance, gas, and vehicle registration)

The proposal:

In the pre-ride-sharing era, a taxi would have a taxi meter running at all times, showing the total costs of the trip.

A privately-owned vehicle could also a total-costs meter in the dashboard.

Vehicle ownership costs involve:

  • Gas
  • Insurance premiums (monthly or annual)
  • Vehicle registration (annual)
  • Car payment minus depreciation (if applicable)

blank

Fig 1: A blank “total cost” meter for your car that would tell you how much you’ve paid in car costs.

Setting up the details for this meter would be easy. Each parameter can be easily input and then calculated by the meter itself from that point onward, with no further user input:

  • The car knows how much gas has been put into it (and can accurately estimate the local gas price to within 5-10% by querying the Internet, assuming that this meter pairs with your phone somehow)
  • Car payment details only need to be input by the user once
  • Likewise, annual insurance premiums and vehicle registration costs rarely change, and would only need to be input one time.

totalcost

Fig 2: When filled in with real data, the carefree days of car ownership are over, and you now must stress out about every tiny trip you make!

The Math for a car that is only used for commuting, with no passengers:

A ride-sharing-app ride from a close-but-not-downtown area of a major city to downtown, assuming light traffic, is frequently around $10. Let’s assume this is a work commute that happens twice a day, and that this is ALL the car is ever used for.

Annual cost: 50 work weeks per year * 5 days per week * 2 rides per day = 500 rides per year

  • 500 rides per year * $10 / ride = $5000 annually with a ride-sharing app

Let’s compare this to car ownership, assuming a $20,000 car, financed at 0% over 5 years, and worth $7500 at the end of 5 years (depreciation = $20,000 – $7500 = $12500).

Total cost of car ownership:

  • Car payment: –$333 / month / mo
  • Car equity obtained (with price at end of 5-year period): +$125 / mo
  • Insurance, assuming $1000 per year: –$83 / mo
  • Gas price, assuming your commute is a short 5 miles each way and you get 25 miles per gallon, so that’s 10 miles per day, or 0.4 gallons per day. 0.4 gallons * 30 days = 12 gallons per month * (current gas price), which we will assume as $3.00 per gallon = –$36 / mo.
  • Car registration, assumed to be $150 / year:  –$12 / mo
  • Assume that downtown parking is $100 / month: –$100 / mo.
  • Average maintenance cost per year, figuring a $500 maintenance cost every 2 years (includes tires, oil, etc.): –$21 / mo

Total:

  • -333 + 125 – 83 – 36 – 12 – 100 – 21 = $–460 / month
  • Total = $5520 per year to own a car

So in this scenario, you would theoretically save $520 per year by not owning a car at all, although in this particular case, you would also not have a car for any other method of transportation.

So if your numbers look like the ones above, you should probably actually buy a car!

Conclusion:

Uber and Lyft should promote this app for people living in major cities! Most of them probably don’t realize how much their car actually costs.

PROS: Good for ride-sharing companies!

CONS: Bad for car manufacturers!

All your parking woes solved with this one weird tip, which also adds a (possibly unintentional) crumple zone to your car, perhaps increasing its safety in a crash

Background:

Parking is a problem in many large cities, and extremely small cars are manufactured specifically to allow drivers to pick smaller parking spots.

The issue:

If a person buys a large car, they may be unable to park it. But if that person buys a small car, it may be insufficient for their people-and-goods-transporting needs. A conundrum!

The proposal:

Instead of having to choose between two car sizes, this proposal is for a “best of both worlds” car with a collapsable back seat. See figures 1 and 2, below, for extensive technical schematics.

car-diagram-long-small-filesize

Fig 1: A diagram of the car. Unfortunately, there is little room to remove in the green region (engine) or blue region (trunk / rear  window / rear wheel attachment area). So we will instead focus on compressing the back seats (yellow) and front seats (orange).

car-diagram-short-small-filesize

Fig 2: The same car, in its compressed “small parking spot” mode. The yellow back seat region has compressed to almost nothing, while the orange front seats have collapsed very slightly, leaving just enough room for the driver to still maneuver the vehicle.

Conclusion:

Although there would be certain technical challenges in making an accordion-like vehicle that could still pass highway safety regulations, this would be an worthy project for any automotive engineer.

PROS: Combines the transport flexibility of a larger vehicle with the parking convenience of a small one. If any patents with this idea were filed by the creators of the Inspector Gadget cartoon, they will have already expired at this point.

CONS: Be careful not to put the car into “small parking spot mode” when passengers are still in the back seat.