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Inventions

Solar Powered PC

We all would love solar power to work better, but it's hard to have it make economic sense yet, at least if you're near the grid. A solar panel takes 4 years just to give back the energy it took to build it, and it never pays back the money put in if you compare it to putting the money into the stock market. And that's with full utilization. If you use panels and batteries, any time your batteries are near full the power is being discarded, and you also have to replace your batteries every so often and dispose of the old lead-filled ones. Yuk.

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Thermos where you can see the fluid and level

Everybody likes a thermos to keep things cold or hot, but I have found that people also really like to see what's in a flask and how much there is. (Particularly when I bring my home-grown lemonade to parties, I notice people drink more of it from a clear and non-insulated container than an opaque one.)

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Ethernet card that is every PC I/O device

It would be nice to see (perhaps it already exists) an ethernet card for a PC that also looked, in hardware, like all the other standard PC hardware. In particular like a basic standard SVGA video card, like a soundblaster, like a keyboard and like a mouse.

But in fact, all writes to these devices would be sent out over the ethernet. Writes to the video memory, sounds send to the sound card and so on.

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Use the web to find parking

There's lots of privately owned parking out there, even around airports, but nor market for it. What about a web market?

Imagine, if you owned a parking space, you could file it in a database. People going somewhere hard or expensive to park would go to the web before the trip, enter the address, and get offered a spot near their target with a rate. This could also include commercial lots with spare space. If not at the web, you could call from your registered cell phone for a small extra fee while driving to your destination.

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Solar powered, wireless webcam

Everybody loves their webcams (though the surveillance aspects of some are to be worried about.)

What about a way to make them cheap and easy to put in cool places. Combine a webcam with a solar panel, 802.11 link and small bettery. The webcam charges the battery off the panel, and when there is enough charge to take a picture, it takes one and spits it out the wireless link. You don't need much of a battery or much of a solar panel, because the amount of power simply controls how often it can take a picture.

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Stirling Engine based hybrid car

I'm not the only one to have thought of this, but as yet no real work has been done. How about a hybrid car powered with a Stirling Engine? (Not spelled Sterling, btw.)

The Stirling is more efficient than the internal combustion or diesel engine, and it's also a lot quieter. Sounds great, but it's not good for cars because it can't rev up quickly and it takes about 5 minutes to get the engine hot enough to run well. We want our cars to start the minute we put the key in.

High quality videoconferencing restaurant

It's always dangerous to predict that soon we will all videoconference, but the technology really is getting better (See the Marconi ViPr, for example.) And bandwidth is getting cheaper. The Marconi system wants 8 megabits bidirectional -- the secret being not to do very fancy compression to instead push for really low latency and hi resolution -- but this is getting to be more affordable.

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Native games for native casinos?

Whenever I see a First Nation's (That's the Canadian politically corect term for Indians) Casino, I have a cynical thought along the lines of "ah, the great Indian tradition of video poker."

So here's a good idea for folks in the gambling machine industry: Track down some traditional native games that can be turned into gambling games on machines. Make machines to play them.

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Friendscrow -- Key Escrow Among Friends

In thinking about the GMail encryption problem, I came to realize that for ordinary users liable to forget their passwords, it would not be suitable to tell them after such an event that all their email archives are forever lost. This means some sort of Key Escrow. Not the nasty kind done with the clipper chip, but one done voluntarily.

I came up with a system I call Friendscrow. (I suspect others have also thought of the same thing.) This is a ZUI (Zero User Interface) system, at least for normal operation.

Closed-circuit HDTV for cruise ship inside cabins

Inside cabins on cruise ships are somewhat depressing. Here's a plan to make them better. Equip them with flat-panel HDTV video screens. Then place HDTV cameras on the bow, stern and both sides. Tune the video panel to the camera that is pointed in the same direction to make a virtual porthole.

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Accelerometer in Cell Phone for emergencies

In writing the previous entry, another idea came to me that I stuck at the end which is worthy of its own entry. Place an accelerometer in your cell phone that will detect a violent event, such as a car crash or bike crash. Similar to the detector already in the car that triggers the airbag.

Upon detection of the event, the phone would start beeping for about 30 seconds warning about the emergency. If there is no emergency, you would press any key to stop the call. Otherwise it could call 911.

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Cheaper beds to move patients

A lot of patients sit in hospitals unable to move, and as such they develop tremendous bedsores and other problems. My grandmother lost a leg to this (and the resulting hospital-caught infection) many years ago. (Hospital-caught infection is the 4th largest cause of death in the USA, after heart disease, cancer and stroke.)

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Exercise bike that makes you exercise

Everybody knows one of the big problems with exercise machines is they end up as clothesracks. I've seen this literally happen. A lot of people put their machine in front of the TV to make them use it, for a while we even had no couch.

Here's an invention to create an exercise machine you'll really use, if you watch TV. The machine, or a device attached to it, would be programmed to constantly broadcast a recorded infrared signal trained from your remote. This code would be one that would interfere with watching TV. For example, volume-mute or channel-up, or a digit. Whatever you want to train it to. (Off doesn't work as that also turns the TV on.)

However, once you get on the machine and start using it, it stops sending this code, and you can watch TV. Once you have done your exercise quota, it would stop sending the muck-up code until you are next due to exercise, whatever your schedule is.

To stop you from just covering the transmitter with clothing (remember the clothesrack?) it would also need to have a receiver some distance away which gets upset and chirps annoyingly if it can't see the regular ping from the transmitter.

Others in the house not on a regimen could enter a code on the remote to temporarily disable the system when they want to watch. If 2 or more people had a regimen, they would have to enter which person they were to activate their disabling code. That gets a bit messy but it can be done.

Limit children's hours of TV viewing

Generally, I'm the last person to suggest we use technology to control people's lives and what they view. However, it's also the duty of parents to help teach their children how and when to use the media. Most commonly today you see things like the V-chip, which let parents block their unskilled children from seeing shows with certain "ratings."

Open Source voting machines

As I noted earlier, there are all sorts of risks with remote voting over the internet, even if I suggest a way to make it doable. However, this is different from the question of voting machines. Like the folks at Verified Voting I believe that a voter-verifiable paper ballot is the simplest way to make computerized voting more secure. And I like voting machines because they can improve access and even make preferential ballot possible down the road.

Eyes in the back of your head

Reading this NYT article about radar to cover car blind spots, which describes a system that will trigger lights in the rearview-mirror when cars are in the blind-spot, reminded me of an old idea I had some time ago I called "Eyes in the back of your head."

The idea would be to wear a special collar while driving. This collar would contain small electrodes that could lightly stimulate the skin on the back of the neck. Perhaps just one row, but ideally a small 2-D image should be possible.

This would be connected to a camera, radar or sonar system pointing back from the vehicle. It would map where other vehicles are, and turn that into an image on the back of the neck.

Thus, as a car came up behind you and passed you, it would feel like something brushing the back of your neck on one side.

I was inspired to this by reading about a system for the blind that mapped a video camera image onto a 2000 pixel electrode map on the stomach. It was found that over time, the nerves would retrain and a sort of limited vision could develop. Might this have application in driving, or perhaps combat?

Paperless Home

In my home I now have a "home computer", for a while in the kitchen, now in the living room. Of course I have had computers in my home since the 70s, but this one is different. It's an old cheap laptop I picked up, not powerful at all. What's different is how I use it.

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Wireless hubs at traffic signals

I recently read it costs about $150,000 to put in traffic lights here in California. That's a heavy duty pole, the lights, the power, the connection to other lights and the vehicle sensors. Seems to me modern technology should be able to make that a lot cheaper. New lights are all LED (the energy savings pay for themselves quickly) but that should also mean smaller safer power lines with special digging under the road. (Wonder if they could do it with light pipes and have no electricity up there.)

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Digital Photo Organizing in the future

We're not there yet, but let me write my notes about what future digital cameras might do to help us organize our huge collections of photos:

  • GPS and compass in the camera knows where it is, and where it was pointing. Thus, if standing on the south rim of Grand Canyon and pointing north, probably a picture of the Grand Canyon. Organize your photos on a map.
  • Record audio said while taking photo if special button pressed. Later, upload audio to PC where it's able to do speaker-dependent speech to text at its leisure to caption the photos.
  • Face recognition. No, I'm not kidding. While this is Big Brother technology, and not very useful in airports, one thing it can do is try to find similar faces. So once you tag your mother, it will be able to search your photo collection for other shots with your mother. This is much easier than trying to take a random person and see if they are on the FBI wanted list.

Design of the ideal digital AV system and the Broadcast Flag

For some time I have been musing over the design of an ideal home A/V system using digital technology. Sadly it's not coming, in part because it's illegal under the new Broadcast Flag rules.

To read my design of this system, and the musings of the legality of it and why that presents a problem, see a draft on an Ideal A/V digital system

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