The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Design

You won’t believe how I never fell into a bottomless pit again, thanks to this one weird trick. Podiatrists hate it! Probably.

Background:

One of the leading causes of sidewalk-based injury is tripping on uneven pavement and/or falling into a manhole. Figure 1 illustrates one of the dangers inherent in modern sidewalks.

This danger has become even more pronounced now that people are more likely to be looking at their cell phones as they walk.

danger

Fig. 1: As you walk along the sidewalk, be on the lookout for obstacles in your path! This open telecommunications panel could easily trip you and/or cause you to fall into a tangled nest of wires.

Proposal:

An array of sensors on the front of the shoe will constantly scan for irregularities in the upcoming pavement.

  • Case 1: If the shoe detects an elevated obstacle (such as a stair step up or an object in the way), a cell-phone-vibrate-style motor located above the user’s toes will buzz.
  • Case 2: If the shoe detects a sudden drop (such as a stair step down, an open manhole cover, or a measureless abyss), a motor located below the user’s toes will buzz.
  • Case 3: If the shoe scans up and detects that the obstacle is extremely tall (e.g. a lamppost or just a regular wall), it can be configured to either buzz both motors (“don’t run into that lamppost”) or, if the user gets too many false positives from this situation (which would occur any time you were standing next to a door, wall, or other person), this situation could just generate no warning at all.

In this way, the user can easily tell if the upcoming danger is an object in the way (situation 1) or a “falling” danger (situation 2).

shoe-detect

Fig. 2: Here, the sensors in the shoe will scan ahead to look for dangerous obstacles (or a sudden drop-off in the path).

shoe-show-danger-zone

Fig. 3: In this scenario, the two detection units on the right side of the shoe (green, with check marks) do not detect any danger, but the two units on the left side of the shoe will alert the wearer to the open telecom panel.

danger-banana-peel

Fig. 4: Physical comedy will be dealt a setback, as no one will ever again slip on a banana peel in this utopian shoe-with-detectors future.

danger-noodle-snake

Fig. 5: “Falling into a snake pit” will no longer be a concern of yours, thanks to this new footwear technology! Computer vision has advanced to the point where a snake pit (which constantly slithers and hisses) can easily be distinguished from a normal sidewalk (which does neither).

PROS: You won’t fall into a snake pit again.

CONS: False negatives could be exceptionally deadly (e.g. “I stepped onto a pane of fragile glass above a chasm because the shoe didn’t sense any danger”). Does not protect against falling pianos or anvils.

Yet another solution to the dreaded “a table leg is in my way, how can I sit at this table???” problem that plagues our citizenry.

Background:

This is an alternate version of the previous table-related idea (see link here), which involved hanging a table from the ceiling.

The issue:

Sometimes, you’re sitting at a table, and the table legs get in the way. So annoying! See Figure 1 to be reminded of this calamity.

regular-table-legs

Fig. 1:  The presence of this table leg is probably stifling your enjoyment of life—if only it weren’t there; then you could sit at the corner of the table.

Proposal:

By putting all of the table legs on a motorized two-dimensional grid on the underside of the table, a computer could automatically detect where a person was sitting and automatically move the table legs out of the way, as shown in Figure 2.

move-table-legs

Fig. 2: If the table leg at “A” could be moved from position “A” to position “B” (perhaps by being on a motorized track on the underside of the table), then the individual on the right side of the digram would be able to sit at the corner of the table without the table leg getting in the way.

Unfortunately, there is one downside to this plan; if the table legs are not spaced apart, then the table can easily fall over, as seen in Figure 3.

force-applied-to-table

Fig. 3: A problem: if the table legs slide out of the way, the table will be very easy to tip over; even a small downward force (the red arrow labeled “F”) applied to the X on the table will cause the table to tip over.

The way to solve the tipping problem is quite simple, fortunately; if a force is applied to one corner of the table, we must simply apply an equal (or greater) force to the table leg on the opposite corner, and the table will not fall over. This system is implemented by means of a motorized bowling ball that is controlled by a sliding magnet underneath the table (Figure 4). Alternatively, the weight could be located beneath the table, but that would lack the visual flair of a bowling ball.

counterweight-to-balance-table

Fig. 4: Solution to the table-tipping problem: an extremely heavy weight (here, illustrated as a bowling ball) can roll around on the table and be a counterweight. Now, the table will not tip even if we apply a force point at “F” (shown in step 3), as the weight of the bowling ball prevents the table from tipping over.

PROS: May cause the table-sitter to be crushed beneath the table if the power unexpectedly goes out.

CONS: You may ask, “why not just solve this problem much more simply by putting a single post in the center of the table, and mounting that post on a few horizontal beams and/or a platform?” We leave the refutation of that objection as an exercise to the reader.

Never get a contagious disease from a coworker again with this one tip. Use the healing power of crystals and bears to naturally fight off disease. OSHA hates it!

Background:

Sometimes, your coworkers will come to work with obvious contagious diseases, coughing everywhere and spreading disease and pestilence throughout the land.

Proposal:

The best situation in this situation is for you or your boss to say “hey you, sick individual, go home!”

This should save time and money by preventing others from getting sick, but is sometimes not an option.

Instead, the following technical solution is proposed for office-related jobs: for diseases in which the afflicted individual needs to blow their nose (Fig. 1, left), they are likely to at some point access a tissue box placed somewhere in the workplace.

Instead of just letting that individual take a tissue and return to disease-spreading, the idea is to ensnare the sick individual with a (non-injurious / non-lethal) trap at that location (Fig. 1, right).

2-plain.png

Fig. 1: Left: A standard tissue box. Useful for a person with a runny nose. Right: a possible type of tissue box trap: essentially a bear trap (but with rubber grips instead of bone-crushing steel jaws).

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Fig. 2: Illustration of the closing process. This non-injurious “bear trap” modification will hold the sick individual until they can be humanely released back into the wild.

1-diagram

Fig. 4: A) tissue box. B) non-injurious padded rubber grips to hold onto the tissue-grabbing individual’s arm. C) support for the grabbing arms. D) to prevent the sick individual from just going back to their desk and working with a bear trap on one arm (and continuing to spread disease), the bear trap should be secured in place somehow.

PROS: Saves workplace productivity and reduces the spread of disease.

CONS: Won’t be effective in non-office jobs or for diseases where the plague-ridden individual doesn’t blow their nose.

Thumb your nose at those “know-it-all furniture designers” with this exotic and impractical table! Finally, an outrageous way to show off your OBSCENE WEALTH.

The issue:

Once upon a time, it was possible to show off one’s obscene wealth by purchasing ornately-decorated objects that were obviously expensive.

However, in the era of modern manufacturing, high-quality products are available to even members of the non-nobility.

If only there were a way to show off your personal decadence AND solve a common furniture-related problem (Figure 1) at the same time.

regular-table-legs

Fig. 1: This plain four-legged table is acceptable, but you might accidentally hit your knee on a table leg. Plus, it’s constraining to not be able to put a chair on the corner of the table. A central-post table could solve these issues, but those typically have large “feet” on the ground that you’ll be likely to kick accidentally. Plus, you can’t vacuum around them easily.

One common way to show that one has a ridiculous amount of wealth is to purchase something entirely impractical.

Here, we modify the common dining room table so that it will have the following features:

  • Has a new and impossible-to-counterfeit feature.
  • Is visually distinct from a normal table that a regular person would buy.
  • Is obviously very inconvenient and/or impossible to install in a normal room.
  • Is impractically difficult to move, thus showing that the owner must have servants to handle such day-to-day affairs.

In this case, the impossible-to-counterfeit feature is that the table doesn’t have any table legs—instead, it is suspended from the ceiling.

See Figures 2-5 for possible methods of accomplishing this goal.

rich-table-pillarFig. 2: The ideal table (left) would be a slab that would float a fixed distance from the ground: this would provide the full functional tabletop and works on any surface. However, this is not possible due to the laws of physics. One option we have for realizing this floating-table future is to have a single heavy-duty pillar in the center of the table that suspends it from an overhead support beam

rich-table-wires

Fig. 3: Alternatively, the table could be suspended by wires, which are less visually obtrusive. This would be ideal, but there is a problem, as seen in Figure 4.

rich-table-swings

Fig. 4: With only two wires, the table would be prone to swinging back and forth, which would probably be incredibly annoying. Also, perhaps more severely, if you put anything heavy on the table, then the added weight would cause that side of the table to tilt down, spilling everything onto the floor. Since you’re presumably extremely rich, you could always pay a servant to lean on it and prevent it from swinging, but there’s a better solution in Figure 5.

rich-table-3

Fig. 5: By adding more anchor points and having multiple guy-wires (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy-wire), we can minimize the swinging / tilting of the table. It is still theoretically possible to lift up the table, but this would generally not be a problem unless the table were incredibly light.

Conclusion:

Next time you have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on an aggravatingly impractical furnishing, consider the “suspended from the ceiling table”!

Discuss it with your interior decorator today.

PROS: Show your obscene wealth with an impractical and very-difficult-to-move table that requires substantial structural support that only the richest and most decadent individuals can afford.

CONS: You could theoretically decapitate yourself on one of the guy-wires. So be careful when walking near the table!

 

Phone manufacturers hate this one weird tip to save you HUNDREDS of dollars by not losing your phone! One frugal tip for saving money on smartphones (do not lose them).

The issue:

Cell phones occasionally fall out of a person’s pockets and get forgotten. This is especially easy to do when sitting on a sofa or in a movie theater seat.

If the phone could detect that it had been dropped into sofa cushions, it could notify you before it was too late to find it again!

sofa-phone-cushions

sofa-phone-here-exclamation

Fig. 1: Alas, this phone has fallen between sofa cushions and may soon be lost forever.

sofa-phone-here-it-is

Proposal:

The phone could use its microphone to detect the difference between “phone is in your pocket” and “microphone can only detected sounds that are muffled by sofa cushions” (Fig. 2).

sofa-phone-waveform

Fig. 2: Audio from two scenarios: “normal” (top, yellow) and “stuck in sofa cushions” (bottom, blue).

By listening to the phone’s microphone (and using the orientation sensors), the phone could distinguish between three situations:

  1. “In your pocket” (phone is slightly moving, but sounds are muffled)
  2. “On your desk” (phone is not moving, but background noise is crisp and clear, like a transparent apple)
  3. “Phone fell into the sofa” (phone is not moving, but sounds are muffled).

In case you are worried about the privacy implication of the constant use of the microphone, consider that all phones are monitoring you at all times anyway so that you can say “Hey Siri” / “Ok Google” in order to activate the voice assistant.

Thus, this additional monitoring would not be any more invasive than the current situation.

(Plus, the “fell into the sofa” detection could be done entirely on the phone, so it wouldn’t need to send any audio data to a remote server.)

sofa-phone-ring

Fig. 3: Once the phone detects that it has become trapped in the sofa, it can scream until you rescue it.

This feature could also be expanded to include things like:

  • The phone could detect that you have debarked your plane (or gotten off a train), but somehow the phone has been left behind, perhaps in one of those seat pockets.
  • The phone could detect that 1) it’s been several hours since it’s moved it all, 2) it’s close enough to see your own home WiFi network, and 3) the audio sensor informs it that it’s still in a pants pocket—this means you probably threw it into a laundry basket, so it should email you and/or start beeping so you don’t wash it.
  • The phone could detect that you were traveling by car and left your phone in the car. Then it could send you an email (“Hey, you left me in the car. –Your Phone”), which you would presumably receive on your laptop / desktop computer.

Conclusion:

Don’t buy a new phone unless it comes with this exciting new feature!

PROS: Saves you from many lost-phone mishaps.

CONS: Perhaps by further reducing the demands on humans to actually pay attention and keep track of things, future generations will become slothful and decadent.

Sitting down all day is bad for you! Instead, wriggle through the crawlspace under your house and possibly fall down the stairs in a mad dash to run between rooms of your house while playing this new insanely immersive simulation game! Also, it makes your house into a spaceship.

Background:

There are a few cell phone games that use real-world GPS data to control your in-game character.

The most well-known are probably the two games by Niantic, Pokemon Go and Ingress, in which you physically walk around in order to move your in-game character.

However, no one has yet implemented a smaller-scale version of this idea.

Proposal:

This proposal is for a simulation game that is played on a portable device (probably a cell phone) in which you are the pilot of a large crew-operated vehicle; perhaps a train, a 17th-century galleon, or a futuristic starship.

The vehicle will have several physically-separated “stations” that all need to be manned (by you!). For a galleon, this could include following: the wheel, the sails, an anchor, and the cannons.

In order to operate each station, you (the player) will have to physically run around your house to different locations. Your cell phone GPS will figure out where you are, and will give you the appropriate controls.

  • So if you want to operate the sails, you have to run upstairs to the “sails” station in the second floor hallway.
  • If you want to operate the cannons, you have to go to the “cannon” station in the kitchen, etc.

See Figure 1 for an example of a possible house that this game could be played in, and Figure 2 for an example of a spaceship-ification of the same floor plan.

plan-1-house.png

Fig. 1: A regular floor plan for a house. We will turn this into a spaceship; each different room is designated (by the player) as being a different crucial spaceship component (see Figure 2).

plan-2-spaceship.png

Fig. 2: We have overlaid a spaceship onto this one-story house. NASA guidelines strongly discourage the conversion of a 2-bedroom house into a spaceship, due to the unsuitable floor plan. See artist’s rendition of this architectural fiasco in Figure 3.

spaceship-artists-rendition.png

Fig. 3: Although this spaceship has a terrible layout and extremely poor atmospheric handling, it may be the best that could be done given the layout constraints (see Figure 2).

Addressing GPS issues

Realistically, GPS may not have the required resolution. It also has a hard time with elevation, so it might not be able to report whether you were on the first or second floor of a multi-story dwelling. It might be possible to use WiFi signal strength to fix this, but we also have a more low-tech version that should work.

Instead of using the GPS at all, we just draw a set of symbols that can be easily identified by the cell phone camera.

For example:

  • Draw a triangle on a plain piece of paper. Put that piece of paper in your laundry room. Now it’s the “engine room.”
  • Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Put it in your kitchen. Now it’s the “control room.”
  • Etc.

So when you travel to the correct room in your house, you briefly hold the cell phone camera up to the marked piece of paper, and the phone then knows which room you’re in.

Of course, someone could cheat by putting all the cards together on their desk, but that’s probably not worth worrying about.

We could also use proximity-sensing NFC-enabled cards to prevent having to use the camera, but this is a much less low-tech solution than drawing a triangle on a sheet of paper.

Bonus possibly actually-useful feature:

Instead of being totally frivolous, this game could actually incentivize you to perform useful real-world tasks! Useful tasks that involve walking around a home could include the following:

  • Replace your home’s fire alarm batteries
  • Find the emergency natural gas line shutoff (and the wrench you might need to close the valve)
  • Find the emergency water heater shutoff
  • Check your home for poor drainage around the foundation
  • Water your plants

More difficult tasks:

  • Water a lawn
  • Mow a lawn
  • Re-roof your house (this is the equivalent of taking your galleon into dry dock to scrape barnacles off the hull). (For advanced players only)

PROS: Brings new exercise opportunities to otherwise indolent game aficionados.

CONS: May be difficult to integrate the location-determining aspect without ruining the flow of the game. People would probably also trip and fall down the stairs while playing it.

The horrifying secret that APPLE, GOOGLE, and MICROSOFT don’t want you to know about laptop longevity! Stop being part of the “laptop rat race” with this new insane beverage-related tip. Tip number 5 will shock you!

Background:

Millions of laptops are destroyed every year by spilled drinks (Figure 1). Unfortunately, this is a difficult problem to address, because laptops and beverages are frequently in close proximity.

normal-laptop-and-water

spill

Fig. 1a (top) and 1b (bottom): You have probably either experienced this situation first-hand or observed it happen to someone else. If only there had been some warning ahead of time about the peril the laptop was in!

Proposal:

If the glass-full-of-liquid danger were more immediately obvious, many laptops could be saved from a thirst-quenching death—the laptop user would simply need to place the drink slightly farther away from the laptop than they normally would.

By adding a ring of laser emitters to the beverage container, the spill danger can be made obvious: the lasers will project a circular “spill danger zone” on the table, informing you of any imperiled electronics (Figure 2).

danger-zone

Fig. 2: The laser emitters on the top of the glass (shown as red triangles) project a “spill danger zone” region around the glass. You should move any sensitive electronics outside of this area.

An advanced model of this idea could also have an integrated camera: this would allow it to only project the “danger zone” markings if it actually detected an object in the spill area, instead of all the time (which might get annoying).

PROS: Saves your laptop from destruction!

CONS: The lasers might melt people’s eyeballs when you raise the glass to drink from it.