The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Automotive

Uber and Lyft may have diminished the taxi medallion system, but the “medallion” idea can still be applied in other places! One weird local government tip.

Background:

Taxis in many cities operate under what is called a “medallion system” (Figure 1), whereby the supply of taxis is limited by a fixed quantity of tokens (“medallions”) that are issued in controlled quantities by the city.

taxi-medallion

Fig 1: An actual “taxi medallion” is apparently nothing like this.

Proposal:

For some reason, almost nothing else is regulated in this manner. But there are other services that are conceptually similar and could have their own “medallion” systems.

For example:

delivery-driving

Fig 2: Food delivery (e.g., pizza, Chinese food). Like a taxi, the driver operates a passenger automobile on public roads for commercial purposes.  A “delivery driving wedge” could be required in order for a business, such as a pizza restaurant, to deliver food.

dog-hypercube

Fig 3: Dog walkers make use of the public sidewalks and roads, and must abide by requirements that other pedestrians are not subject to (“pick up dog poop, do not allow the dog to bite anyone”). This “dog hypercube” would ensure that there was not an over-abundance of dogs on the sidewalks at any given time.

 

internet-cube

Fig 3: The medallion system could be applied to other activities with commercial potential.

  • Bicycles: Like a taxi, a bicycle consumes space on the public roads. Licensing of bicycles to a small number (see Figure 3, right side) would guarantee the availability of bike rack spots.
  • Internet usage could be prohibited without an “Internet cube” medallion (see Figure 3, left side). This could increase the available bandwidth for other purposes and could bring clients back to businesses like video rental companies and paper map retailers.

PROS: Opens up a new source of income: purchase a medallion, and then rent it out!

CONS: It may be difficult for City Hall employees to estimate the exact quantity of medallions to issue.

 

 

 

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Venture capitalists love this one weird trick—double your startup “runway” time and reduce employee salaries dramatically while improving quality of life at the same time!

The issue:

Many companies (especially tech-related ones) are located in extremely expensive cities.

If a company in a major metropolitan area could easily relocate to a nearby but outlying area, then employee salaries could be cut by 25%, yet the employees would still have more after-tax/rent income.

So essentially, the company would both be more profitable and the employees would be earning more.

Of course, it has always been quite difficult and inconvenient to move a company.

Until now, that is!

Proposal:

Instead of having a standard office building, a company can be based in a large number of slightly-modified truck trailers (Fig 1).

truck-flat

Fig. 1: Here we have three 18-wheeler trailers in gray and one truck cab in orange.

Three separate trailers would make for an oppressive and inefficient workspace, so the trailers are specially modified so that 1) the side walls can be removed and 2) a floor plate can extend out to bridge the gap between trailers. Figure 2 displays a single office room that is created out of three trailers.

truck-cube

Fig. 2: The three trailers from figure 1 are combined into a single large room. Specifically, the side walls of each trailer can be lifted up, allowing multiple trailers to be combined.

There are countless advantages of this plan over a traditional office building:

  • Easily relocate your business to an area with lower cost-of-living / lower rent
  • Makes it easier to threaten to relocate your business to another state / country in order to (hopefully) extract tax breaks from the local government.
  • If your business becomes crowded, you can add more trailers as needed.
  • If you over-bought and your office is too big, you can downsize the office by simply removing a few trailers.

Figure 3 shows a possible office layout inside the three-trailer example office.

office-furnished

Fig. 3: Inside the three trailers, a standard workshop or office space can be configured, as demonstrated here. Note that the floorplan is free to ignore the boundaries between trailers—it’s effectively one large room, just like a regular office.

The only issue with treating the space as a single unit (rather than 3 trailers) is that if the office were to be moved, you’d need to make sure all the furniture fit within single trailers (or you could cut your furniture in half, and put the halves into two separate trailers).

cut-aware

Fig. 4: If you want to move your company, you just need to push the furniture so that it doesn’t span multiple trailers. Furniture that is in danger of being chopped in half is illustrated here with the “scissor-cut” icon and green highlighting. For most businesses, this would be an easy task (unless heavy machinery or elaborate cubicle arrangements are involved).

PROS: Makes it easy to relocate your company for both cost-of-living reasons and for tax purposes.

CONS: A multi-story building would be difficult to manage. Most layouts would be limited to a single story.

Five easy improvements to the despised “four-way or all-way” stop sign! End your confusion about road signage, and never get a ticket for rolling through a stop sign again!

Background:

The stop sign, for all its utilitarian simplicity, has a severe and critical shortcoming: it has two different roles, both marked by the same sign (Figure 1).

The two situations, and what the driver must do in each case:

  1. All-way stop: driver can casually check for other cars right there at the intersection, and then proceed.
  2. Two-way stop: driver must look far down the road for quite some distance to identify any fast-traveling cross traffic.

These two situations are TOTALLY DIFFERENT, but the sign marking them is the same (Figure 1).

 

stop-big-plain

Fig. 1: Is this an all-way stop or a two-way stop? Who knows! See Figure 2 for the answer.

stop-intersection-two-way

Fig 2: Oh, it was a two-way stop. I hope the driver looked far down the road before proceeding!

Previous attempts at solving this problem:

This is a recognized problem, and sign designers have attempted to (poorly) solve it before, as shown in Figure 3.

So far, they have been completely unsuccessful.

Fig 3: Some (but not all!) signs specifically indicate “Cross traffic does not stop” or “All-way stop.” But just the fact that a subtitle is required is an admission that these signs are fundamentally flawed.

Proposal:

The “all-way” and “partial-way” stop signs need to be clearly different at a glance.

See Figure 4 for a proposal that is backwards-compatible with existing stop signs.

Fig 4: Proposal A (“Four leafed clover”): The traditional “octagon” stop sign (left) will now indicate partial-way stops: its meaning is now upgraded to “be EXTRA CAREFUL, because the cross traffic does not stop!”

The new “four leafed clover” stop sign (right) indicates an all-way stop, where the driver only needs to look for traffic at that stop sign before proceeding. Because existing stop signs are all the “be extra careful!” kind, we don’t need to worry about immediately replacing all existing stop signs.

stop-big-cut

Fig 5: Here is an alternative form of the “four leaf clover” sign proposed above.

Fig 6: Substantially altering the silhouette of the stop sign would make the difference even more obvious, as shown in this “emphatically on-fire” stop sign.

 

Fig 7: Sometimes it may be insufficient to just indicate whether or not an intersection is all-way or partial-way. For example, in a (rare) partial-way intersection with more than four intersecting streets, a driver may entirely miss a street.

Here, the number of dots on the stop sign indicates the number of non-stopping incoming roads. This allows the driver to know how many roads they should be looking out for.

So the five-dot sign would indicate a (very rare) 6-way intersection with only one stop sign, the three-dot one would be a four-way intersection (again, with just one stop sign), and the no-dot sign would indicate an all-way stop.

(A reflective yellow border would indicate that this is a “new style” stop sign, to avoid confusion with the previous no-border signs—otherwise, every old-style stop sign would seem to indicate an all-way stop.)

Bonus idea: It has been shown that humans have a deep-seated primal reaction to certain stimuli, such as a silhouette of a spider or of a snake about to strike. In order to make the stop sign stand out even more, so no one would ever miss it out of the corner of their eye, perhaps it could be fashioned into the likeness of a cobra, poised to strike.

PROS: May reduce traffic accidents, especially if a simple backwards-compatible system like the one in Figure 4 is adopted.

CONS: People might start to treat the partial-way “four leaf clover” stop signs like “yield” signs, and roll right through them.

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?

5-issues.png

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.

4-maybe-here.png

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!