The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Tag: car

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.

Advertisements

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.

Stop being so wasteful by purchasing 2 cars, when you could get away with 1.5 cars instead using this one weird trick!

Background:

Sometimes, different tasks call for different tools.

The idea of being able to mix-and-match different components of a mechanical device to fit the job at hand has been around for a while.

For example:

  • Many screwdrivers let you change out the bit. Now you only need one screwdriver for multiple types of screws.
  • Vacuum cleaners often have a half-dozen bizarre attachments for cleaning different surfaces and hard-to-reach areas.
  • Cameras have various attachments for different types of photograph.
  • Firearms also have many possible attachments. For example, if you are bringing a rifle to a Civil War re-enactment or a post-apocalyptic Terminator-style re-enactment, you might want a bayonet or laser sight, respectively.

There is even a project to demonstrate how this idea would apply cell phones: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Ara

But the idea of being able to mix-and-match different parts has, surprisingly, never been applied to cars.

The plan:

Instead of having to over-buy your car / truck for the largest job you might need to use your car for (“maybe I’ll need to move a bunch of furniture, I’ll get a large truck”), instead you could just buy a modular car and switch out the modules in question.

For example, if you bought a small 2-door car but find that it has insufficient space, you could swap out the rear half of the car for a larger four-door model.

Similarly, if you find your large station wagon is too difficult to park downtown, you could swap out the back half with a tiny trunk module.

car-modular-pieces

Fig 1: Color-coded modules for a car. Top: the yellow “driver” module + orange “pickup truck” module. Middle: a standard rear module in brown. Bottom: an “extra seating” module in green plus a “rear-facing extra seat” module in blue for high-density seating.

A user could switch out modules as desired, without the need for any mechanical expertise, due to standardization for the connections between modules (shown in red in Fig. 1).

Conclusion:

This is not only a great idea, it was even briefly demonstrated in the James Bond movie “The Living Daylights” (car number VAZ-2106). See time 0:57 on Youtube here for a visual example.

PROS: Now you won’t need two cars, you can get away with… one and a half cars?

CONS: A side-impact collision would probably cause this type of car to explode into its component modules.

Never be confused by a signaling bus again, assuming you frequently drive behind buses instead of taking public transit (you monster)

Background:

Every vehicle has two turn signals on the back.

These can indicate one of two things:

1) Car is turning left / right.

2) If both lights are blinking: “hazard / emergency / vehicle is stopped in roadway.”

emergency-button

Fig 1: The emergency / hazard lights are usually activated by this button.

The issue:

Unfortunately, distinguishing between the “turn signal” and “emergency” requires that both lights are visible.

See figure 2 for a common example involving a bus that is either stopped at a bus stop (and thus it is safe to go around it to the left) or is signaling that it is about to get into the left hand lane (and thus it is not safe to go around it to the left!).

blinker-or-emergency-light-bus

Fig 2: The scenario in question. The bus’s right-side turn signal is blocked by the blue car. So if you saw this scenario in front of you while driving, you wouldn’t know what the bus was planning to do (Remain stopped? Move into the left lane? Who knows!).

Proposal: Change the rate of blinking for the hazard lights

The solution to this issue is very simple: normal turn signals typically blink with approximately equal time in the “on” and “off” portions of the cycle.

We would keep this behavior the same, but change the “hazard light” blinker pattern to a different pattern (for example, two short blinks, followed by a longer pause).

See figure 3a for a current normal blinker’s behavior, and figure 3b for the proposed revision to emergency lights.

blinker-regular

Fig 3a: A standard blinker typically blinks on and off in a regular pattern. The “on” and “off” periods usually take the same amount of time.

blinker-pulse

Fig 3b: In the proposed change, emergency lights would blink in a distinctive “on / off / on / off   (long pause)  on / off / on / off” pattern. This way, even viewing a single blinker would be sufficient to tell if the vehicle was signaling to change lanes or if it had its emergency blinkers on.

Conclusion:

This would probably work! And it does not require any additional hardware in the car (i.e., no additional lights). It would probably add zero cents of cost to the manufacture of a new car.

PROS: Easy to implement, probably would work!

CONS: Too easy!!!

Never forget where you left your car again, because your phone knows! Also your car is probably worth thousands of dollars, so you should be keeping track of it anyway!

The issue:

When parking on the street or in an enormous shopping center parking lot, it can be easy to lose track of exactly where one’s car is parked.

Since cell phones constantly record a person’s GPS location as a standard feature (if you are not familiar with this, look up “iPhone Track location”—the images are quite striking), we can use this same data to reconstruct the car’s location when it was parked.

vegas-actual-data-zoomout

Fig 1: Your phone typically does not make this data easily available to you, but it is constantly recording (and saving) your location. This is a low-resolution zoom-out of tracking signals of a phone taken to Las Vegas. Each dot on the map actually represents dozens or hundreds of specific location “pings,” which are just not visible at this zoom level. The black point cluster is Las Vegas itself.

Proposal:

It would be useful if your phone could always tell you where your car was parked—without requiring any user interaction or planning ahead of time.

Luckily, this is possible!

The car location will can be inferred using two sources of data:

  1. By using the accelerometer of the phone (as a pedometer):
    1. When the user is driving, the pedometer should register no (or very, very few) steps.
    2. After parking, the pedometer should suddenly see activity.
  2. By examining the speed of travel between GPS coordinates.
    1. Data points that have an associated speed above 20 miles per hour are practically guaranteed to be in a car (or other form of motorized transportation).
    2. Car data points will still have interruptions (e.g. stop lights) and low-speed sections (e.g., traffic jam) that need to be accounted for.
    3. At some point, the driver will get out of the car and walk to their destination. This can be easily detected by the slower movement and non-zero pedometer data.

See figures 2 and 3 below for an example of integrating these two data types (top of figure = pedometer activity bar graph, bottom of figure = map and GPS “pings”). Try to figure out the parking spot on the diagram below.

auto-park-guess

Fig 2: Here is some fake sample data. The blue bars along the top (“Number of Steps Detected”) show pedometer / accelerometer activity from 9:02 AM to 9:10 AM (the more a person walks, the higher the bar). The yellow-to-orange-to-red rectangles at the bottom indicate the GPS locations at these specific times. Try to figure out where the user parked the car based on this data. See Fig. 3 for the algorithm’s guess.

auto-park-input

Fig 3: Here is the algorithm’s guess for the parking spot—see if you agree with this guess! This is an annotated version of the data in Figure 2.

Conclusion:

This feature should definitely be built into your phone!

PROS: Automatically lets you know where you (probably) parked your car, and doesn’t need any data that a modern cell phone isn’t already collecting.

CONS: Might not work very well in underground parking garages. Try to remember where you parked in those situations!