Biodegradable Coffins

The Problem: Embalming and burying humans, and animals for that matter, in environmentally unfriendly coffins like metal or treated wood do unnecessary damage to the planet and go against the natural order of biodegradation.

The Idea: Coffins should be primarily made of materials that biodegrade at roughly the same rate as the body inside. Replacing treated woods with high-density compressed paper products or untreated natural woods would be a good start. Using non-toxic biodegradable colorants and finishing’s (hinges, ornaments, etc…) as well would be the ultimate goal. Likewise for linings, padding’s and other internal fixtures, using natural cottons and silks as opposed to synthetic nylon and polyester fabrics would further contribute to a healthier planet.

There are certainly options like this available, but I would urge that this be more mandated than recommended for any below-ground burial. Above-ground burials and cremations I have no strong opinion about, other than I do not want to be laid to rest in either way. I have every confidence that clever craftspeople and artisans could create respectful and practical coffins without wrapping the whole thing in metal or plastic.

A friend noted that many cemeteries offer burials using only a shroud, which is a nice offering, but may be challenging for on-lookers to see the shrouded body of the decedent. I propose that the biodegradable coffin is a healthy compromise between the two.

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Ancient Video Game Holding Company

The Problem: Just because a video game is old does not make it any less awesome. However the hardware used to play old games can be cumbersome to maintain, and the legality of classic software available posted on the Internet is dubious at best. I legally owned Zyll back in the day, but now I have no 386 PC on which to play it, nor a 5 1/4″ drive where I can insert the disk, and as such I am left yearning.

The Idea: Start a company that buys the rights to old video games, and then legally redistributes them on modern form factors (PC, mobile phones, tablets, etc…).

How awesome would it be to play the Lord British classic Auto Duel on your iPad? Or Karl Buiter’s epic E.O.S.: Earth Orbit Stations on your Android OS phone? Or the glorious Silicon Beach Software original version of Dark Castle on you Java enabled TV! In case you haven’t guessed the answer: it would be AWESOME!

Effectively this is taking the Netflix model and applying it to classic video games. With Netflix, today you can watch a movie shot on celluloid film in 1925 on your TV, PC or any of a myriad of hand-held devices. They are successful, in large part, because they eliminated the technology burden on the content owners. Via Netflix, studios can deliver their content securely and legally, delighting consumers and still making money. If we extend that concept to classic gaming, it would likely be financially viable, especially as the number of potential target devices grows.

The good news is, most of the engineering hurdles surrounding emulation, playing a game written for one device on another, seem to have been solved. Google’ing for game emulators, you can pretty much play any old game on your PC with the proper emulator installed. The problem, as noted above, is the proper rights to play those classic games are hard to come by.

This leads me to believe that 98% of the company would be lawyer/salespersons who are working with existing license holders to acquire content. It would seem there would be two typical cases: 1) rights are fully acquired, and any gains made through redistribution are kept, or 2) rights are shared, and gains are split based on some agreement. Depending on the complexity of the port (converting the game to work on new devices), age of the game, expected number of downloads/plays, and other factors, it would take some time to find the right balance that works for everyone.

The sales pitch for most cases would be pretty straight forward, in that if you produced a game the Commodore 64 in 1983, it is not likely producing much revenue in 2013. If someone (this proposed company) came to them with the low-effort, profit-producing, opportunity to expose their game to a new generation of gamers, they would likely be delighted. The target audience would likely be nostalgia gamers, like me, but the market for new gamers who may just play because it’s “retro chic” is there, and in either case, you have paying customers.

Possible Complications: One of the harder problems to solve will be when just re-releasing the original code on a new device will not work because of game-play limitations. For example, the aforementioned E.O.S. is a non-networked multi-player game, but it is unlikely my friends and I will sit around one iPhone to play each other. This game would need to be updated (err, re-written) so it could be played over the Internet.

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Truck Merge Zone Laser Deterrence

The idea here is pretty simple. Attach to trucks a laser beam, similar to what might be used at laser shows, or even just a good strong light with some filters and lenses, that projects a pattern on the road in front the moving truck to dissuade cars from merging into the danger zone in front of the truck. The cost to produce such a device is likely much less than the cost paid out by trucking and insurance companies every year for accidents caused by improper merges, and the fact that it would probably save lives is pretty sweet.

Truck Laser Safety

Truck Laser Safety Sample

Key Benefits: Likely relatively low cost for saving lives. Reasonably low impact to the transportation system. Central payers, namely insurance companies and trucking companies would make marketing such a device easier.

Perceived Challenges on top of design, development and testing: Highway board approvals, informing motorists to avoid the projected pattern, determining what to project to be deterrent but not distracting, ensuring it works in adverse conditions like snow and fog, etc…

Features to Consider

  • Pattern to project should be obvious but not distracting, language neutral to work in multiple countries, and intuitive for motorists. In the attachment, I propose a pattern of red X’s (possibly flashing?).
  • Depth of projection would be best served if tied to cargo weight and speed (i.e. stopping distance) so if the truck is empty, the field projected would be much shorter than a fully loaded semi.
  • Driver configurable: Should be able to turn on, off, and adjust as needed with minimal assistance.

External Notes
Taken from statistics page, 12/26/12: “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a cost-benefit analysis of forward collision warning systems for the trucking industry in February 2009, estimating that between 8,597 and 18,013 rear-end crashes could have been prevented from 2001 to 2005 had these systems been on trucks. With such promising potential to improve highway safety, this technology should be robustly deployed throughout the passenger and commercial fleets.”

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Flexible Rear View Mirrors

The Idea: Make car rear-view mirrors, exterior and possibly interior, out of a more flexible material, thus allowing the driver to mechanically adjust the shape of the mirror to be more concave (zoom in but narrow focus) or convex (wider field of view) while driving. The primary benefit would be a quick spot check of blind spots without having to do a full over-the-shoulder check. The secondary benefit would be enhanced visual acuity when backing up.

The system would seem to have a few key parts: the flexible mirror, the actuator to warp the mirror, and the driver interface. Hopefully a good materials engineer could come up with a shiny surface that is weather and impact resistant for the mirror? The actuator would likely be a small motor with an arm attaching it to the mirror at specific points to bend the mirror as desired. The interface would likely be the hard part, in my layperson’s opinion. The trick will be giving the driver something simple and intuitive that does not require a more distracting body action than a shoulder check. My best idea was a thumb button at the two o’clock position on the steering wheel which, while depressed, the mirror becomes convex, release it and it returns to normal. However, this does not elegantly help with the backup feature, or the concave option. Hopefully a good human-factors engineer will have better ideas?!

The background: This idea came to me several years ago when I hurt my right shoulder and neck and it was very uncomfortable to do shoulder checks while driving. While my rear view mirrors are pretty well adjusted to reduce blind spots, I still shoulder check out of habit. The hope is this would be an optional safety enhancement that finds its way in to wide adoption.

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Toilet Paper Direction Indicator

This one comes to us from our friend Andy and is a simple elegant solution to a problem we all have from time to time.

Toilet Paper Roll Direction

Visual and/or tactile indicator of the unspool direction of the toilet paper roll.

The Idea: Directional indicators throughout the toilet paper roll to indicate the unspool direction. There are lots of different ways to approach this, but a simple colored arrow strip on one side of the roll would probably work well. When replacing the roll, knowing that the colored strip goes on the left (or right if that’s how your family rolls) will avoid that annoying spin-and-seek for the starting sheet, and the more annoying keep spinning until it unwinds to the floor dilemma. Arrows in the strip will give a strong visual clue to the seated user of proper unroll direction.

Tying into other ideas posted, you could also put the remaining sheet count every 50 or so sheets in the strip (see End of the Toilet Roll Reminder).

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Open Car Door Reflective Tape

Problem: When getting out of the car on a busy street you open your car door and wham, you get hit by a passing car. (Example). Okay, maybe that’s overkill, but I do have a genuine fear of getting hit by cars on a busy street as I open my car door.

Idea: Car manufacturers and owners alike should put reflective tape on the interior part of the door that is perpendicular to the street when the door is opened.

Car Door Reflective Tape

Sample of where to put reflective tape on car door interior to improve safety. Source image courtesy of

The big advantage here is that this promotes bidirectional safety. The driver is looking in their exit side mirror before opening the door, but the reflective tape now gives approaching motorist an extra tool to avoid collisions which doubles the chance of safety. Furthermore, since this is the first part of the driver’s door an approaching motorist would see the reflective tape would be visible before any part of the drivers body is out the door. This improvement eliminates a lot of the possibilities that put people in harm’s way.

This is expected to be a low-cost solution in that the tape and application of said tape should not be terribly difficult or expensive to implement. There is also a low social impact, as there need not be a lot of training to get drivers to understand what to do if they see a shiny strip appear in front of them as they speed down the road, slow down and make room.

Value added features may include a glow in the dark option for curb side doors where the oncoming traffic may be a pedestrian or bike and may not have effective lighting to maximize a reflective strip. One could also put a small colored or flashing light instead of tape to be more visible during the day. This is obviously more complex than tape.

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Inflatable Pants

Problem Statement: You find yourself needing to sit on a lot of hard surfaces, like floors, logs or bleachers, but your rear-end hurts after sitting on that hard surface for a while.

Solution: An inflatable air bag in the seat of your pants that can be quickly inflated and deflated using a mini pump in the pocket.

Key Design Concepts: The air bag system (pump, hose and bag) should be removable and/or washing machine safe. It should not be obvious that the air bag is there when deflated. Ideally, the pants would just have an internal pocket that the U-shaped air bag could go into, so you could own multiple pairs of pants, but only have a few air bags, which could be swapped out with ease. A premium upgrade might be to have an auto-inflate model that uses those little CO2 cartridges to keep the pressure in the bag.

A Side Benefit: I am not much into fashion, but I gather is some circles a well-rounded rear end is a fashion selling point. I would gather that a similar idea could be used in the fashion space, but I will leave that up to others to figure out.

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