Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Website (or IT) to facilitate asset sharing

Airbnb for spare rooms. RelayRides and Getaround for cars. What other assets to we own that we'd be happy to rent out? What other assets do we own that are so expensive that other people would rent rather than buy? What other assets do we own that someone else doesn't have the space to store? What other assets do we own that someone else doesn't have with them because they're travelling?
  • Garden/Home improvement tools - lawnmower; chainsaw; hedge trimmer
  • Camping equipment
  • Yachts, boats, canoes
  • Trailers
  • Bikes
  • Motorbikes
  • Computers
  • Any hobby-related kit
  • Workshop space (and tools)
  • Garages
The role of IT/website/smartphones: connecting people. People list what they have for rent; other people search to find what they want to rent.

Robot to automatically wind clocks

Wind up clocks need to be regularly wound to keep the mechanism in good order. If you own a fair number of such clocks, I imagine winding them up could become a chore.

I would guess that winding would be an easy job for a robot, particularly if permanently connected (perhaps via a rubber grip) in an asthetically neutral manner. The robot may need a few sensors: to prevent overwinding (measuring torque); and to rewind at the right time (perhaps measuring the vibrations of each tick and determining when the mechanism is loosing power - or more simply, just rewinding after a set period of time).

It may be best to house both the clock and the robot in an asthetically neutral glass case.

The coolness of words

Life isn't fair for words: some are just cooler than others. It occurs to me that it would be useful in marketing to have some solid data on what words are cooler than others.

Google isn't a lot of help. Here are some hit returns from Google (I'll leave it up to you to decide which is the cooler):

Accountant 55.9m
Astronaut 22.7m

Tax 735m
Cash 639m

Sword 124m
Lightsaber 5.6m

How to get this data? Perhap look at the frequency of the word's use on sites focused on entertainment rather than those focused on business (and other serious endeavours)? Or perhaps look at the word's frequency on Twitter (likely to be more "cool" than business)?

Also, it would be useful to assess phrases or word combinations, e.g. "mission accomplished".

...and on the pirate vs ninja debate:

Pirate 112m
Ninja 253m....

Saturday, 21 May 2011

How search engines prioritise results

I've been doing something thinking, and some research, on how search engines prioritise results. Some known data sources:

  • PageRank - the number of links to a particular page (and the authority of each of those links)
  • The searcher's previous search history
  • What previous searchers have clicked on in response to the same or similar search
  • Trend info (perhaps from Twitter)
  • The searcher's location (as indicated by the IP address)
  • Other data on the searcher
A couple of areas that I don't know if search engines use (but would be interested to find out) are:

  • time of year (for example, when searching for "tree" around Christmas, are you more likely to be shown results for Christmas trees, and if so, is it the time of year that is taken into account or just the trending information mentioned above)
  • time of day
  • what previous searchers of the same location have clicked on in response to the same or similar search

Hare and tortoise evolutionary mechanism

Is there an evolved hare and tortoise mechanism, whereby winners relax once winning and lose their competitive advantage? This could perhaps be some form of group selection, whereby the group is favored by a winner not continuing to assert dominance over the group.

Column and row hiding and unhiding

Spreadsheet and other software tools' functionality for hiding and unhiding columns and rows of tables is lacking. In particular, where several columns are hidden together and you need to unhide one of them - you have to unhide the lot, and then re-hide the ones you want hidden. What is needed is a list of columns (with the top row as the name) allowing you to tick which to see and which not to.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Further thoughts on DIY/hardware stores

As previously discussed, I believe there is potential for DIY/hardware stores to extend their support for the DIY community ourside the core arena of home improvement (particularly in the area of providing workshop space, but also in their product offering).

The other possible area of extension is to extend their coverage of the home improvement market by offering greater home improvement services. This could range from maintenance (e.g. plumbing), through small home improvement (e.g. painting/decorating, odd jobs), to building extensions.

The advantage for the DIY/hardware store is increased (and diversified) revenue, and promotion of their brand outside the DIY community. Additionally, as the DIY/hardware store already buys materials and tools in bulk, the cost discounts are already in place. The benefit to the consumer is a one-stop-shop for home improvement, and the reliability/quality-control that would necessarily come from a high-brand-value DIY/hardware store.

The role for DIY stores in the next industrial revolution

As the maker culture goes mainstream there is an opportunity for DIY/hardware and tool rental stores to expand their offering. In particular, by housing workshops that give consumers access to manufacturing equipment that they could not afford to buy, and would not have the home workshop space to house.

Obviously, due to the danger involved in operating equipment, access would need to be controlled (by membership) and training given. The hardware store would need to employ staff to supervise (and support customers). Some level of charging would probably have to apply in order to make it economic.

The kind of equipment that the workshop would house would range from standard workshop kit such as band saws, sanding machines, vacuum forming machines, welding kit, drill presses, lathes, etc to more exotic tools such as CNC routers and 3D printers.

The obvious benefit from the hardware store is that when their customers come in to use the workshop, they will likely buy materials and smaller equipment from the store.

DIY/hardware and tool rental stores also need to expand beyond their current offering, focused on home improvement and gardening, to being part of all home (and community, cottage industry and small business) hardware projects. Perhaps longterm there is even room for them in the software arena, as they support their customers with software for their hardware projects.

Note: whilst some commentators have suggested a future with 3D printers in every home, I doubt this model as the level of use will not justify the cost. Having 3D printers in every shop, however, might well happen.

Chalk printer

Restaurants, pubs and bars are still making good use of that old fashioned technology: blackboards and chalk. I was thinking about how it might be possible to "print" onto a blackboard using chalk.

The setup would probably be a flatbed printer, with a printing mechanism like the felt tip printer. Obviously a large flatbed would be ideal to account for different sizes of chalk boards.

Colour could either be delivered using different coloured chalks, or perhaps through combinations of primary colours (or would it be CMY?).

The advantages of this is are: the reusability - a display that can be wiped clean and reused; the end product is cheap enought to be left outside (unlike LCDs or eInk displays); the display doesn't require power; easier to produce high impact designs over hand drawing (for those without such a skills set).

Quietening trains

Trains are pretty noisy. Is noone doing anything about this? How about rubber plates on the face of the wheels? Or some dampening (again perhaps rubber) on the rails?

I'm sure that this would not need to be on the contact point, but just attached to the metal to absorb some of the vibration.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Underground wind turbines

One of the disadvantages of wind turbines is noise. Would it be possible to put the turbine underground so that it is acoustically insulated, and have wind funnelled down to it?

Another potential benefit is that the working parts are more accessive for servicing.

The input and output funnels could for example be put at the top of a tall building. It should be possible to use fins to angle the funnels to catch the wind.

Feature for email programs

I'd quite like a feature for email programs to provide a list of all the email addresses (or contacts) included in the emails (to, from and/or cc'd) of a particular folder.

I did try to do this with Outlook VBA, but no luck so far...

Training salary sacrifice scheme

It seems to me that too few employers are willing to sponsor their employees through qualifications (particularly in these difficult economic times). Perhaps there is an opportunity for a temporary salary sacrifice system to pay for qualifications (perhaps with employers matching employees contributions). The advantage to the employee is that they pay for their qualification with their pre-tax income (i.e. saving tax on the study); the advantage for the employer is that their workforce becomes better qualified (potentially at lower cost); and the advantage to the government/state is that their population becomes better qualified (albeit at the cost of lower income tax take).

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Making fridges smart

Makes appliances smart is not about bolting a computer onto the appliance – putting a computer in the door of the fridge – it has to be about integrating the computer and the appliance. The key to achieving this, and to begin opening up the possible benefits of smart appliances, is sensors (data input).

Some potential sensors for fridges:
  • Internal thermometer
  • External thermometer
  • Door open/closed sensor
  • Power usage meter
  • Cameras (perhaps per shelf) covering the inside of the fridge
  • Electronic noses (perhaps detecting off-milk?)
  • Pressure sensors (in shelves)
Note, the cameras should facilitate: measuring how full the fridge is; object recognition; barcode scanning; etc.

The second, and perhaps more complicated stage, is linking this data with the functions (activities) of the appliance, and perhaps extending the functions. The functions of a fridge:
  • refridgeration
  • air circulation within the fridge
  • light
  • ice maker
The potential extensions are:
  • An automatic door

Monday, 2 May 2011

A potential use for carputers

It would be useful for carputers to have a "report pothole" button on the dashboard. When the driver encounters a pothole, he/she presses the button and the GPS location and direction (giving the side of the road) are reported to the highway maintenance authorities (via 3G connection). There is also the potential for sensors in the car's suspension or shock absorbers to collect data and report automatically. This principle is also applicable to other road issues, for example broken signs, debris on the road, etc.