Sunday, 23 December 2012

Social network cafe

Whilst smartphones (and smaller tablets) are getting better for checking social networks on the go, there is as yet no substitute for the larger screen real estate of laptops, desktops and larger tablets. As such their is an opportunity for social networks to create cafes where people come and can use a laptop/desktop/tablet to use the social network. The laptops/desktops/tablets would need to be tethered to the tables to prevent theft, and would need robust security to prevent account hacking.

The advantage to the consumer would be free access to larger screen real-estate computers on the go. The advantage to the social network would be to gather significant amounts of real-world user-experience data: mouse and keyboard logging; video of the user's activity; etc. Obviously this snooping would need to be disclosed to the cafe users, but it would not be an unfair trade-off. Particularly if the price of coffee was right!

Congestion-based road pricing

Roads are congested different amounts at different times. This indicates that the disincentive of sitting in traffic is insufficient to dissuade drivers from driving. So congestion charging makes sense.

But most schemes (at least those I've read about), are fairly static in nature: they don't take dynamic day-by-day (or minute-by-minute) congestion data into account when establishing zones or charges.

A system that did take account of dynamic data is not beyond our technological capabilities. A congestion fee per road, per direction on that road, per hour of the day, per day of the week and per time of the year could be established dynamically from traffic-monitoring data and applied to a driver's account. Drivers would be able to view their accounts and see the journeys that were contributing most to their congestion charge, and they may then choose to alter their journey habits. They could review available pricing data to identify cheaper periods. The market forces at work, operating at a micro level (per road, per minute) would allow for much more efficient use of our road network.

Such a system would also work in our driver-less car future. The fee for using a shared driver-less car fleet could incorporate a congestion component, again at a per road, per direction on that road, per hour of the day, per day of the week and per time of the year, level of detail. This would again use market forces to encourage behaviour that maximises the efficient use of our road network.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Wikileaks for prices

With notable exceptions marked "price on application" (which are really only for rich people anyway), pricing data in the business-to-consumer market is abundant. Price comparison websites have made the job of accessing this already-available price data all the easier.

But in the business-to-business market, deals are still done behind closed doors, and pricing data is more difficult to come by. What we need is a Wikileaks for B2B pricing. Participants could anonymously submit pricing data about goods and services that they had bought, making for a more competitive and dynamic market.

(This is really just a more specific version of my suggestion of a heuristics website).

Boldy going

Will the human race or our descendents explore the universe? Or will we spend our time exploring the richer virtual universe, whilst our robotic slaves harness the physical universe to create more computational power to make our virtual universe all the richer?

What to wear

I'd like an app (ideally on my phone) that would allow me to record what I was wearing and whether appropriate for the conditions. This personal assessment of attire versus conditions could be mapped to weather data as derived from sensors on the phone, or via location-sensing and download of weather data.

The result of this data collection would be that the app would be able to recommends what to wear on a given day based on the weather forecast. And it avoids me having to consciously map closing to weather (answering the "yes/no" appropriateness of current attire question is much easier). In particular it helps with the hard-to-assess areas such as the impact of wind chill factor depending on layer combinations.

Elevated baby playground

Why do parents chose to play with children down at their level, rather than raising them up to a suitable height? Probably the answer to this question is safety. But anyway, why not build a set of raised platforms that babies/toddlers can crawl around, with guard rails to stop the babies falling off the sides. The platforms could be arranged into a ring, with a lifting bridge allowing adults to enter the centre of the ring. The base of platforms could be used for storage, making efficient use of space.

Knowledge and creativity

Knowledge helps you access as-yet unploughed fields of creativity.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The ultimate acquisition

High synergy, low market covariance

Note folder

This thought is in some ways (or all ways) entirely pointless as paper notebooks will soon be superseded by tablets. But nonetheless, here goes:

A common problem I encounter with my paper notepad is that it tends to be filled chronologically. Whilst this is useful for somethings, it does not allow grouping of notes by topic.

An alternative approach that does allow notes to be re-ordered chronologically would be loose-leaf sheets. This is in fact how I took notes back in college, with those sheets being added into the relevant lever-arch file. But such an approach is not common in a professional setting despite its benefits.

There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly, the volume of notes professionals take is typically less than students, so level-arch files are too large; and secondly, there is no professional-looking stationary for performing such a function.

The latter point suggests a opportunity, to create a paper tool that combines a pad of loose-leaf sheets with a tabbed organiser that the pages and be quickly and easily added into. This could be for example a (slightly larger than) A3 side leather folder with a seam down the middle. The right side (for right-handed people) holds a pad of paper, the left holds a ring-binder with tabs to drop the pages into.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Solar 3D printed bricks

I've mentioned previously about Markus Kayser's SolarSinter, which uses the energy of sunlight to fuse sand into three-dimensional shapes. I've been thinking since then about the ability to create the SolarSinter technology to create bricks in an automated fashion.

Today I came across Building Bytes, who are experimenting with 3D printed bricks that slot together, in a similar fashion to LEGO.

By combining these two projects, plus a bit of solar-powered automation, it should be possible to create a device that takes in desert sand at one end, filters it, sinters it and outputs bricks at the other. Bricks that do not require cement, and are easily stacked into buildings.

Taking it a step further, the GRASP Lab has created quadcopters that can take autonomous components and construct a complex structure. So, sand goes in one end, and buildings come out the other. With little human supervision.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Product will no longer be made notification

The IT sector is reasonably good at letting its customers know that products will go out of production, and out of support. But for the wider manufacturing sector this information is not reliably communicated to end users.

One benefit of unified online datasets will be the opportunity of users to enable this information to be passed to them in the form of notifications. For example, the dataset might be a store card that logs a user's purchases. The user can then opt to be notified if any of their regular purchases, or a component part for one of their purchases, is going out of production. The user can then chose to stockpile, or potentially petition the manufacturer to keep the product in service. If enough users do the latter, the product may stay in production.

Fish eye glasses

Continuing today's optic theme, I've been thinking about the possibility of using the concept of fish eye lenses to give humans a wider field of view: fisheye glasses.

Such glasses could probably be achieved with a set of convex and concave mirrors: the convex mirror would go on the forehead capturing light from a wide field of view, reflecting it into a concave mirror that would sit in front of the eyes and reflect the wider field of view into the eyes.

Obviously the field of view would be distorted compared to what we are used to viewing, but humans are remarkably adaptable, and would soon become acustomed to the new field of view.

Wiring up datacentres with lasers and mirrors

Would it be possible to replace the copper and fibre optic wiring that permeates datacentres with a system of lasers and mirrors? The mirrors would be actuated, allowing the connectivity within the datacentre to be adjusted with minimal effort. Obviously, like fibre optics, the communication would be at the speed of light.

It should be possible to have mirrors configured to allow beams to "jump over" other beams, and thus prevent any beams crossing.

Unlike wireless (e.g. wifi) solutions, there is no shared medium, and hence no interference.