Sunday, January 23, 2005

Inventions that still need inventing - I

Thought it would be fun to query friends what inventions they'd still like to see invented. There were two ground rules:

  1. Technology already exists, but the pieces haven't been put together yet, or
  2. The technology will exist in 5-10 years.

I should have also have put

3. This is not IP from your company.

some folks were hesitant to answer thinking i was trying to steal ideas (guess that's the downside of the current age - wasn't honest!). So with no more ado:


Dual CD bay. I would like an appliance that creates an exact copy of a data CD. I don't want the machine to "analyze" anything about the source disk.... just capture its contents completely and then download into a target disc. The appliance would have to have a microprocessor "core" and sufficient volatile memory ( hard disc?) to first capture everything on the source disc... then fast (9x?) burn to the target. The only analysis: whether the size of the target disk is sufficient to capture everything from the source. I've had a friend who uses data discs to copy audio CD's. These data discs are sucky copies: dropouts and digital skips. I think this is because the CD "burner" is receiving the digital data in dribbles and drabs from the PC, and the multi-tasking plays havoc with either the source reading or the writing to the target. It got me thinking that the only way to properly do this is to first get the entire 600-800MB source material into a drive that could give it back at an "optimal" rate to the CD burner unit.

I also WANT a stack of Smart Media Cards to store my MP3 files on. I wanted an MP3 player that accepts "outboard" memory cards to change playlists. The RCA Lyra is clunky, but it was the concept I was after: would not want to crash my mountainbike with a $300-$600 audio player w/miniature hard-drive, thank you. At least with a stack of media cards at home in the desk drawer.... I go out and buy another $69-buck player and I'm immediately back in business.

A true 3-D display! That is, a volumetric display, not one of those cheapo displays that just give the illusion of three dimensions. I'm talking about a visualization volume (a "tank" if you will) that the viewer can walk around and look at from all sides. Not a "holographic" projection, as in the movies, those are fantasy. But a holo-tank may be feasible.

Real cold-fusion. They still haven't proved that there's nothing there. Cheap energy would be nice, even if it didn't produce more than a few hundred watts at most.

Room-temperature superconductors.

Practical mag-lev trains, 400 kph w/o superconductors or active controls! It can be done, we just need to put the pieces together.

I want a digital video camera with giant internal hard disk. Currently, DV cameras all use flash cards and miniature DVDs. But for anyone who owns a computer, the much better solution is to put a 100Gb subminiature hard disk in the camera. Exactly like the iPod, but for video. Then you can record vast amounts of video, transfer it to PC as needed, and edit and burn DVDs from there.

Here's one: user-friendly self-configuring hardware firewall. You buy a firewall, and instead of reading a setup manual, you just stick a CD into your computer. It detects your computer's IP address, and based on that, either auto-configures the firewall or gives you special instructions. It also installs a little behind-the-scenes traffic monitor that detects every time you try to do some activity over the internet (e.g. browser, email, Windows Messenger, whatever). Initially all ports are closed. When you try to use a closed port, the traffic monitor brings up a dialog box: "You seem to be trying to use Windows Messenger. That port is currentlyblocked at your firewall. Do you want to open it? [OK/Cancel]."


Universal ID card: a friend suggested this years ago when we were job hunting. Such an annoyance to write out the same information repeatedly. Should be both in credit card form for when away from home (I guess being from the Palm is one form) or have an ID file at home. There should be multiple ID's. ID1 would be simple with just name/address/digits. ID2 might have credit card number - since I have to fill that out so many times for online purchases - obviously some encryption for security, but given that i've filled out the same info umpteen times on line without problems, believe that's do-able.

Multi-media book: years ago Ea's son had an abridged version of 101 dalmations that had icons & little buttons to push with a dog barking or car sounds. Believe adults need the same. You have a book, but the end is a small viewer with flash memory that can supply tunes & video. I've seen crude versions of this idea tried years ago of having a book with a very thin plastic record, or books with a CD/DVD in the front cover, but that destroys the flow to stop reading a book & switch to PC/DVD/CD player. Believe the technology is there, so now artists who want to create a book that has song interludes or short clips can have the media for this creation.

True Energy efficient house: houses come with solar panels now, and in Wisconsin they have huge windmills out on the farm, but would be nice if a house came with exercise energy generators & storage, or small windmills on top of your house - not the big ones that piss off your neighbors, but smaller ones should be practical. Obviously you can add these, but would be nice to buy them off the shelf, and would not be surprised to see something similar in a few years.

will be fun to see if any of these ideas come to fruition in the next decade. My guess for most probable are hard disks inside digital video cameras, and more energy efficient houses. Developers are fairly quick to adapt, e.g. houses up near Valencia were built with swimming pools that had hook-ups for fire hoses built-in for the inevitable fires in that area. Can easily see batteries & exercise equipment coming as Option-E on future housing developments.

thanks to my contributors - look forward to more ideas in the future.

Okay, all of the electronics stuff is fine and dandy. But that pales in comparison to the self-cleaning toilet. It's the 21st century, folks, and we're still scrubbing the nasties off the toilet bowl.

We can send a man to the moon and all that, but can't someone invent the maintenance-free crapper? Who wouldn't pay an additional 100% for something like that?
Gas lift desks, for ergonomic fun. Ideally, a desk on an arm the way the half-sphere iPod's screen was mounted: it only moves when you want it to, but it takes almost no effort to do so.
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