inventions are not stimulated by great technical skills or ambition,
but by frustration (see this essay entitled "No
User Parts Inside" on the power of empowered customers).
These eleven vexing challenges have frustrated millions of people- find
a solution and the world will truly beat a path to your door. But think
twice about the answers! Despite many false starts and pretender technologies,
no cost effective, practical or acceptable solutions have entered the
marketplace. They are extremely tough nuts to crack.
Doors- In most homes and apartments, a surprisingly large fraction of each
room is lost to a swinging door. The door blocks at least one wall,
takes up at least a 3'x3', and never swings the "right"
way. The door's path often completely dictates bathroom layouts, and
pulling a door towards you, while walking forward, is an unnatural
act. A better door could make dorms and apartments significantly more
livable. Pocket doors save space, but require enough space in the
wall cavity for storage, and some people find them hard to open. Accordion
doors jam and frankly are an eyesore. A better door would operate
smoothly, take up little space open, block sound when closed, and
be aesthetically pleasing. It might even function like a "Dutch
door", to hold in (or out) pets and children. Perhaps a miniblind
descending from the top jamb? Three panels sliding down from a pocket
in the header?
(Since posted, designboom
held a contest on exactly this challenge).
car visor- Ever drive northwest near twilight? The sun is nearly blinding, and
constantly shifts from the front windshield to the side window. Every
time you flip the sunvisor, however, it bangs into your forehead or
forces you to duck. Hardly a positive safety feature. A better solution
might be a tiny set of curtains that can slide left or right, perhaps
the same electrochromic material used to darken rear view mirrors,
- Inexpensive, comfortable and durable mattress- Everyone hates mattress stores and mattress salesmen. The prices are stubbornly high for a heavy product which quicklly sags and becomes contaminated with mites. Air mattresses are superior, in principle, but comfortable ones remain expensive. How can you rethink the mattress?
stacking dishwasher- The dishwasher is a great invention, and if properly loaded, can save
energy, sanitize dishes and clean better than hand washing. But, cups
often flip over, filling with water and soaking the dry dishes when
the dishwasher is opened. And you have to be a jig saw puzzle expert
to fill the washer so each dish can be exposed to the sprayer. How
can a better dishwasher be designed? Use compressed air to empty water-ladened
cups? Hold the plates in netting?
Tropical Storm- Its
bad enough to drive on the highway in the middle of a rain storm,
but 18 wheelers create their own, violent local weather. Trying to
pass a tractor trailer at 60 miles an hour is like driving in a hurricane-
their wheels fling water into a high speed cloud whirling around the
truck like a tornado. Very dangerous. One solution is self-draining
porous asphalt, which dramatically reduces surface water and thus
spray. But its expensive and not widely used. How can you solve the
problem on the truck? Side fenders to suppress the spray? New aerodynamic
trailers? Different tires?
lawn blower- Raking leaves and grass is a task from the past-
today everyone owns a lawn blower. But these personal jet engines
are too loud to use on a quiet Sunday morning, and are banned
in some communities. They may even cause hearing loss. So, find a
better solution. For example, it may turn out pulsed air or a string
of vortices (like smoke rings) are just as effective, but a great
deal more mannered.
Fridge- Microwave ovens elegantly solved the "heat and eat"
problem. But what if you wanted to cool things down just as quickly?
A cold soda instead of a warm cup of coffee? Or instant Jell-O instead
of a steaming bag of popcorn? Perhaps a time reversed acoustic mirror
could remove thermal fluctuations- in any case, the physics may not
be simple- but is it possible?
Cells- Today, solar cells are still about a factor of four
too expensive to replace the electrical grid. Cheap cells are inefficient,
and the expensive cells are too pricey and complicated to install
and maintain. But as many people have pointed out, if you could simply
paint on a solar cell.....Donīt forget, a complete solution is a SYSTEM,
bringing solar electricity to the appliance, converting it to
110V, storing it at night, etc. The right solution may involve fine
powders for the cell, rather than sheets of silicon.
battery- A couple of bags of Fritos and a soda will keep us
running all day long. Our bodyīs fireplace burns these organic materials
pretty effectively, creating heat, electricity and running a sophisticated
chemical factory. So why does my laptop battery give out after two
short hours? Wouldn't it be fantastic if you could simply crumble
up a pack of Saltines, stuff them into a cup on the laptop, add water,
and power up for an hour? Not exactly Mr. Fusion from Back to the
Future, but the right catalyst and thermoelectric cell could make
burning table scraps an alternative to batteries.
Melter- There is an old adage- itīs best to fix problems at
the source. I used to work in a building which melted the snow off
the front sidewalks by running a network of steam pipes under the
concrete to keep it warm. On cold days, all the birds and squirrels
in the neighborhood warmed themselves on this toasty brick beach.
Nice solution, but only one a former monopolist could afford. Any
better suggestions to avoid shoveling? A catalytic surface that melts
ice? A gel film containing a salt-brine mixture?
Storage- It's too hot in the summer, and too cold in the winter.
But, animals and some humans know the temperature a few feet underground
rarely strays from 55 degrees all year long. Thatīs why basements
are usually so pleasant, and why people stored fruits and vegetables
in the "root cellar" before modern refrigeration. In new homes, some
builders dig a huge network of trenches and lay plastic pipe under
ground. By circulating water through this "geothermal storage battery"
and then using this water to supplement the heating and cooling system
in the house, savings of over 50% in energy usage are possible. But
these systems are hard to add to older homes, and often lose thermal
contact with the earth, ruining their efficiency. Imagine you froze
a whole pond of ice in the winter, and heated a well insulated pool
of water in the summer- and then used the store energy in the opposite
seasons for temperature control. Not practical in most homes -so how
do you build a better geothermal battery?
reflective roof- Aesthetic convention demands most roofs are
dark or at least gray. This is fine in the winter, when dark roofs
absorb much needed sunlight to warm the house. But in summer, half
the air conditioner heat load comes from solar radiation. So, why
arenīt roofs white in the summer and dark in the winter? In
deference to aesthetic concerns, the color could return to "normal"
when the sun is weak... One potential technique is a plastic film I've invented that bends when heated, and thus exposes a more reflecting surface