Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Enabling the Disabled: the Segway

So basically, Dean Kamen is awesome. I loved the Segway from the minute I saw it. Our human instinct and intuition fears and even disbelieves the very premise of the Segway and nevertheless, there goes Kamen's machine stubbornly demonstrating that it does really work. I love that. Soon after I saw the Segway I started wondering about it's applications for handicap people. Couldn't this technology enable them to join the eye level of the average person in a crowd? When I mentioned this to people they tended to say, "That would be too dangerous! You want to put a handicap person on a ladder with wheels?" Well, when I went to post this idea, I happily discovered that sure enough Kamen has done it again. Here's to questioning doubt. Check it out: The iBot

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday Newspaper Advertising

I've heard this conversation a lot:
"All these ads are a waste of paper, I don't even look at them."
"Yeah, but that's how the newspaper makes money"
"Yeah but who reads this anyway?"
"Well somebody must read them or else no one would advertise?"
"Well I don't read them, and this is making a mess of the environment and my living room. Hell, I'd even pay to not receive them."

Readers should have the option to tell newspapers: "Really, i don't read the ads. Please don't send them." Theoretically, Advertisers should love this - it's market targeting done for free. Why would advertisers want to pay for readers who are going to ignore them. Yes, maybe the cover of the ad section gets a glance on the way to the trash, but seriously, think about it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

USB Album blocks:

So speaking of USB.. I love the digital age of trading music. I love replacing boxes of CDs with one simple iPod player.

But I think this age overlooks something. Music is a "word of mouth" industry. No matter what hype it gets on the radio or on MTV, ultimately the music that sells is the music that "all my friends like." Music trading has moved from swapping records/tapes/CDs to IM'ing myspace links/sharing iPODS.

But all those music sharing friends still love tangible objects - they still sport Band's patches and stickers. And I've heard more than one person lament the end of the mix tape. Music is also a collectors industry. Like Comic books, baseball cards, and pogs, music albums have always attracted prolific collectors.

I think there is a big market for cheap plug and play albums that easily let people share music through a tangible object. How about USB blocks that link together (see my last post).

TuneCubes are Cheap and Reusable!

1. Link up a dozen TuneCubes, make a killer mix.

2. Load the whole chain of TuneCubes all at once.

3. Toss em around to your friends at the show.


Edit: Dec 5

Ha ha, look what I just found. So they're thinking it - where's the conceptual leap to producing the real thing? Maybe USB manufacturing process is still too expensive.

A cleaner USB

The birth of USB was an important move towards standardizing computer peripherals. But since 1996, Moore's law has trudged on and the USB plug now seems a little cumbersome. This little flash drive is clever, but maybe there's something better.

Let's just get rid of the plug. Who doesn't love apple's magnetic power cord connection. Let's use that idea. To easily adapt to the new technology, just plug up a USB socket with the adapter and all your new peripherals snap into place. (photoshop collage - Device doesn't exist, but I think I want one.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A screw with a lot of torque

So I'm not so sure about this one. I was on the BART looking at screws and thought, "The Phillips screw is better because it strips less, but why is the action in the middle of the head where there is less torque." I thought of this sketch.

Then I wondered if you could get rid of the whole core of the screw all the way from head to tip. Would that get you more torque for your metal and make the screw turn easier and break less often?

I don't think it's very practical. Although it's kind of interesting that you could screw things together and then run wire through the screw. Now that im looking at it, it looks familiar. I think I've seen something like this before.

Being on hold is completely unnecessary

If you are a big company: please take reservations and call your customers back.
Since I know companies are too lazy to do that. If you are a developer: please make a nice web app that calls Bank of America for you and listens to that stupid music and repeats in a soothing voice:

"hello. I am an automated waiting on hold service. My client is important to you. When you are availiable, please call my client at 555 5555 to answer their question. Press 1 and I will connect you automatically.hello. I am an automated waiting on hold service. My client is important to you..."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Another Crazy Transportation idea: High speed sky trams.

Ahh, beautiful San Francisco.. wait are those flying high speed gondolas? Okay ha ha this is ridiculous. But think about this: San Francisco will eventually have to make drastic improvements on their public transportation system. Digging a subway underground is really expensive, and a logistical nightmare. Some cities, like Chicago, built an elevated train above the street which avoided some of these problems. An elevated train is essentially a big long inelegant bridge. What if build an elevated train that takes on the metaphor of a long spanning bridge? Think monorails/gondolas/ziplines/golden gate bridge over the city. We may hold a prejudice that gondolas are only for slow ski lift climbs, but they don't have to be. We could use a really long light weight bridge to carry a fast train-gondola.

It was impossible to build the golden gate bridge until engineers could figure out how to transport a lot of people a far distance while using a really small earth footprint. To build a transportation system across the city we don't have that demanding requirement, but by giving ourselves that goal we might get some good ideas.

Edit Nov 26: I keep thinking about this idea: Here is an image of how this could be realistically implemented. Think how much lighter and cheaper you can make a bridge when you remove the entire weight of the road. Is this simpler and more elegant than digging a subway?-------------------

Edit Dec 04: So I just read that San Francisco has a proposal in the works to extend their subway. There's a heated debate. It's a much needed addition, but it's $1.2 billion. Here is the proposed route. 1.2 billion $? This idea is really starting to seem important now. Yesterday, I biked the route and thought about the logistics of building a system like this. Here's a sketch of a SkyRail station above the existing CalTrain station.

I need to get a faster computer to render videos like this, but here is a really crappy version of the first part of the route.
I'm talking to a structural engineer to make sure this concept is feasible, and then I'll render a video of the route and photoshop some stations to make this proposal seem really possible.

I think this is worth thinking about as an alternative to building a subway. It could be an beautiful iconic structure. The cable car was a ridiculous system too when that was proposed. Think about it, a huge loop of cable miles long that a car would grab on to? Weird.

San Francisco Transportation: what the kids are ranting about

Here is the Tokyo subway map. A colorful web over the city.

Here is the San Francisco subway. A colorful well, rainbow, that only goes down a single street in San Francisco. (It's called BART). To be fair, BART is really a bay area system meant to connect cities together and was never supposed to be much of an intercity system. But what makes up for a lack of subway?

MUNI is SF's bus and rail system. All of these routes move slowly at the speed of traffic and they break down fairly often. The only exception is where the MUNI runs underground DOWN THE SAME SINGLE STREET AS THE SUBWAY. The city collects $1.5 to ride the MUNI and spends all of it just keeping track of the loose cash.

Some people think it is too scary to imagine charming San Francisco getting a legit public transportation overhaul. But if we're serious about the green movement and uncloging the cars from the city, the eventual solution will have to do better than busses riding in traffic.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bullet Trains: "Direct Flights" for everyone

This sticky note puppet shows an idea that at first seems really dangerous and stupid. Which is why it's worth giving it a second thought.

A train goes from A, stops at B, goes to C.
First the usual way, then a different way.
If 10% of the train wants to stop, do you have to stop the whole train? Can you keep the train moving and load/offload passengers "on the fly."

Bullet train have proved to be very efficient in other parts of the world and will probably become a very important form of transportation over the next 50 years. Locally, California has already approved funding to build a bullet train from LA to SF. (Let's get on it Gobernator!) If ridership someday reaches enough critical mass, this general concept could be a practical way to save time and fuel.

The bullet train would exchange passengers through a detachable car that docks in the rear. The exchange car undocks, decelerates and gets side-tracked to the station. A different exchange car at the station accelerates, gets tracked onto the main line and approaches the bullet train to dock behind it. The exchange car would have its brakes synchronize to the train's brakes with a radio signal. The brakes default to "stop" in the case of signal loss. Once the exchange car is docked, the exchange of passengers between cars is as safe as traveling between any other cars on a train. A double door can be used to insure no passengers get caught between cars during detachment. When you split up the details of the problem, it starts to seem pretty safe. Who knows, maybe they're already doing it in Japan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Simplifying the urban bicycle experience

edit: Dec 16
Hey all, thanks for your comments! - see my response at the end of the post.
A bicycle is loved for its mechanical elegance and simplicity. It's a bummer when you have to muck that by carrying all this extra stuff.

Here is a common problem, and a common urban solution. There's got to be a better solution than a big hunk of metal in your pocket.
It's assumed that you just have to carry this extra stuff around t o protect your bike. But what if we made the bicycle just a little more complicated to greatly simplify the experience of riding a bicycle. Could we build these components into a bike? Here are some brainstorm sketches:

The seat post seems like it could be a pretty good lock, and a pretty good pump. Here are two ways you could make it a pump: (I shouldnt have called them "options", this is just a sloppy proof of concept) You could throw some gaskets into the bike frame and attach a tube to the bottom where it could reach the wheels, or just put a nozzle on the top and you could detach your wheel and hook it up.

edit: Dec 16
Hey all, thanks for your comments! that's some great feedback, and I appreciate your understanding that this is just a developing sketch. I have thought of a lot of the issues that you bring up and I agree with you. I'm excited to develop the idea further. Keep posting comments, and if anyone has a design firm wanting to pursue the idea, send me an email.
edit: Dec 19
Nice, thanks for the post Anonymous - check out this 2004 Cannondale
http://gb.cannondale.com/bikes/04/ce/model-4SS2.html I love the idea of using the fork instead of the handlebars. One thing about the handlebars is that it would be easy to torque them apart with a crowbar. Critique: This Cannondale implementation doesn't lock the frame to anything, and it only addresses one wheel. Can we take the idea further?

Dice Probability Riddle

A math riddle of sorts:
Here's the riddle my friend told me:
You and I roll a die each.  We can see one another's, but we cannot see our own.  We can communicate before, but not after we roll.  What is the best probability we can have that we will both guess our own die correctly?
It's not 1/36 - it's actually 1/6.

Some days later while talking with my dad, i thought of new extrapolations of the riddle.  I sketched the simple cases on paper...

...but then it got hard to visualize, so I made a sketchup model of my thought process.  It looks a bit obsessive, but I was motivated to make the video because I wanted to show that you can think about riddles like this quickly in 3D space.
Sorry it's kind of hard to read.  If you want just skim through it to get an idea of the process.

Feature Creep and Microwaves

No one wants all those buttons on the microwave. We all just want to say COOK NOW!
Here are some good metaphors for how I want a microwave to behave.

Self Spotting Bench Press Design: Dartmouth College Engineering Product Design Course

So I included this project in my professional portfolio also. I'm going to start this blog off with this one even though it isn't very "sketchy" because it sets the stage for the creative thinking I hope to convey.