Someone Invent This: An Online Memories/Scrapbook Company

Sometimes I think about businesses or services that I wish existed, and create an imaginary list of features I’d create if I were launching them. Here’s one such company, centered around a sort of “next-generation” photo album. Photo albums today are pretty crude insofar as the methods by which they gather photos from external sources. Some allow you to pull in photos from Facebook, but I haven’t seen any particularly strong implementation. Here’s a list of ideas for such a service… Continue reading Someone Invent This: An Online Memories/Scrapbook Company

Someone Invent This: In-Car Emergency Services Warning System

I’ve gotten lazy about sharing ideas for inventions that pop into my head, so here’s another entry in the Someone Invent This category. I think someone should invent an in-car emergency services warning system. Here’s why…

I was in the car with Ashley this past weekend, and we were driving along a road doing 80 km/hr. Ashley was driving, and like any good driver, she was routinely checking her rear view mirror, so she saw the ambulance rushing up behind us and moved over to the right long before it reached us. The guy in the left lane, the lane the ambulance was in, didn’t see it or hear it until it was right up on his bumper – the ambulance had to slow down and wait for this driver to realize they were behind him and move over. This cost the ambulance tens of seconds of momentum, and when you’re talking about emergencies, seconds add up to minutes, and every minute of the Golden Hour counts. Drivers not paying attention to emergency vehicles costs lives, and I think there’s a technological solution to the problem.

Here’s the concept: via a wireless signal, emergency vehicles – ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, etc. – would be able to broadcast their presence to vehicles within a radius of “x” feet. This signal would do a couple of things; mute/pause music/radio playback and audibly broadcast an alert to the driver (“EMERGENCY VEHICLE APPROACHING: PLEASE SAFELY MOVE TO THE RIGHT”). By having a few seconds of warning, drivers, even the most irresponsible ones, would be given an alert they’d likely heed. Sure, human nature being what it is, it might not be the perfect solution – but the vast majority of people would respond to the warning.

Technological implementation? Bluetooth is likely the best bet – there are a lot of cars out there with Bluetooth implemented. I’m not sure if, from a security standpoint, Bluetooth has the sort of “override” needed for this to work. A class 1 Bluetooth device can broadcast 100 metres (328 feet), which seems about right in terms of distance. Cars that have a GPS could implement an advanced version of this, providing Z-axis data…meaning if you’re on an overpass, and an ambulance is driving under you, there would be no warning. There are some interesting mesh network technologies that can be implemented here as well to round out the solution…

Anything involving vehicles takes a lot of effort and coordination, so the inclusion of this wireless system would have to be government mandated and rolled out into vehicles over the course of many years. Retro-fitting older vehicles with the required technology would be difficult – heck, we can’t even get old oil-burning junkers off the road where I live – but over time, you’d reach a critical mass big enough to make this work.

OK, somebody go invent this please. 🙂

Someone Invent This: A Home-Based Call Filtering Service

This is the first post in a new category of posts on this blog: Someone Invent This. Every so often, I’ll get an idea for a product, a business, a service, or a technology that I’d like to see come to market. I figure if I throw the idea out there, there’s a chance someone might pick it up and run with it – or, better yet, maybe the service or product already exists in some form and I just haven’t found it yet.

So here’s what I’m looking for: a better way to block, filter, and generally manage phone calls that come into my home. In the email era, we’re used to having some form of control over when and how we are communicated with – we have spam filters, challenge/response systems, and of course the ability to only check email when we feel like it. Phone calls are the most intrusive form of remote communication – we have these little boxes that make noise, any time of the day or night, and anyone can dial our number and interrupt whatever we’re doing. We only have basic, binary-like control over our phones: plugged in, or disconnected. Ringer on, or ringer off. There are some rudimentary controls from the phone company – the ability to block unknown callers for instance, but they’re crude and limited. Over the past few months we’ve had a few late night wrong-number calls, and a constant barrage of telemarketers calling during our dinner time. I’m envisioning a system that would allow for a much greater degree of when and how you’d receive phone calls in your home.

This proverbial “little black box” would sit between your incoming phone lines and the house lines, or if you’re using a digital phone/VOIP service, sit between your VOIP box and your house lines leading to your phones. It would also be connected to your router and be managed via a Web browser with a simple user interface and would filter all incoming calls at certain times (after 10pm), turn them back on at a certain time (7am), and would give you the control to turn off incoming calls during your dinner hour. It would have an option for a message to allow for emergency calls to get through by a voice prompt saying the user has turned off their phone, but press a certain number combination (that would change randomly) to bypass – this would be optional, but it would stop all of the automated calling services cold. In fact, you might think of it as a basic Turing test for the phone – verification that the call is really coming from a person.

It would also have a “whitelist” of incoming numbers (family, friends) that could get through at any time of the day or night without any challenge. What about a community-based voting system where people could rank incoming phone numbers as being from telemarketers? Similar to community spam tagging, the user could open up the system’s incoming call history and mark the phone call at 6:05pm as being a “junk call” and comment why. If more than “x” number of people classified it as a junk call, it would automatically be filtered and not passed through. There would be a way for a caller to visit a public Web site and see (anonymously) the complaints against their phone number. Also included would be basic functionality for controlling the blocking of anonymous or unknown callers. There’d be some sort of address book (Outlook, Gmail, etc.) synchronization to populate the black box with known good numbers.

The business model is pretty simple: if it was sold independently by a networking manufacturer (D-Link, Belkin, etc.), there would be a charge for the black box, and perhaps there would be some sort of a low yearly fee for the service, software updates, tech support, etc. Or it could be sold by your phone company as a value-added service for a monthly fee. It might also be implemented by mobile phone carriers as more people move to just having mobile, and not home, phones.

Those are just a few ideas – there are many creative uses for a filtering system such as this. Putting some software intelligence between you and your phone system would allow for a definite improvement in the way we use our phones.