Problem 30 – Untidy Desk

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Problem

Many people struggle with the problem of having an untidy desk, which usually leads to lower productivity due to not being able to find things as quickly. It can also cause higher levels of stress due to the cluttered or unorganised environment.

Possible Solution

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Many people use dividers, racks and other desk tidies to try to organise their things. A problem with these is that they can also take up space and contribute to the untidiness.

I think having the desk itself change shape and form compartments for us to use however we want then it would create a more integrated solution. This could involve having the desk surface divided into several pieces which can move vertically to create distinct segments. These segments can also have shelving built into them that are revealed when it rises, and can then be lowered and hidden when not being used.

This solution can also create a more ergonomic desk if it includes surfaces that can tilt, rise and lower. The user can control every element of the desk on an app and because the desk will use electricity, it can also have a series of power sockets built in to make cable management easier. Perhaps it could even integrate a wireless charging surface.

If you think you have a solution or if you have a problem you would like me to try to solve then please feel free to comment it.

Problem 28 – No Time to Plan

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Problem

Sometimes, things happen quite spontaneously, or there might be things you forgot to consider. For example, you could suddenly decide to visit a friend one day and then realise you haven’t got anything to eat. You could then use the personal assistant on your phone to find places to eat, but it will only show you the places closest to you at that time and it won’t necessarily be places you like. A place you like might then be too far away and a compromise will have to be made.

Possible Solution

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I think that artificial personal assistants can get a lot smarter and that they are only just in their premature stage at the moment. One way I think they can get smarter is by getting the ability to plan your entire day ahead for you.

This can start by just asking the user what their plans for the day are after they wake up, perhaps when they’re having breakfast. Over time it can learn any potential patterns the user has, for example working 9 to 5 on weekdays or doing grocery shopping every Saturday.

It can then tell the user things like traffic information, weather and even possible places to eat or things to cook. In the evenings it can then recommend films or TV series to watch. If the user does something spontaneous, they can either tell the assistant or the assistant can detect that they are going to a specific location and then suggest places to eat along the way, or things to do when they get there.

Just telling the assistant that you plan to get to a specific location by a certain time can then allow it to calculate the exact leaving time to account for other activities such as eating. It can then help you build a schedule that fits comfortably around what you want to do while also allowing you to get what you need to do done.

Of course there is the issue with privacy if the device is constantly listening and sending the data to a server to analyse. Some people might also dislike the intrusiveness or dependence we will have on technology if it decides everything that we do.

As always, if you think you have a solution or if you have a problem you would like me to try to solve then please feel free to comment it.

Problem 20 – How did I Cook that Last Time?

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Problem

It can sometimes be difficult to cook something exactly the same as before. The timing and amount of heat applied can have a big effect, but are not always the easiest to control.

Possible Solution

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Nowadays, technology is present in almost every product, however it usually attempts to be one step ahead of us and give us what we want before we even know we want it. I think there might be some things that technology will ever be able to master like humans and cooking is one of them. Therefore, instead of technology trying to teach humans how to cook, why couldn’t humans teach technology how to cook and then it can just help us cook more efficiently next time?

Cooking can involve a bit of luck sometimes, perhaps we think we apply too much heat or take it off the heat too soon, however it can sometimes produce surprisingly good results. However trying to remember all the small details that made a dish good last time can be difficult.

If our cooker and oven could remember exactly how long we left a pot or pan on, exactly what heat it was on as well, and remind us next time then it can reduce the stress we can experience trying to remember what we did last time.

We can tell the cooker when we start cooking and when we finish, and it can remember how we used it and even automatically do the same thing the next time we choose to cook the same thing. It can link to our phone or tablet and each session can be renamed to the name of the specific dish that we made. If we want to cook the same thing again then we just have to select the dish and either have it remind us what we did or automatically copy what we did.

Perhaps a camera can even be added to the extractor fan above to record exactly what we did, which can then be replayed when we cook it again.

Of course there are other factors that can affect cooking such as the amount of each ingredient, however just getting reminders sometimes can prove to be quite useful.

If you think you have a solution or if you have a problem you would like me to try to solve then please feel free to comment it.

Problem 8 – I Can’t Find What I’m Looking for in Supermarkets

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Problem

There are some things I prefer to do the traditional way. Grocery shopping is one of them. I like being able to pick and choose what I think is the best out of the selection, instead of having someone choose a random one for me. Therefore it means I actually have to go to the shop and then find what I want. This is usually simple for things such as fruit, vegetables and meat; however it can become quite difficult when looking for things I buy less often. For example, recently I couldn’t find salt and before then I couldn’t find eggs. I know that there are signs above each aisle, but they don’t include everything and I generally also look around at eye level and sometimes forget about the signs.

Possible Solution

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I have not been to a supermarket that has solved this problem particularly well yet, and it’s usually just down to the way they lay things out or big signs. However I think a more technological solution can be found.

Many people carry a shopping list when going to a supermarket and many of those are now in digital format on phones. As our main purpose of shopping that day will be to buy those items, then we can tell the supermarket to take us to the location of those items if we share it with them. This can be done by having a ‘shopping list’ feature in a supermarket’s app. We can enter our shopping list onto their app and then it can direct us to the nearest store. Once inside the store it can then direct us using the GPS on our phone through the layout of the store. Using this method, it can also direct us through the store in the quickest way, or even take us past more promotional items.

The app could also tell us if the items we want are in stock and how many are remaining before we even go to the shop. It can then suggest other shops that do have the items we want in stock.

We could also link our payment card to the app and be able to pay direct on the app after shopping instead of having to go to the till. Online shopping can also be incorporated into the app for people who prefer this. It would mean that groceries can be automatically delivered periodically off the shopping list.

In a way, this app concept could be used for any store and not just supermarkets, and would link the digital and traditional ways we buy products.

As always, if you think you have a solution or if you have a problem you would like me to try to solve then please feel free to comment it.

Problem 7 – My Smoke Alarm Goes off When I Don’t Have a Fire

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Problem

At the moment, my smoke alarm has a heat sensor and so goes off when it thinks there is an excessive temperature rise. This is good in some ways because when I burn food it won’t go off from the smoke, however it does go off when I make toast. Alternatively, smoke detectors will go off when food is burnt, even though there might not be a fire. Another problem with fire alarms is that they need to be tested and batteries need to be replaced.

Possible Solution

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The Nest smoke alarm is the smartest smoke alarm that I have seen so far. It alerts the occupants in the house and people who have their phone connected to the alarm if there is smoke or carbon monoxide and where it is coming from. It does this with a voice first, so if it is not actually a fire then the alarm can be silenced on a phone before it begins to sound. It can also connect to the Nest thermostat and turn off gas supplies when it detects smoke, in addition to also being able to connect to some cookers and turn them off as well.

I think it is a very good product and solution, especially when compared to the smoke alarms fitted in most people’s homes. However it still requires user interaction if it thinks there is a fire, and is not able to determine by itself if there actually is.

I think that multiple sensors can be combined to determine if there actually is a fire. Combining smoke and heat sensors will already be more accurate than just one or the other, however also using infrared sensors to detect the amount of infrared rays should make it a lot easier for the alarm to determine if there is actually a fire.

Having a carbon monoxide sensor in the alarm is essential in my opinion, and the alarm should use a different sound or flash a different coloured light to show this. This is because humans are not able to detect carbon monoxide, and so rely solely on the alarm to warn us.

If the alarm is connected to wifi then it can also connect to other home appliances such as smart lights, and turn them on when there is a fire to help the occupants with their escape.

In terms of not having to test and replace the alarm’s batteries, the simplest method would be to have a wired fire alarm that connects to a power supply. Alternatively, there is an emerging technology where wireless charging can be carried out within a couple of metres of the power source. If this technology becomes more readily available then it could be used to keep the alarm powered.

There can also be many other things that can be built into an alarm such as a sprinkler or camera that can show the user on their phone what the situation is. However the more features that are added, the more expensive it will cost. The Nest alarm costs £99 and contains only a smoke and carbon monoxide detector; although it does also contain more chips for it to communicate via wifi and to do some data processing. Considering smoke alarms can be claimed for free from the fire brigade, paying £99 would be considered as unnecessary by many.

As always, if you think you have a solution or if you have a problem you would like me to try to solve then please feel free to comment it.

Losing Touch

I have a friend who lost her phone recently, which deeply upset her, however it was not because of the physical value of the phone. Instead, it was because she felt lost and empty without it. When I heard this, I realised how much we have become attached to some inanimate objects that if we lose them then we will feel like we have lost a friend.

After I heard her story I couldn’t even imagine how I would feel if I lost my phone. I don’t have a particularly amazing phone and I’m even thinking of getting a new one soon, however I think it’s the sentimental value of what is stored on it and also the uncertainty of what I would do without it that makes me feel uneasy. I’ve actually even had dreams of losing my phone before, which is probably quite extreme, but they never end well.

I think our attachment to our phones is quite easy to explain. A lot of people spend a large proportion of their time on their phone every day. It is very rarely a couple of metres away from us and we check on it every so often. The previous sentence could be said by a mother about her baby, and so I think we can develop a similar type of relationship with our phone even though it’s not a living thing that depends on us; it’s the other way around in fact.

Some people would say that it’s unhealthy to develop such a dependent relationship with our phones. I just know that my life would be a lot more difficult without one. I will always remember one time when I was going home from a friend’s house, where I had never previously been. It was late at night and I needed to catch a couple of buses to get home, however halfway through the journey my phone ran out of battery. I desperately tried to read the map and timetable at the bus stop to try to find a route to get me home, however as I didn’t have a watch I didn’t even know how long I had to wait until the next bus would arrive. I somehow made my way home that night, however I know that if my phone had been working then it would’ve told me everything I needed to know without even requiring me to think.

I guess my story shows the good and bad side of being dependent on a phone. The positive side is obviously making our lives easier, and also giving us a reassurance that help is in our pocket if we ever need it. The negative is that we think less and observe the world around us less. We could travel every day on public transport and not even know how to read a bus or train timetable.

Someone found my friend’s phone in the end, however she was not as happy as I thought she would be. After she lost her phone she thought she would never see it again, and so she spoke to some mobile network providers and had prepared to buy a new phone, which was better than her old phone and on a better plan. I’m not saying that what she did and how she now feels is wrong, but it shows that the weakness with our relationship with objects is that as it can become the most important thing in our life, it can just as quickly be forgotten and replaced by a newer version.

The Mobile Domination

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Above: Apple WWDC 2014

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 9.33.35 pmAbove: Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2015

Two decades ago, in many countries, owning a mobile phone was considered a privilege. Nowadays, it is considered a necessity by many, and so it will be rare to find a person without one; and so as more people own one, the larger the mobile phone market grows. This creates fierce competition between companies, most notably between Apple and Samsung, or Apple and Google. This puts a lot of anticipation on the new phones these companies have to offer, as they try to respond to their rival’s best efforts, resulting in extravagant events when they are announced attended by thousands and watched by millions online.

About a decade ago, not many companies would hold an event just to announce a new mobile phone. This largely changed when Apple held an event to announce the iPhone in  2007. Apple did this, as they would usually hold an event to announce a new product, since Steve Jobs took over as CEO. Their event to announce the iPhone was seen as a huge success as it introduced the world to a revolutionary mobile phone at the time. This caused other companies to react, and soon every company released their own ‘smartphone’ and also began to hold their own events to do so. This has resulted in more people attending and watching these events in anticipation to see what innovative features a company could offer in order to compete in the market. This is shown in the images above when thousands of people went to watch an announcement of only an update to Apple’s mobile operating system, and when Samsung announced the Galaxy S6.

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The amount of attention to the mobile phone market can be seen to extend much more beyond the extravagant events held by companies, and onto the sales. This can be seen most clearly on the first day a new iPhone is on sale. The image above shows the queue for the iPhone 6 in 2014 at the Apple store in Covent Garden, London on the first day of sale. There were similar sights across the world at almost every Apple store, as people camp overnight to be first in the queue. Other phones have still not seen this type of hype, possibly as they do not have as large a fan-base as Apple.

This is partially what I mean by ‘the mobile domination’: that mobile phones have become such a personal object in people’s lives that they develop a sort of relationship with the brand. This creates fierce fans who say that they can never be persuaded to own a phone from a rival company, and also those who camp overnight outside a shop to be among the first in the world to own the new model. The other way ‘the mobile domination’ is happening is by the advances in technology in mobile phones. They now dominate our lives, as they can perform many tasks that make our lives much easier, and so we use them more often. Therefore they have grown to dominate our lives emotionally and in terms of time we spend on them. This can be seen to be quite dangerous as companies that produce phones potentially have more control over many people, especially with the growing mobile payment market. Could this mean that soon mobile phone companies will have large amounts of power, such as oil companies have, or perhaps they already do and we don’t even know it.