Some Trillion Dollar Problems
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Some Trillion Dollar Problems

Joe Cooney was telling me about some Million Dollar Ideas of his, and they were nice. But since then I've been thinking about Big Problems. Really Big Problems -- and here's four of them, as an example.

  1. The Energy Problem -- we need better ways to harness (or release) energy. Oil is a biggie today, but is non-renewable, so not suitable long term, and is a pollutant.
  2. The Battery Problem -- even if we find a great way to generate energy, we need a portable way to store it. Oil (i.e. petrol, gas, fuel) does this for us today, but causes other problems (as it's non-renewable, and a pollutant)
  3. The Pollution Problem -- Disposable products are very handy and practical, but are in forms that lead to tremendous pollution. (including waste products from energy generation and storage, see above.)
  4. Traffic Intersections -- when two roads cross each other's path you can either use a locking mechanism (such as traffic lights/round abouts) which dramatically decreases system throughput, or go into the third dimension, (employ a raised bypass) but this is expensive and requires extra land (something we don't have). Neither solution is decent.

If anyone can demonstrate, on a global scale, a working solution to one of the above problems, I'll give them a free license for TimeSnapper professional.

Sometimes all that the great thinkers need is a little encouragement. Go on sparky. Fire up the grey matter.

I didn't want to make this challenge too easy, so I left off these three other problems:

  1. Illness -- people get sick a lot.
  2. Weapons -- people and organisations are able to construct or purchase weapons and use them against other people or themselves.
  3. Evolution -- All of the cute and friendly animals seem to be nearing extinction while the nasty viruses, bacteria and insects seem to thrive. Stupid Darwin.
  4. Bathtub Squeal -- when you release the plug from a full bathtub, it begins to empty but then it makes that horrible squealing sound. Who doesn't hate that sound?




'Haacked' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 00:21:30 GMT, sez:

So I solve a Trillion dollar problem and all I get is TimeSnapper Pro? While you go and sell my idea and live in Tahiti? No thanks Leon. ;)



'lb' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 00:26:53 GMT, sez:

no no phil -- you also get the satisfaction of a job well done.

and how about this -- a day pass to come visit me on my island palace in tahiti?



'Goran' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 01:22:42 GMT, sez:

This is easy as 1-3 seem to be the same problem:

1. Orbo (http://www.steorn.com)
2. Orbo (http://www.steorn.com)
3. Orbo (http://www.steorn.com)
4. Flying car (http://www.moller.com)

Do I win?



'lb' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 01:33:10 GMT, sez:

thanks for your entry goran.

very good work. yeh i've read about this Orbo before, but unfortunately to qualify the process would need to be "demonstrated, on a global scale" which the Orbo hasn't yet achieved.

Furthermore the Moller -- which i hadn't seen before, top stuff!! -- uses ethanol, which fails point 3 (pollution).

Nice try though, very commendable.

If the Orbo does go on to demonstrate a solution to one of these problems -- then you get first dibs on a license!

lb



'Kate' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 01:42:16 GMT, sez:

Hang on -- Hydrogen fuel cells are a solution to number 2.

Check please!



'Jeff' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 01:46:15 GMT, sez:

Number 3 is too open -- if someone comes up with a pollution free energy source and battery then is that good enough? Or do they also need to come up with materials for disposable products that replace plastics?



'Marcos' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 01:52:13 GMT, sez:

The world can pay a bit more if someone found a way to transform

Ocean Water ---> Drinking water

(In a cheaper way and with mass adoption)

This can be the TeraDollar Idea :P

Good post

Marcos



'Kenny Kerr' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 02:42:39 GMT, sez:

Regarding traffic intersections, many parts of the world (outside of North America) have long had a solution to this problem. They are called different things in different countries. In some countries they’re called roundabouts; in others they’re called traffic circles. They’re particularly ubiquitous in the United Kingdom.



'lb' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 02:53:01 GMT, sez:

Good call Marcos.

Kenny Kerr, the king of windows clippings! Thanks for commenting!

Yeh roundabouts can be a nice trick in some situations, but I don't see them as a solution when there's two roads that cross over, and each of them have heavy traffic in one direction. You end up with one road completely defeating the other. (Also I specifically mentioned them already in point 4 "...such as traffic lights/round abouts..."



'Marcin' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 08:02:21 GMT, sez:

I've thought about the traffic problem before, and I believe that an adaptive traffic light system would be the way to go. Adaptive in the sense that it adapts traffic light patterns dynamically for optimal flow, not static fairness as is currently the case. This could be done economically using cameras networked to their neighbours, and a really nifty algorithm to optimise flow (spot the hard bit). Even if you can't get totally/globally optimised flow with a nifty algorithm, you can significantly improve local conditions with basic heuristics, such as not switching lights while traffic is backed up across intersections, for example.



'hobit' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 08:36:42 GMT, sez:

Are there any other constraints for the solution? If not, then reducing the human population to zero might help.



'Michael' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 11:01:06 GMT, sez:

#4 -- Autopilot cars. Through a combination of GPS navigation (to know where you are and where you're going), peer-to-peer communication, and sensor tracking and track management algorithms based on proven DoD combat system technology cars will be able to drive themselves.

Cars ahead of you will be feeding track picture information to you and you'll be feeding information to cars behind you. Now your car will know if there was a fallen tree or pedestrian and needs to dodge. Need to get in the right hand lane? Tell the car next to you to make some room. Going through an intersection? Since cars are all situationally aware of one another and coordinating their movements, there is nothing stopping you from blazing through an intersection with ease.

Autopilot from GM: http://www.engadget.com/2005/08/27/gm-will-launch-self-driving-car-in-2008/

Sensor, tracking, and p2p technology by the Department of Defense.

Put them together and you're good to go. Plus it will make Guided Missile Road Rage Systems(TM) much easier to build.



'Steve' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 11:49:22 GMT, sez:

To "Marcos":

I don't have a link. But recently there were reports that a company had come up with a inexpensive and scalable process for the reverse osmosis process of purifying sea water for drinking purposes.



'Chris' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 13:42:36 GMT, sez:

One obvious solution to the human energy use problem would be to use humans themselves as the source of that energy. Most of us spend most of our days just sitting around wasting all that potential energy stored up within our bodies anyways so why not find some way to extract it directly from our bodies.

This works especially well with kids since they seem to have an apparent limitless supply of energy.

We could then automate this process considerably with robotics and adding a little AI here and there and, to give people something to do while they're having all that energy extracted out of them, we could hook them up to some kind of game like one of those massively multiplayer role playing games which are often better than reality anyways.

Oh wait...



'Kenny Kerr' on Wed, 20 Jun 2007 19:40:56 GMT, sez:

Leon, ah I skimmed over the part where you actually mention roundabouts! Oops. I’ve always maintained that folks should stop commuting to work and just work from home. Problem solved! :) Time to move to the country...



'lb' on Thu, 21 Jun 2007 01:16:57 GMT, sez:

@Kenny: "stop commuting to work and just work from home."

yes -- then you only need to have wires crossing over each other rather than cars, and they can reach a third dimension much simpler.

@Michael re: p2p cars.
Full on!
Would people consent to losing control of their vehicle in this way though?
It's a little reminiscent of "TCAS" -- traffic collision avoidance system -- used in planes.



'lb' on Thu, 21 Jun 2007 01:17:53 GMT, sez:

@chris:
"use humans themselves as the source of that energy"

you're basically talking about setting fire to fat kids?

top idea.



'Sensei Loco' on Thu, 21 Jun 2007 11:55:15 GMT, sez:

Man, this is going to sound like spam (or a shameless plug, but I didn't write the book!)
I recently read a book called 'Survival of the Sickest,' it totally changed the way I see bacteria/viruses and evolution.
It was one of those books you can't put down...if you like to read about stuff other than computers, of course! ;)
I just thought I'd share...



'belugabob' on Thu, 21 Jun 2007 14:54:39 GMT, sez:


"and requires extra land (something we don't have)."

Blimey - if you guys in the 'Good old U.S.of A' think you don't have the land, spare a thought for people in more crowded countries! (Who generally have narrower roads to start with)

Seriously though, during my commute to work I used to have to negotiate a roundabout with traffic lights at every junction. The wierd thing was that whenever the lights were out of commision, the traffic flowed much better.
This doesn't prove that there isn't an light sequence that's better than no lights, but I know where my money is.

I'm sometimes convinced that there is a whole government department dedicated to de-optimising the light sequences)

As for Hydrogen cells not polluting - until such time that the electricity required to produce the Hydrogen is itself produce via sustainable methods (Solar power etc) then we're just moving the emissions elsewhere.



'lb' on Thu, 21 Jun 2007 21:01:19 GMT, sez:

@belugabob:

>As for Hydrogen cells not polluting -
> until such time that the electricity
>required to produce the Hydrogen is itself
>produce via sustainable methods (Solar
>power etc) then we're just moving the
>emissions elsewhere.

This is a solution to problem number 2, and yes it does not solve problem number 1.

The two problems really have to be solved together.

@belugabob:
>you guys in the 'Good old U.S.of A'

hey I'm an Aussie! Don't misunderestimate me.



'Marcin' on Fri, 22 Jun 2007 08:53:12 GMT, sez:

Hey belugabob, re lights v roundabouts:
roundabouts make fine junctions for light traffic, however it doesn't take much for one to get gridlocked. We have one at our local high street as a 3-way, and all it takes is one car trying to do a reverse-park 3 times on a Saturday morning to get cars queuing across the roundabout, thereby blocking off one of the three directions and banking cars up on two sections of road. In a CBD I can't believe roundabouts would work.



'John' on Mon, 25 Jun 2007 23:47:16 GMT, sez:

For #1, figure out a way digest alge into ethanol. Then farm alge in the sea. See the problem boils down to converting sunlight to storable energy and there isn't that much land area that we can easily use. And there's all this excess nitrogen being pushed into the oceans via the rivers anyway, we just need to convert it to something useful. It seems to be a basic biology problem.

There, hows that?



'Marcin' on Wed, 27 Jun 2007 09:03:31 GMT, sez:

Not exactly mine, but hey, spread the love...
http://dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/archive/dilbert-20070621.html



'jack' on Mon, 23 Jul 2007 15:36:19 GMT, sez:

Simple solution to #4: Do nothing about problems 1,2,3 and in time problem #4 becomes irrelevant. As its no longer a problem, it has been solved.

I'll contact you directly with my info as to where to send the license to, Thanks!




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