— A relatively low tech way to protect military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan against rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) is being patented by a US electronics company.
Trying to destroy an RPG in flight requires incredible precision and accuracy. So Control Products based in New Jersey, US, reckons a screen of rapidly deployed parachute could provide simpler, yet still effective, protection against such assaults.
RPGs move relatively slowly so there should be enough time, following detection by radar, to throw up a physical barrier, the company says. Radar detection would trigger a volley of low-altitude rockets to fire from a batch of plastics launch tubes positioned at the perimeter of a camp, or around a vehicle.
Each rocket will tow a modified braking parachute, made from wide weave of Kevlar. The mesh is wide enough to allow air through, so that the rocket can fly, but provides an airborne net to trap an inbound RPG and bring it down. Firing several rockets simultaneously creates the equivalent of a giant flying fishing net.
The system is then reloaded by pushing another batch of rockets down the launch tubes.
Read the full rocket-repelling parachutes patent application.
Mouse-less mouse pad
A new kind of mouse pad, developed by UK defence company Qinetiq, needs no mouse at all. Instead, it monitors the movement of a human hand waved just above its surface.
The pad has a T-shaped array of infrared emitters and sensors, placed together in closely spaced pairs. Each emitter produces uniquely coded pulses so only its paired sensor can "see" the light as it is reflected by a hand moving above.
Simple hand motions left, right, forwards and backwards are detected by monitoring which sensor pairs are excited.
But complex hand gestures, such as moving the hand rapidly in a circle, could be stored on a computer and associated with personalised commands. For example, the machine may know that a rapid circle means "Save all work and shut down it's time to go home!"
The pad should also be inexpensive, Qinetiq says, because infrared diodes are already manufactured by the million for remote control units. And, if the owner gets tired of waving their hand, the pad can still be used with a convention mouse.
Read the full mouse-less mouse pad patent application.
Forgetful USB key
A new patent filing from Microsoft openly admits that anyone "who wishes to set up a wireless home network faces a daunting task". The company also concedes that one of its own recommended solutions using a USB memory card to transfer set-up codes between devices is a security risk.
So Microsoft's new idea is to use a memory card with a leaky capacitor to store keys. This should hold just enough charge to power a USB memory key for one hour, after which the information stored on it disappears forever.
Configuring wireless networks is likely to get trickier, Microsoft says, as more wireless standards emerge and more common household appliances, such as audio and video equipment, are wireless-enabled. The new USB key could make things easier, by storing configuration codes, and should not pose too much of a security risk, the company claims.
The key would be brightly coloured to warn users that it only holds data for an hour. Hopefully, this should be just enough time to get their network up and running.
Read the full forgetful USB key patent application.
For more than 30 years, Barry Fox has trawled through the world's weird and wonderful patent applications, uncovering the most exciting, bizarre or even terrifying new ideas. Read previous Invention columns, including:
The tooth decay probe, laser healing, throwable game controllers, Microwave oven gun, Smart-card DVDs, Smart night scope, laser microphone, triple-standard DVD, ultimate body armour, Long-range stunner, tongue-o-vision, jellyfish injections, Flesh-burn sensor, fire-escape tubes, VoIP mangling, in-flight rearming, sense that fat, Designer speakers, throw-away parachutes, password-protected bullets, spinning touchdown, palmtop Feng Shui, Origami gadgets, mile-high showers, Hydrogen fuel balls, human cannonballs, the riot slimer, the bomb jammer, Apple's all-seeing screen, the TV-advert enforcer, the wing-sprouting drone, the drink-driver arm scanner, laser spark plugs, remote-controlled implants,the "I've been shot" gun, the snore zapper, the guitar phone, explosive-eating fungus, viper vision, exploding ink, the moody media player, the spy-diver killer, preventing in-flight interference, the inkjet-printer pen, sonic watermarks, the McDownload, hot-air plane, landmine arrows, soldiers obeying odours, coffee beer, wall-beating bugging, eyeball electronics, phone jolts, personal crash alarm, talking tooth, shark shocker, midnight call-foiler, burning bullets, a music lover's dream, magic wand for gamers, the phantom car, phone-bomb hijacking, shocking airport scans, old tyres to printer ink and eye-tracking displays.