— Portable gizmos such as phones, handheld computers and mp3 players can easily get scuffed, dirty and sticky.
Bulky covers are one option, but Nokia in Finland has been experimenting with plastic casings coated with a diamond-like material made from coal. The material is more protective and grime resistant, as well as cheap and bio-degradable.
To make the material electric current is fed through coal graphite. This creates plasma, which is directed towards a plastic casing by high-voltage electrodes. The coal ions penetrate the surface and bond to form an amorphous, diamond-like coating less than 100 nanometres thick. The process works at room temperature, meaning even cheap plastics can be coated this way.
The coating is very tough, but also smooth to the touch. It is also conductive and therefore antistatic, so does not attract dirt easily. Furthermore, the surface reflects and diffracts light in a similar way to shiny metal. And, when the owner has grown tired of the gismo and binned it, the thin layer of coal will eventually degrade naturally.
Read the full diamond-like gadgets patent application.
High-velocity ice bullets could someday be used to weld everything from car parts to industrial components. The trick could provide an alternative to heat, electric arcs or bulky hydraulics for precision spot welding.
Researchers at Ohio State University, US, freeze water into the shape of a sharp bullet and use a gas gun to fire them at a metal sheet. These high-energy projectiles briefly plasticise the metal, causing it to deform and bond with whatever it is touching. Carefully aiming bullets at near point blank range can very quickly be used to create precision welds.
If a metal sheet is backed with a carefully-shaped material, a barrage of ice bullets can also be used to shape the metal. And the only waste product is water when the ice melts.
Read the full ice bullet welding patent application.
Airport X-ray machines can see through clothing to reveal concealed weapons and explosives. Inevitably, though, they also provide a revealing image of a passenger's naked body (see All-seeing scan spares your blushes).
A team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is run by the University of California and US Department of Energy, has developed a system that promises to be less invasive.
The X-ray machine still generates a detailed image of the passengers naked body. But, before it is displayed, the head, armpits and groin are automatically marked as reference points from which the torso, legs and arms are stretched and bent. This creates a distorted and hard-to-recognise image like that in a fairground hall of mirrors.
Although the passenger will now be unrecognisable, any concealed weapons should still be visible on screen. The security guard can click on any suspicious objects to remove the distortion and enlarge that area for a closer look.
Read the full privacy-protecting scanner 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:
Computo-cooked perfection, cellphone sunscreen, skateboard meets Segway, Taser gets tougher, razor light, wing-mirror cameras, body-wired headphones, rocket-repelling parachutes, 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.