Take Roomba, add a dash of the Addams Family's Thing, and you end up with something at least vaguely akin to this robot patented by Panasonic.
It's essentially an arm on wheels--and if you owned one, you could put it to work scooting around your house, picking up stuff, and putting it where it belongs. (Hey, Roomba is mighty handy, but it can't toss a dirty sock into a laundry hamper.) Afraid that a robot helper would be a clumsy recipe for disaster? The patent explains that the arm is smart enough to treat each object appropriately: It whisks away empty glasses at high speed; but presented with a glass containing liquid, it handles the receptacle slowly and gingerly. Maybe...but we can't help recalling the trouble Dr. Strangelove had with a mechanical arm that didn't have wheels.
A Hamster Wheel for Humans
You're wearing electronic goggles. You've donned a suit covered in sensors. But your virtual reality world still doesn't feel all that real, because you can't roam freely.
This solution comes from a Russian inventor: Explore the world inside a giant, Wiffle Ball-like globe mounted on rollers, so you can walk, run, or even zip along behind the steering wheel of a fake car. The patent drawings seem to depict a truly mammoth sphere; even if you could afford it, you probably couldn't squeeze it through your front door. But if there were any way to build a junior version--say as a Wii Fit accessory--we'd be all over it.
Personal Zipper Network
You say the Scott eVest, with its profusion of gadget pockets, isn't nerdy enough for you? Then you may covet the jacket shown in this Nokia patent for smart clothing, modeled in this drawing by an appropriately geeky-looking (and evidently quite self-satisfied) user. Like the eVest, it has plenty of pockets for your gizmos. But it's also networked, thanks to a zipper that doubles as a fiber-optic backbone for routing data between pocketed items.
Nokia envisions owners activating different products by pulling the zipper down to varying positions--which leaves us feeling grateful that the patent involves a jacket rather than pants.
The iPhone of Remotes
Logitech's Harmony universal remote controls are impressive, but plenty of potential remains for building a radically better remote. And if any company is up to the job, it's Apple, which has at least toyed with the idea of making a universal remote. This Apple patent, filed in 2002, predates the iPhone by years but outlines a decidedly iPhone-esque remote, complete with a touchscreen.
The niftiest feature: It would be compatible with smart consumer-electronics products that could alert the remote to their feature sets, allowing one-click configuration.
At this point, such an innovation needn't take the form of a stand-alone device--it could be a major new feature of the next iPhone and/or iPod Touch.
So that's ten products we'd love to try if they ever make it past the drawing board. Seen any cool patents that you'd add to our list? Drop us a line below.
Harry McCracken, the former editor in chief of PC World, now blogs at Technologizer.