Books written by Ray Sullivan

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Here's Looking Up and Down At Low Tech

When I was a kid we used to have these cards that changed as you angled them. So you could, say, animate a running man by turning the card to and fro. Sounds cheesy now, but light had only just been invented back then.  Sound came much later.

It's one of those technologies that keeps on coming back, like 3D films and personal tasers.  Well, OK, maybe the tasers are more my household. In the Eighties the cheesy animation technique, called lenticular lensing by the way, was brought back and used on millions of children's' lunch boxes showing their favourite animated character 'moving' in an attempt to make them eat their lunches.

It keeps coming back.  You've probably seen it used on promotional gizmos at trade shows, not unreasonably as those Eighties kids are now the target audience for those shows. 'Hey, this is cool. I used to have a lunch box with one of these things on. What?? Sure, put my company down for a thousand licenses of your software.' Well, maybe the sale isn't that easy, but that's the logic anyway.

Now the technique is being used to reach out to victims of child abuse - not those currently making every Seventies and Eighties rock star, DJ and TV presenter run for their lawyers, but those having to endure abuse today. Underground railway posters highlighting child abuse are showing all adult viewers one image while kids and the vertically challenged commuters are exposed to the same image plus a phone number the kids can call, courtesy of lenticular lensing on the posters.

I'm not convinced it will make a dent in the problem - I can see the logic, the kids can read and presumably memorise the phone number while 'dad' or 'uncle Bill' or whoever is oblivious to the number being relayed to the kid. I guess if it helps just one child it's worth the effort.

But I got to wondering how the concept could be harnessed for other uses. Obviously any practical use needs to exploit the relatively narrow bandwidth of human heights. So let's start with the inordinately tall members of the species - and I'm talking to you, Sion. You know who you are.  Many of us frequent UK pubs and many of the quainter examples weren't designed with modern humans in mind. At a guess, Hobbits would struggle with some of these pubs.  Even at a modest 1.8 metres high I still find some of the doorways too low.  For those who feel the rain a minute or so before me, it must be a running battle.  The correct solution is to make the doorways taller but this isn't always possible, plus a sign stating 'Duck or Grouse' is a hilarious and much cheaper alternative. The problem is that there isn't a consistent height for these low barriers so the 'Duck or Grouse' signs can tend to get over-used.  We all know that familiarity breeds complacency, so a lenticular sign, placed at the correct height, could place a harmless homily for most of us but have a warning for those likely to be affected.

In the same way drivers of tall vehicles have to be alerted to bridges crossing roads that are too low for their vehicles.  Conventional road signs exist to warn the drivers of articulated wagons and double decker buses yet bridges still get smacked into.  Again, the engineering solution is to raise the roof of the bridge so that all vehicles can pass under, but that's clearly not always possible.  My local low bridge carries a main line railway overhead and as far as I know, trains don't take to humpty backed bridges.  Anyway, I reckon the reason the signs don't work is because there's so many of them telling us loads of information that's not necessarily relevant to most of us.  Even the drivers of the vehicles that could potentially have their roof torn off probably drive past the signs in their cars on their way to work, so the signs become over familiar   However, inb general, drivers of tall vehicles are sat higher than most vehicle drivers, so lenticular signs could provide an opportunity to 'flash' a warning to those driving taller vehicles to warn them of an impending hazard that would be invisible to the majority of road users.

And the white knuckle rides that we take our kids on could have a sign that has a code that kids have to be able to read out to prove they are tall enough and a no entry sign only visible to the little ones.

Like 3D films, lenticular lensing will keep on coming back.  It doesn't require batteries so can be used quite passively.  And here's my final lenticular use that as far as I know isn't on the market, but must be a doable project.  An overlay for your iPad, Kindle Fire or Nexus 7 screen.  The ridges should be capable of stopping the reflections that happen outside when the sun is shining.  You may need to push the screen brightness up, draining the battery faster, but you'll be able to read your tablet eBooks on the beach.

And stop those tall geezers reading your book over your shoulder.


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