This is Kids’ Stuff

April 1, 2024
Sometimes thinking like a child can solve grown-up problems

Who hasn’t looked at a toddler’s ride-on car and wondered, “Could this thing reach the 88-mph threshold required for time travel in the Back to the Future movies?”

A 31-year-old electrical engineering student in Germany achieved just that last summer and wound up setting a new world record for the fastest modified toy car.

Over the course of ten months, Marcel Paul dedicated himself to extensive research and meticulous modifications to transform a small plastic Bobby Car into a high-speed vehicle with an all-electric drivetrain.

When he was finished, Paul took his creation, dubbed the E-Bobby-Car, to the prestigious Hockenheimring racetrack in Germany for a speed test.

To maximize safety and aerodynamics, Paul operated the tiny mean machine in a reclined position, like a luge athlete at the Winter Olympics.

With a representative from Guinness World Records looking on, Paul easily outpaced Marty McFly’s DeLorean time machine, achieving a top speed of 92.24 mph.

Unfortunately, since the E-Bobby-Car was not equipped with a flux capacitor, Paul did not achieve temporal displacement.

A bridge too low

A community in Pennsylvania has fixed a decades-old problem with a simple solution.

For years, trucks have been getting stuck in a narrow underpass on a busy road in Radnor Township.

Despite numerous signs warning about the low 10ft, 10in bridge, 140 trucks have gotten stuck in the underpass over the past 12 years — nearly one per month.

"People are following their GPS," Superintendent Christopher Flanagan of the Radnor Township Police Department told CBS News. "They're in a trance. They're not paying attention and not staying alert when driving."

Each collision creates a dangerous situation for both motorists and pedestrians, not to mention hours of congestion while the crumpled truck is extracted.

The township knew they needed a better solution than simply adding more signs, so they decided to think big. “How about lasers? Maybe something with ‘AI’ in the name? Are forcefields a real thing?”

In the end, the simplest solution turned out to be the best. “Let’s just hang a metal bar from a chain.”

So the township hung a yellow warning bar 10ft, 10in above the roadway so that drivers of trucks that are too tall for the underpass will hear (and feel) a clear warning that they need to stop and turn around.

The township spent $150,000 adding a warning bar, flashing lights and pavement markings on both sides of the underpass.

It may not win any technological innovation awards, but the low-fi solution quickly made a positive impact. In the first two weeks after installation, three trucks hit the warning bar and were able to turn around before colliding with the bridge.

Furry friends

Driving with babies can be a daunting task, especially when their car seat is rear-facing.

Not having visual contact between baby and parent can create stress, leading to screaming and crying.

It’s also hard on the baby.

Recognizing this challenge, Nissan and baby goods retailer Akachan Honpo have joined forces to develop a solution: Iruyo, the Intelligent Puppet.

Iruyo is actually a set of two synchronized robot companions that act as a furry babysitter for your little passenger.

The larger Iruyo, which looks like the lovechildren of Grimace and The Abominable Snowmonster, sits in the backseat facing your infant. It interacts with the child through sounds and motion, based on cues received from the smaller Baby Iruyo.

Looking like a cross between a baby owl and an off-brand muppet, the Baby Iruyo rides in the front seat and relays cues from the driver to the larger Iruyo such as “play peek-a-boo” or sing a song.

Iruyo also monitors the baby's facial expressions and relays feedback to Baby Iruyo, enabling parents to gauge their child's mood or determine if they are sleeping.

Iruyo is still just a prototype while Nissan determines if the furry companion is a comfort to babies, or the source of lifelong trauma.

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