NBC News: A better pencil sharpener? Inventor dreams of erasing life’s annoyances

3 01 2013

A silent pencil sharpener? Name your price. Seriously.

This guy’s got a lot of neat gadget ideas that sound pretty practical to me!

– dEV

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Devin Coldewey , NBC News

Long lines at amusement parks. Traffic stalled at rush hour. Cycling uphill. To most of us, these are just minor problems we face in an otherwise comfortable existence. To Anwar Farooq, they are personal call-outs, challenges that he must answer with his own ingenuity. These days, the math teacher and habitual inventor is wrestling with the age-old problem of the pencil sharpener.

NBC News Logo“When I saw my students struggling with the regular pencil sharpener, I honestly knew that there must be an alternate approach, so I started thinking,” Farooq, who teaches at Maywood Academy, southeast of Los Angeles, told NBC News.

That’s not the first time Farooq “started thinking.”

His inventions, spanning 1986 to now, may seem whimsical at first, but on closer inspection are like early ancestors of devices in use today. There’s a bike where your pedaling is boosted by an air compressor, for instance. If you replace the air compressor with an electric motor, you get today’s battery-powered bikes.

There’s the Robocam, a remote-controlled camera platform that’s a precursor to telepresence robots and smartphone videoconferencing apps alike.

For those annoying amusement park or movie theater lines, Farooq proposes a chain of connected, moving chairs. You take a load off, enjoy the built-in entertainment system, and before long, it’s your turn to get up and enjoy the ride or show. He calls it Waiting Is Fun. It may seem far-fetched … until Disney goes and installs one in Tomorrowland.

The idea Farooq seems most proud of is the Rapid Commute. Cars traveling from the outskirts of a city drive right onto a high-speed train, as if they were boarding a ferry boat. The train then brings them to a central location downtown, where they disembark. Next month he will be presenting it to the Transportation Research Board, an off-shoot of the non-profit National Research Council, at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

And then there’s the Quick N Silent pencil sharpener.

Pencil sharpeners are, in fact, one of the few classroom technologies that have not experienced a radical redesign in the past century. The most common type of institutional sharpener, the hand-cranked type you can still see mounted to a wall or the teacher’s table in classrooms all over the world, was introduced in 1904.

Sure, electric versions have been introduced, but the cylindrical mills rotating in “planetary” fashion within are still dominant — despite the inconsistency of their results.

Nevertheless, when Farooq wrestled with how to modernize the pencil sharpener, he didn’t look to some laser that could hone the tip of a pencil with micron-level precision. Instead, he found inspiration in the distant past.

“I remembered that people carried pocket knives and they just used those to sharpen pencils quietly and efficiently.”

He set to work on the new machine based on the same principles.

(Full Story)





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