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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Scary trip inspires solution

August 24. 2014 8:23PM

Editor's Note: How should inventors think? As if they had the power to do what they wanted if they 'had their druthers,' Sam Asano says. A difficult drive in the mountains had him thinking about how to solve the problem of being blinded by high-beam lights.
The lady librarian told me the direction to the highway when I finished my lecture at a town library quite deep in the mountainous region. It was in early winter, and the sun had gone down a long time ago. If I turned right at the head of the driveway, I'd go about 20 miles on a fairly good road to the highway.
If I turned left, my journey would be about six miles to the highway, but the narrow road would be full of turns and would be a steep downhill trek through the valley.

I chose left. After all, I was in a hurry, and I wanted to get home quicker. About five minutes in to this decision I regretted I chose this road. The road was quite steep going downhill, and at times it was really narrow with a sharp turn suddenly coming up. I felt I was lucky the surface hadn't been frozen, but nevertheless I had to slow my car down significantly to drive through this road.For a while I looked for a broad spot where I could turn the car around to go the other way, but soon I gave up the idea and started to concentrate to drive carefully down the hill. This is a typical road that locals would take as a short cut as they know the road intimately. Most of the autos I saw in the parking lot of the library were pickups that belonged to the villagers.
Suddenly I saw a set of bright headlights with accompanying driving lights appearing at a high speed around the bend. It was hard for me to see the right edge of the road as the blinding lights caused serious glare with my eyesight. I couldn't tell if the edge of the road had some margin or no margin straight down to the bottom of the valley. I slowed down. I felt sweat on my neck as the oncoming pickup roared up the hill very close to my car. I had a fleeting thought of losing control and my car tumbling sideways down to the brook some unknown vertical distance down.
Next I noticed a set of headlights in my rearview mirror fast approaching. The truck, I presumed, had four lights, and the main beam was extremely bright, set at high beam. Soon the truck caught up with me, and its light filled my car. I probably looked like a raccoon with the bright band of light on my face. Both side view mirrors were also full of lights.
The driver of the truck behind me started tailgating relentlessly. The driver had no mercy, probably annoyed that I was a slow driver, and/or this might have been the way locals drove around there. My car was a compact, and drove nicely, but the height of my eyesight was right smack in the following car's center of bright beam. I thought many times to pull to the side to let this car go by, but it was not possible to find a spot wide enough to let the other driver pass.
The opposing traffic was not sparse either. From the amount of uphill traffic, now I realized that this was really the main short cut access to this village because people knew the road intimately. Every time a car or pickup would come toward me, they seemed to have high beams on with additional driving lights. So every time a car or pickup came climbing up, I was surrounded by a flood of lights everywhere. My front windshield was full of intense glare while my rearview mirror and the sideviews were shining into my eyes by the lights from the car behind.
This scene reminded me of a powerful movie named 'Duel,' the first movie Steven Spielberg made, in which a car driven by a prosaic salesman is followed closely by a vengeful truck driver through a long journey.
At times I find myself just guessing and aiming my steering wheel hoping with prayer. In this 21st century when so many scientific achievements have been accomplished, why such a simple thing like headlights couldn't be properly aimed so as to avoid accidents? So, now I turn to one of the basic steps an inventor would or should frequently think. Have you ever heard of an expression 'If I had my druthers …'?

I strongly suggest you average inventors immerse yourself to this type of thinking. Namely, if you are an omnipotent god with all the resources and power in this world, what would your solution be? I insist you go through this process because many average inventors do not allow themselves to think outside of the box. A notion of an invention shouldn’t be limited to what’s available within the box. Remember, thinking is FREE! Spread your wings.

As I continued to descend the narrow winding road in the pitch darkness of the winter, and being blasted out by intensely shining headlights, I gradually grew accustomed to the condition, and got a bit more relaxed. Then I began searching about for the solution(s) for this kind of situation where I am flooded with intense light fore and aft while driving down a narrow two-way road having frequent sharp turns in the middle of a mountain valley.

What I concluded was that I shouldn’t rely on my vision, which has been totally flooded out by lights. I also thought about what an ideal view I should see ahead so that I could drive safely without any fear of accidents.

My conclusion was that the scenery on my windshield should be of the image with the position of the sun high above me shining down with about 60 degree from the horizon behind me. The display of the forward scene should appear in front of me, and I shouldn’t be able to see the front view, rearview mirror as well as sideview mirrors. Namely I am now sitting inside a driving cockpit with no ability to see outside. I have to drive looking at the front view projected in front of me.

Then I realized that my thought is really a variation of an autonomous automobile. I also realized that that is quite doable today by manipulation of data by a proper software.

See? Think out of the box. It costs you nothing!

Shintaro “Sam” Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who’s improved our life. He is a businessman and inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems and is credited as the inventor of the portable fax machine. He developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at 

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