Strange Business Patents of the Year

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Many businesses enter a preestablished market — restaurants and bars, for example, or office supply manufacturers — but some attempt to establish a brand-new market. It takes innovators to change the world through boldness and risk. Unfortunately, not every innovator actually manages to change anything. Whether the following products are destined for revolutionary glory or just too far ahead of their time to find a customer base, we salute them.

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The Salt-Enhancing Chopsticks

About 9 in 10 Americans consume excessive sodium, according to the CDC. While this can lead to cardiovascular complications, let’s face it: Salt tastes really good.

But what if a small amount could taste just as good as a heaping spoonful?

Backed by Japan’s Kirin Holdings Co., which is best known for making beer, Meiji University professor Homei Miyashita created a pair of chopsticks that send a tiny electrical current — not enough for you to notice physically — through your food and straight to your mouth. Somehow this enhances the impression of saltiness by about 1.5%. (Miyashita previously invented a screen you can lick to taste what’s on TV.)

With a commercial release planned for 2023, those of us averse to bland food will have one less thing to be salty about.

The Machine-Learning Posture Correction Shirt

Artificial intelligence is about to replace yet another task: telling your kids to sit up straight.

New tech from the Chinese Academy of Sciences aims to correct poor posture with a special futuristic fabric that combines nylon and conductive fibers. When woven into a shirt (and combined with tiny sensors), they collect real-time data about the wearer’s posture. A machine-learning program then provides immediate feedback on better sitting positions.

The energy you generate from regular movement provides the necessary power, so you won’t have to worry about charging your shirt every night before bed.

The Candy-Dispensing Computer Accessory

Everyone likes a sweet treat for a job well done. But a U.S. patent currently hanging in limbo (it expired in 2017, so it’s not technically from this year) might have taken that concept from “heck yeah, candy” to “oh no, the dystopia is here.”

Inventor Anthony Vandenberg proposes a battery-powered peripheral for personal computers with a form factor that looks a lot like a gumball machine, except without the need for pocket change. Instead, it dispenses individually-wrapped candies whenever the user successfully solves a problem on the PC.

To be fair, the patent was aimed at educational software with the goal of rewarding young children for learning. But please, we beg you, don’t let Jeff Bezos find out about this one.

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