OK, I'll bite (pun intended). So, you want to launch a projectile, that has a bad habit of sticking in one's throat under normal conditions, at high velocity, into one's mouth, not an eye where the cornea could get scratched, while breathing in after issuing a command that opens the trachea exposing one's lungs to this projectile, and make it available to the youth of the household and your pets?
Maybe the better way is a video processing system with acoustic distance-determining subroutines?
Next, how about one that launches pins for those who sew a lot? Or nails for a carpenter who is putting up framing? Or syringes for nurses giving injections. The possiblities are endless!
First, Warren sounds like a fear-burdened worry-wart that I would never invite to my party!
Now as for making the thing work, ultrasonic ranging and locating is a fairly mature art form, and laser tracking systems are available off the shelf. But none of those laser systems are in the required price range, at least not the high accuracy ones. So a good start would be a sonar system for ranging and a camera system for face and moth recognition. The speech recognition system would need to discriminate against all other sounds than the word "pop", so it could probably be fairly simple. And the whole search could wait until the trigger word was heard so that it would know the target was available.
Of course there are a lot of add-on things that would add to the fun, like a laser pointer and a butter squirt option. And what about a system to make all manner of remarks as it shoots the popcorn?
The challenge would be to make it all for a low enough price that Walmart would not offer a cheaper knock-off after a few weeks.
As a matter of fact, I believe that I have been blasted by popcorn on at least one occasion, without sustaining any injury except for having popcorn embedded in my hair.
Clearly, if one enters a popcorn free-fire zone, one is obligated to blink in the event of an incoming. So the liability for imbedded kernels would lie with the recipient, not with the sender. LIkewise, one is obligated to catch the kernel in flight and not attempt to swallow it whole.
I would anticipate that a modified version of my "Ratapalt" invention could deliver large amounts of popcorn at quite high velocities, which would be an interesting way to overdo the whole concept.
It would seem the most accurate method of launching and hitting a target is to launch unpopped corn kernels; determine direction and range, launch the kernel, focus either laser or microwave energy onto the airborne kernel causing it to pop mid-flight and slowing it to sublethal velocity. A short subroutine to track the kernel until it either disappears or falls below a threshold would suffice to verify the accuracy of the throw and make appropriate adjustments. Using a simple game-camera to discern movement would solve the aiming issue. Disabling the laser/microwave could disuade even the most vociferous pet from repeatedly setting-off the thrower. Launching popped corn using compressed air has proven to be most inaccurate, however lauching unpopped kernels using the same method has shown to be most entertaining (if not painful). I do believe this may have contributed to the mouse population in my garage but I'm not sure.
Popping kernels with a laser beam is probably an excellent way to raise the casualty count quite rapidly. The watt-seconds needed to pop in 2 seconds would be quite dangerous.
And for the compressed air launching? I have driven small green apples through a magazine using compressed air, and likewise driven a broken ski pole through a 2x6 piece of lumber. Compressed air is capable of imparting dangerous amounts of kinetic energy and it is not a force to be played with.
As for the accuracy of using popped kernels, just put them in a thin plastic bag and lubricate the barrel with vegetable oil, (the cheap stuff is OK), and they will hit with a fairly small spread. Or use a smaller diameter barrel, less than an inch, and send out a steady stream. That would be lots of fun. The logistics of creating the steady stream are a bit complex, though. The effect is like tracer rounds. Very impressive.
So we talking about safety or innovation? I agree the laser power may be excessive for 'cold' kernels, but it should be possible to pre-heat them using microwaves in the barrel, then finish them off en-route with the laser. I have color-coded the squirrels around my house using a paint-ball gun, which is about the same caliber as a popped kernel, so perhaps popping the kernels inside a round tube to control finish diameter, then some rifling inside the "barrel" to impart spin to help the ballistics. Caramel-corn, being more dense might be a better ammunition.
Think carefully now! Most of the carmel that I am familiar with is a bit sticky when it is warm. That sounds like a good way to plug tha barrel quite completely. It might have to be rebored to clean it out. Of course another option could be tio use teflon carmel, but that may not be good to eat. Heavily buttered garlic popcorn would be a bit heavier than plain, so it might be another choice. Of course it would also work to open the barrel diameter and then depend on the air0bearing effect to keep the carmel corn from sticking. But the efficiency would be much lower.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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