Dreamy about Alarm Clocks

Although alarm clocks present themselves to us at times that we are rarely mindful, they are worth rethinking. There is so much wrong with the design, judging from modern standards!
| posted on Mon, 19 Feb 2007, 08:01 | weblog | rss | spin-off | comments |

Alarm clocks are used to wake you up before you would like to. There are a lot of possible innovations that could make this function more effective, and even more pleasant.


The operation of a typical alarm clock is far too complex for me. Around the time I am woken up, I very much dislike the choice between five to seven buttons. All I need is one large, red button hanging near my bedside. While the alarm sounds, the button signals that the alarm should shut up. More than 12 hours after the alarm, it signals going to bed. At any other time, it would simply ask for the time. You could even correct for an erroneous interpretation by pressing it long and hard. That leaves all the interaction I need from an alarm clock: just hitting the button whenever I feel like it.


A typical alarm clock either makes a buzzing sound, or it switches on a radio channel. I've long assumed that it would be more effective to use the sound of a dripping faucet, slowly increasing the waterflow to make it run, and keep increasing the sound until it is a waterfall. Such sounds make you want to go to the bathroom, and are thus more effective to wake me up at than a radio, and much more pleasant than a sound that makes me feel alarmed. In general, the technology is available to play any digitised sound. I could even wake up to an energising aria.


An alarm clock displays the time, usually with 7-digit display modules. It does this even though it is mostly being ignored: either you are not in the room, or when you are, your eyes are closed or focussed on someone else. If you wear glasses, you cannot even read them without getting out of bed first. This almost-useless display does however consume close to 20 kWh every year. This function could also be subsumed by sound, reading out the current time.


When the power goes down, an alarm clock is reset and does not indicate the proper time anymore. An integration with RDS or NTP is long overdue. Nothing is worse than missing your bus because your alarm clock was off. Oh wait, one thing is worse: having to rush because your alarm clock was off while your wall clock is not.


Instead of telling you when to wake up, an alarm clock should tell you when to go to bed. It would calculate this from the programmed time of wakening, by subtracting the number of hours of sleep needed. We all have a biorhythm, which is a number of hours for a sleep "module". We are best off if we sleep a whole number of those modules, because we can easily wake up in between, but hardly during such a module. An alarm clock can take the biorhythm of its owner into account and summon the owner to bed "because otherwise you won't be able to get up in the morning". A bedtime notification service combines well with the following idea.


An alarm clock is set at a fixed waking time. This is based on an old concept of factory workers having to be in time for their shift. Modern workers can often start at a flexible moment, and people who have their own business can also have some flexibility. Since it is easiest for a human being to wake up at dawn, an alarm clock should be aware of the time of the year, and be able to adapt the waking time according to the time the sun sets.


It sounds like all this could run on a home server, if you have one. It would simply get a non-battery speaker attached, which is then positioned in one's bedroom. There would also be a button, possible connected to a mouse port. The bedtime notification could be implemented through an in-house VoIP system, or through chat mechanisms.

Wow, I must avoid waking up before the alarm clock. My mind shouldn't be working on issues like this.

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