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Perfect toast, perfect showers, credit card screens and gleaming spires

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Paul Brown's day was ruined one morning. He woke up, got dressed, put breakfast on, and was taking a shower when the smoke alarm sent a piercing squeal through the house. Not only was the noise unwelcome but the cause of it was supposed to be a perfectly grilled piece of bread. It was far from perfect. While his stomach grumbled on the way to work, Paul pondered how come man is still unable to accurately make toast (the irony of his name was not lost on him either). So when he arrived at work he invented the perfect toaster.

Of course it helps that Paul works for Cambridge Consultants Ltd (CCL), which makes its living by (among other things) inventing and selling such gadgets.

We were invited to have a look around CCL's UK headquarters and chat with the inventors of some of its latest brainwaves. Many of these had little or nothing to do with IT, but when people start talking about perfect showers, one-touch washing machines and, of course, perfect toast, it is our duty to tell you and put thousands of minds at rest.

As far as we understand it, all these inventions are looking for manufacturers and backers, so if you are interested (and can make all our lives that little bit better), CCL's Web site is here.

The perfect toaster

"There's been nothing new for about 50 years," says Paul Brown. "This will shake the market up." Provisionally called Toastz, this machine guarantees toast to your exact liking every time - whether white, brown, frozen. How?
It's all to do with chemistry. Paul furnished us with a complex-looking chemical reaction chart for toast. He didn't really know what it all meant either, but that hasn't stop CCL boffins from making a sensor (costing just 1 to 1.50) which measures the amount and size of a particular particle given off during caramelisation (that's the toast process). Thus, the toaster is switched off at whichever point along the grilling process the user wants.

Apart from the fact that Paul admitted to The Reg that the perfectly brown toast resting by the side of the machine had in fact been created by a traditional toaster, carefully watched by an assistant, this is a cracker of an idea. If he gets immediate interest, Paul reckons it'll be one year 'til it's in the shops.

The perfect shower

A shower becomes an intimate after a while - you have to learn its ways, how it reacts at different times of day, when it's in a bad mood. And just when you thought you knew it, it blasts boiling hot water onto your back and you chuck it out to start again with a nice new shiny shower. Well, no more! CCL are working on a shower that - get this - provides water at a constant temperature, accurate to one degree Celsius, and actually corresponds with the hot/cold dial. Four buttons - cold, medium, warm, hot and then a dial for fine adjustment. We want one.

Credit card screens

Actually, this is just one suggested use for a new type of "high-voltage AC electro-illuminant" screen. What's so great about it? It's very thin (about half a millimetre thick), it is very flexible, it can be screen printed (so big screens up to A4 can be made), it can be integrated with physical buttons and it's not all that expensive (it undercuts traditional vacuum LED screens). The only downsides are that it is not that strong a light - but good enough for mobiles etc - it's not too good past temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees centigrade and it has a lifespan of around 1500 hours.

However, this leaves a huge range of consumer goods that can use newer, bigger, interactive screens. Apparently, Siemens will include an almost phone-sized screen in its next mobile model and washing machines with big screen panels should be out next year. Hi-fis could also benefit. As initially mentioned, it could also be put on a credit card - press the button and what you've left to spend lights up.

One-touch washing machine

It's a simple question: why is this age of modern electronics do we still have to turn daft dials and ponder over an aircraft's worth of buttons just to do a spin cycle? This is a case of simple reinvention. Got whites? Press the "Whites" button. And so on and so forth.

Digital printer

Using XaarJet technology (mechanical squeezing of paint tubes), CCL has built various printers that are very quick and cost-effective for poster-sized short runs. They're not cheap - 100,000 to 300,000 a printer, plus 300,000 to 1 million for development - but there's a lot of interest.
It can print on anything (as was ably demonstrated by Bill Baxter, the printer's papa), using four to six colours at 360 dots per inch. The printer comes with software that ties in with current printing systems.

DNA search engine

This one got a bit complex and scary. Basically, it's a search engine for your DNA. Give the software your DNA profile and it does a heavy-duty search, coming up with areas where your DNA strays from the norm (gene variations). This can be used to give an idea of how your body works and the publicised use of it is to combat diseases. We found it a little eerie - what else can be done with this information?

And then we went - leaving hirsute boffins and Terry Gilliam lookalikes to get on with their work and keep the Great in Great Britain. ®

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