THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 144

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 144

…Before we get sidetracked by sonic overload, I was trying to tell you – that I think I could fly the NEWFOUNDLANDER back to Earth…

Sonic Overload by Caleb Brown

“Your title as Commander is hereby revoked. We are on an alien spaceship and you cannot make anything work around here without my help.”

“That is true, but the rent is paid off ‘til the end of the year and the groceries are free.”

“Money for nothing and the chicks for free.. and the music IS free, that’s right, the slightest gesture sets off some out-of-this-world sounds.” What humans refer to as musical notes and reverberations, the Newfoundlians use a form of communication. “I really miss my Justin Timberlake Collection.”

“You do have a sexy back, but I do not miss that guy… Galactic Static is more my taste.”

“How did we ever stand each other’s taste in music, long enough to get married?”

“Before we get sidetracked by sonic overload, which we can’t turn off, I was trying to tell you that I think I could fly this thing home.”

“And pass up the rescue mission without them seeing us? And when we land, if you can land it, can we convince our own people that the NEWFOUNDLANDER means them no harm,” she teases. “We would probably be shot down by air defenses, thinking we were an incoming Korean bomber.”

“But Korea is harmless, remember what President Sanchez told the world?”

“The New Mayflower expects to find us more than half-starved and happy to see them, so lets let them be half-right.”

“Good point Lt. Cmdr. McKinney, but I still may try to fly it back just to prove I can.”

Try is the operative word Sam. You are light years from understanding their technology and probably 20 light years from the folks who do.”

“I hate it when you’re right.”

“Always right and when did you finally come to that brilliant conclusion?”

“But, but, but… with me and a crew of three, I think I could get us back to Earth!” Right now, he would be 1.5 short of that.

“Let’s just concentrate on studying these beings, their technology, and find out where they came from. We have the time to have a complete dossier prepared, in the 2-odd months we have left. We can ‘present it as a present’, this incredible discovery, to the world; Perhaps the greatest contribution to the world since the wheel or fire.”

“I was thinking the microprocessor, but you are right, let’s get to work.”

She was right again. They have all the time in the world; the difference being that Mars is currently their world and the word “time” means different things to different people.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 144


page 177

Contents TRT

i Robot – Disturbing Automation

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Creepy

Real Life

Robots

Robot “Doctor Who”

Even leaving aside the pop culture jokes about Skynet from the Terminator series and similarly-themed science fiction that provides a violent robot revolution, the future of automation has some unsettling possibilities. On the most practical level, there’s the potential impact many more jobs becoming automated will have on the economy for the working class. There are the military applications, even if the extra step is never taken of installing artificial intelligence in them.

 And likeliest of all, what if, in attempts to make them highly efficient but still useful, their designers end up making them look really creepy? Or even worse, what if designers try to make them look really relatable and end up just barely off enough that the result is more unsettling than robots intended to kill?

10. Osaka University’s Female Simulants

You wouldn’t think that “receptionist” or “news reader” are positions that it would be expedient to automate. They don’t come with any particular health risks or more immediate danger, and projecting an air of warmth and welcoming seems the thing an inanimate object is least qualified to do. A team at the Department of Systems Innovation at Osaka University, headed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, nevertheless decided to devote years working on robots that look as much like conventionally attractive women as possible. Among the models that were previewed at an exhibit in 2014 were the kodomoroid, which was designed to serve as a new anchor, and the Otonaroid, which was supposed to be a science communicator. In 2016 Ishiguro’s team displayed “Erica,” a robot that’s meant to serve as a receptionist, to Bloomberg magazine.

The facial features and skin for these robots are impeccable; at least as good as anything that was ever shown at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. However, the way they move their jaws and the lack of articulation in their eyes makes them seem unnervingly mindless. Also, what’s it say about the personnel at your business that the only way you can keep a receptionist is to purchase a robot?

9. Sophia

Osaka University is by no means alone in the field of making robotic versions of conventionally attractive women. David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics, has created an android modeled on Audrey Hepburn and his wife that he dubbed “Sophia.” The android has a large amount of articulation in “her” face and excellently textured skin, although why Hanson left the robot with a transparent back cranium reminiscent of the film Ex Machina is unclear. At present the thing that makes Sophia discomforting is that while she has an array of convincing facial expressions, the way she transitions between them is overly precise and unnatural and her artificial voice is emotionless and, again, overly precise.

Hanson’s got another project, which he released in 2005, will seem only too appropriate to fans of science fiction. He has created an android in tribute to author Philip K. Dick, called PKD. If you’re unfamiliar, Dick was the author of stories such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (better known by the film adaptation’s moniker, Blade Runner), which deal in a sometimes surreal manner with the uncertain subjects of identity, memory, and living beings being replaced with automatons. No doubt the author would be horrified to see this robot or have an identity crisis.  Gotta say, good one Hanson!

8. Underwater Snakes

These Norwegian aquatic robots, which were announced in April 2016, bring to mind the Sentinel robots from the Matrix film series, especially with its ominous red glowing eyes. They were developed by the Norwegian organization Kongsberg Maritime and a natural gas and oil company called Statoil to perform underwater observation and inspection. With it’s lack of fins, propellers, and related forms of locomotion (“thrusters” is the term they use in their videos), it’s ideally suited to enter tight, enclosed spaces and allow flexible analysis, even under severe water pressure.

Presumably, considering the nature of the parent company, the intent was to be able to quickly analyze damaged offshore platforms for faster repairs, though it’s also likely going to be useful for inspecting sunken ships and other wrecks. It goes to show that a robot being a bit creepy does not mean that it is useless.

7. Victorian-Era Crawling Baby Robot

It may be surprising to learn that handheld dolls were designed that could move on their own six years before there were dolls with audio recordings installed in them. In 1871, an engineer named Robert J. Clay patented this device, a slight improvement over his original design. Even this was not the model that eventually went to market, as his employer George Clark redesigned it.

Not that even his version was a success, since it was too heavy for a little girl to play with, to say nothing of how easy it was to break in an era when replacement parts weren’t easily ordered. Still, this early robot is honored by the Smithsonian Museum of American History’scollection instead of being buried deep underground where it can never enter a nightmare again. You’d think they’d at least put some clothes on the display model.

6. Pregnancy Simulator

In 2015, the company Gaumard Scientific released a birth training robot for medical students, beginning with Boston University. Even though they cost $62,500, they seem like a bargain for how thoroughly designed they are for the many factors involved in birth. The blood pressure of mother and baby are monitored. So are the oxygen levels. They are settings for vaginal birth, emergency breech birth, and cesarean sections, and forty-six other contingency conditions. They are not 100% autonomous, as the instructors are needed at controls as well, but they’re still vastly more effective than regular old mannequins, and even seasoned students have said they’re “intimidating.” Probably because they didn’t want to admit how creepy the uncanny robots they’re using are.

Since a doctor can hardly expect a birth to be a clean, pleasant process, the robots have been designed to reflect that. The robots aren’t just capable of making noise in response to stimulus that would be painful for a human. They also have blood packs installed in them for bleeding, and the ability to vomit. It’s a bit off-putting that all of them are designed to have permanent expressions of frozen horror, but then again, the doctor probably shouldn’t be looking up there too much anyway.

5. Affeto the Robot Baby

The uncanny valley is mentioned a lot when a robot is so close to a human being, but not quite there. But this particular robot, another one from Osaka University, doesn’t look that close to a human being, yet it’s much more unsettling than the robot receptionists and everything else from our previous entries. If nothing else, Hisashi Ishihara and Minoru Asada’s 2012 creation really goes to show just how far the development of artificial skin has come in the past few years.

It must be said that the demo video for this robot is needlessly creepy. It begins by showing the mechanical inner workings of Affeto, and considering it has twenty pneumatic actuators, it has very mobile arms and a pretty flexible spine. Then they take a moment to show that an artifical ribcage was made for it, as if the skinless face didn’t already closely resemble a skull with eyeballs. Finally, they show what it looks like with skin, and the flesh color could only be described as corpse white. All told, it’s an impressive feat of engineering for a year and a half of work, and very far from cute.

4. Spermazoidal Medical Microbots

As far as robots that operate in aquatic environments go, 2016 also witnessed the announcement of robots so small and useful that they make the somewhat similarly designed underwater snakes from the eighth entry on our list look quaint. They’re robots small enough that they can be injected into the bloodstream that, through the use of harmless electromagnetic fields outside the body, can be made to move tails like bacterial flagellum so that they can “swim” through the body.

Indeed, the design for these microbots was directly inspired by studying bacteria. The idea is that they can operate around or even clear up blood clots, or be used to apply medicine directly where it’s needed in the host’s body. It should be noted that while there are many working prototypes available, inventors Selman Sakar, Hen-Wei Wuang, and Bradley Nelson stressed in their announcement that these robots are still very much in the research and development phase. So it will still be a while before you have to worry about the mental image of countless microscopic tadpole-like robots being remote-controlled through your body.

3. Cassie

This robot, which is mostly just a pair of legs, was unveiled by Agility Robotics, a company comprised of Oregon State University students, in 2017. The company has very high aspirations for this chicken-legged robot that was developed with a million dollar grant. Beyond being used for commercial deliveries and search and rescue missions, Agility Robotics claims that it will function in highly radioactive areas, making it ideal for dealing with nuclear waste.

Cassie’s backward legs are useful in allowing it access to areas that cannot be reached by most wheeled robots. On the other hand, its central component looks like the head of the ED-209 robot from the film Robocop and the thigh areas on its legs look like odd growths.CNBC’s news story on the release of the robot bluntly (but accurately) called it “creepy.”

2. Bomb Robot

Not every robot needs to look creepy to be disturbing. This particular robot is benign in appearance and usually its purpose is almost heroic. However, on July 8, 2016, police in Dallas, Texas were engaged with active shooter Micah Xavier Johnson, who’d barricaded himself in a parking garage. Johnson had been suspected of fatally shooting four officers and wounding seven others during his pursuit and claimed that he’d placed bombs inside the parking garage. Rather than risk any more lives, the police turned to a historically unprecedented solution: they attached an explosive to a bomb removal unit, and used it to take down Johnson.

Now just to be clear, this is in no way a condemnation of the Dallas Police Department. Considering the number of people that had been killed, it is perfectly understandable to neutralize the suspect in such a way. But imagine the precedent this may establish for using robots to deliver bombs to neutralize other suspects or enemy combatants. Or imagine if someone with less morally justifiable motivation than the Dallas Police decides to employ robots in this manner.

1. Robot with the Face of Your Friend

It’s uncomfortable enough to see a face on a robot that’s not quite human. So imagine how disquieting it would be to see the distorted face of a family member, friend, or coworker projected from the inside onto a mannequin head for the duration of an online chat. That’s the promise of the Socibot-Mini, made by the British company Engineered Arts.

First appearing on the market in 2014, it’s built with a connection to a camera that does a 3D scan of the face of the caller speaking through the device, and it also scans the face of the person responding to the face to adjust the facial expression it projects. A reporter for New Scientist claimed it’s accurate enough for the computer to guess the person’s age. Additionally it has a neck that can be remotely adjusted so that the distorted face can maintain a sight line with the other caller. Even Will Jackson, one of the product’s developers, described it as “spooky as all hell.”

Not that it stopped Jackson and the rest of Engineered Arts from charging $9,500 for it. There were plans for a Kickstarter campaign, but no evidence of one ever being attempted surfaced online.


i Robot

Image result for i robot

– Disturbing Automation

Controlling the Weather – WIF Mad Science

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People Who Tried

to Control

the Weather

Image result for weather machine

We have to realize that weather, in all its forms, has influenced and shaped humanity in every conceivable way. The weather and the surrounding environment (which is also shaped by weather) has influenced language in every part of the world, how people built the houses and shaped their societies, what they ate, and the way that they dressed for centuries. Whole religions were formed as a sort of answer to the meteorological events happening all around. And it’s not inconceivable that people throughout history have tried, or at least thought about, controlling the weather.

 Only with the technological advancements brought on in recent decades did we actually begin to tap into this Bond villain-like superpower. However, we are still at the beginning of this journey and we have still more to discover. We still don’t know all the ins and outs of weather, let alone enough to control it. We can at best influence it. But regardless of this, people have tried on many occasions to do it to the best of their abilities. Here are ten such cases.

10. Fog Dispersal

With the advent of flight over the past century, fog began to be a serious problem for aircraft trying to take off or land safely. And in WWII, pilots no longer had the luxury to sit around and wait for the fog to lift on its own before taking off. That’s why in 1942 the Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, ordered the Petroleum Warfare Department to come up with an idea to solve this problem. The result was FIDO, or Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation.

By burning petrol around the airfield at a rate of 100,000 gallons per hour, engineers were able to produce enough heat as to temporarily lift the fog, thus allowing the pilots to safely take off or land at a moment’s notice. According to the British RAF(Royal Air Force), 15 airfields were fitted with this capability in England, as well as a few others in the US and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Between 1943 and 1945, some 2,500 aircraft landed safely in otherwise dangerous conditions, thus ensuring the survival of over 10,000 soldiers. In 1959 the last FIDO installation at RAF Manston was dismantled.

Even today fog dispersal is done regularly at many airports around the world, but the technology has improved a bit since WWII. If temperatures are below freezing, CO2 or propane gas is released from the ground in order to lift the fog. If temperatures are higher, however, airports make use of helicopters or even burners to help with the problem.

9. Hail Cannons

In existence since the late 1890s, hail cannons came about after an Austrian wine grower named M. Albert Stiger conducted some experiments in his backyard. The result was an oversized, megaphone-shaped cannon that fired rings of smoke about 985 feet into the air. It was made out of a sheet of metal, mounted on a wooden frame. The concept was that a strong whirlwind of air and smoke, blasted into the sky by one such cannon, will disrupt the normal formation of hail in the overhead clouds. Hail was, and still is, a major issue and a serious threat to all crops, making the hail cannon a true scientific blessing for farmers. After a few seemingly successful tries, the number of hail cannons in the Italian province near Venice alone had skyrocketed from 466 to 1,630 in less than one year.

But as these cannons became more and more common throughout other parts of Europe, reports of inconsistencies began to surface. These were initially disregarded on the grounds of improper firing, shooting delays, or poor positioning. Then, in 1903 the Italian government arranged a two-year-long experiment involving 222 cannons. The regions involved in the experiment still experienced hail, the cannons were deemed a failure, and the whole concept was soon abandoned.

Perhaps surprisingly, these cannons are still in use today. One company that makes them says that their cannons work by creating a shockwave traveling at the speed of sound, disrupting the creation of hail and turning it into slush or rain. When a storm is close by, it begins firing every four seconds, tracking the storm via radar. In 2005 a car manufacturer in the US deployed such cannons, disturbing an entire community with its incredibly loud noise. At some point, even the guys at Mythbusters considered testing these hail cannons, but after some deliberation, they agreed against it, saying that “the methodology makes the machine completely un-testable.”

8. Cloud Seeding

Besides hail, one other meteorological element that can considerably shrink any crop yield is drought. In 1946, a meteorologist by the name of Vincent Schaefer, together with a Nobel Prize laureate Irving Langmuir, discovered cloud seeding. This is a form of weather modification which supposedly increases the amount of rainfall. Rain is created when supercooled droplets of water come together and form ice crystals in a process known as nucleation. No longer able to stay suspended in the air, these ice crystals start falling to the ground and in the process begin to melt and turn back into rain drops.

The logic behind cloud seeding is that some particles like silver iodine or dry ice can kick start this process and enhance the raining capabilities in clouds. These particles can either be delivered by plane or sprayed from the ground. But like the hail cannons mentioned above, it is particularly difficult to prove their effectiveness. Even to this day, there is no sure way of knowing if any given cloud will actually produce rain or not. Nevertheless, cloud seeding has been reported as being a success in initial trials in countries like Australia, France, Spain, the US, the UAE, and China.

However, cloud-seeding expert Arlen Huggins, a research scientist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, said in an interview that nobody can attribute any given storm solely to cloud seeding. In fact, the process works best not in periods of drought, but when there are normal or above normal periods of precipitation. At best, cloud seeding should increase the amount of rain or snow by up to 10%, and this excess water can be stored for later use.

7. Project Cirrus

As early as 1946, the US Armed Forces began testing cloud seeding, trying to discover its true potential and what other uses it might have to benefit the country. They made a total of 37 test flights in the first year and a half, flying over thunderstorms, line squalls, and even tornadoes. One big threat, as many of us know, are the annual tropical hurricanes coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. So, in October 1947, Project Cirrus expanded to test cloud seeding on a hurricane traveling east bound, 350 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. They dropped 80 lbs. of dry ice into the raging storm, only to realize that the hurricane suddenly changed direction and began traveling back towards the United States.

Savannah, Georgia was hit by record-breaking winds of up to 85 MPH, more than 1,400 people were left homeless, and at least two people died. The total damage was reported into the millions of dollars, and the project and its participants were blamed for what happened. Project Cirrus then relocated to New Mexico and the research continued. However, not long after their arrival to the area, local tourist attractions began blaming the team for the unusually wet weather they began experiencing soon after. Despite the seemingly positive results, by 1952 the project ran out of funding and was cancelled soon after.

6. Project Stormfury

Not wanting the research made in the previous decade to go to waste, another ambitious experimental program was launched in 1962, in order to see if it’s possible to use cloud seeding to lessen a hurricane’s destructive potential. Scientists were wishing to decrease the wind speeds of any hurricane by making use of silver iodine. Rocket canisters filled with the stuff were dropped into the storm’s eye from an airplane flying overhead, as well as making use of gun-like devices mounted on the wings, spraying silver iodine over the storm.

The hope was that these particles would counterbalance the normal convection within the eye of the storm, thus giving it a larger radius and in turn, reducing the overall wind speeds generated. The tests were carried out in four hurricanes over a period of eight days. Half the time wind speeds decreased by 10-to-30%, while the other half experienced no change. The lack of any response to these tests was initially attributed mostly to faulty execution and deployment.

However, later studies have indicated that hurricanes don’t contain nearly as much supercooled water for cloud seeding to be effective. Moreover, researchers discovered that some such storms can undergo similar processes naturally, just like seeded hurricanes would. It was then concluded that the initial successful tries were actually naturally occurring events, backed only by the very little knowledge in the behavior of hurricanes at the time. The last test fight took place in 1971, and in 1983 Project Stormfury was officially canceled. These experiments weren’t without merit, however, since they helped meteorologists better understand and forecast the movements and intensities of future hurricanes.

5. Project Skyfire

At every moment of the day, there are around 1,800 thunderstorms in progress all over the globe. And every 20 minutes, these storms produce somewhere around 60,000 lightning strikes. Unsurprisingly, some of these lightning strikes start fires. Every summer, 9,000 forest or grassland fires in the US are started this way, causing extensive loss of timber, wildlife, watersheds and recreation areas. Project Skyfire was initiated in 1955 by the US Forest Service in the hopes of better understanding the natural processes that initiate thunderstorms, and maybe decrease the frequency of lightning as much as possible.

For the first several years of the project, scientists gathered information and began using silver iodine in high concentrations, in the hopes of overseeding clouds and thus reduce the number of lightning strikes. Their results are hard to quantify, due to the lack of any controlled experiments, but it would seem that initial tests were somewhat successful. In any case, in 1960 and 1961, the US Army, under name Project Skyfire, attempted lightning suppression by using millions of tiny metallic pins in order to seed the clouds, instead of dry ice or silver iodine. These were actually small pieces of foil oppositely charged at each end. This material is used today as a form of countermeasure for aircraft trying to evade enemy missiles or radar.

4. Operation Popeye – Vietnam War

With the previous projects above, it’s no wonder that cloud seeding was intended for military purposes at some point or another. Operation Popeye, or Operation Compatriot, was a top secret military campaign waged in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The goal of the operation was to flood the routes between North and South Vietnam during the monsoon season with as much rain as possible, in order to make roads inaccessible. The Ho Chí Minh trail was especially targeted due to its logistical importance for the Viet Cong. The whole operation lasted from 1966 up until 1972 and consisted of over 2,600 flights over the regions of Cambodia, Laos, South Vietnam and the previously mentioned trail. In total, some 47,000 units of cloud seeding material was dropped during this time, at a cost of over $21.6 million. If it actually worked or not is still a matter of debate, but it is believe that they were able to extend the monsoon season by 30 to 45 days.

Also part of the operation were regular flights over the dense jungles, spraying them with various herbicides in order to provide less material and cover for the North Vietnamese. Operation Popeye reached the public consciousness when a columnist by the name of Jack Anderson revealed it in the Washington Post in March, 1971. The US Defense Secretary, Melvin Laird testified under oath in 1972 in front of the US Senate that they never actually used any weather modification techniques in Southeast Asia. Only two years later, one of Laird’s private letters was leaked where he admitted that he did lie in front of the Senate. This inevitably lead to the “Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques,” or ENMOD to be signed in 1976 by members of the UN.

3. Black Rain in Belarus

In April 1986, one of the biggest man-made disasters took place in the former Soviet Union, present-day Ukraine. Due to a faulty reactor design and inadequately trained personnel, one of the reactors at Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, killing many and resulting in the complete evacuation of the nearby town of Pripyat. However, this was just the beginning and the worst of the disaster was still to come. The radioactive cloud that ensued was threatening many large cities in the Soviet Union like Moscow, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod and Yaroslavl.

In order to prevent such a catastrophe, the Soviet government quickly dispatched aircraft to fly over the radioactive cloud and spray it with cloud seeding material, in an area of about 60 miles surrounding Chernobyl. In the wake of the explosion, people in present-day South Belarus reported heavy, black-colored rain falling in and around the town of Gomel. And just before the hellish rain began, several aircraft had been spotted circling the city and surrounding area, ejecting some colored material. Moscow has never admitted to using cloud seeding in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, but two Soviet pilots later admitted to it.

Alan Flowers, a British scientist and the first Westerner to examine the extent of the levels of radioactivity and fallout around Chernobyl, discovered that Byelorussians were exposed to levels 20 to 30 times higher than normal as a result of the nuclear rain, causing intense radiation poisoning in children. In 2004, he was expelled from the country for claiming that the Soviet Union used cloud seeding in 1986. He said, “The local population says there was no warning before these heavy rains and the radioactive fallout arrived.”

2. The Beijing Weather Modification Office

Today, 52 countries are involved in weather modification in one form or another, either to enhance precipitation or to suppress hail. But none are more involved in the process than the Chinese. The Weather Modification Office came into being sometime in the 1980s and has since grown to around 37,000 people strong; the largest in the world. These people operate throughout the entire country, but mostly in its northern and northeastern regions, which are more predisposed to droughts. They also try to counteract hail, or severe sandstorms.

The Weather office makes use of 4,000 rocket launchers, 7,000 anti-aircraft guns, and about 30 airplanes to achieve its goals. But besides working on increasing the amount of precipitation, or suppress the fall of hail, the Bureau also makes sure that national holidays or special events get the weather they deserve. In 1997, the technology was used on New Year’s Day to make it snow. Another of its high-profile operations was during the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing. During the opening ceremony, some 1,100 rockets were fired into the clouds outside the city, ensuring a precipitation free evening by making it rain away from the event. Prior to every October 1, China’s National Day, the government uses cloud seeding over Beijing in order to make it rain, dissipating pollution and clearing the skies. Another future prospect for the Beijing Weather Modification Office is to lower summer temperatures, thus lowering the annual consumption of electricity.

1. Desert Rain

The weather is created and influenced by our own planet’s rotation, the sun’s rays, and the moisture coming in from the oceans. The most we can do, when compared to these natural forces, is minimal at best, and things should probably remain like that. But anyway, as the world’s population has increased to numbers never before seen, humans have moved in larger numbers to regions less hospitable for comfort. We are, of course, talking about the desert. Over the past several decades more and more people have begun inhabiting places like the United Arab Emirates in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the driest places on Earth. And it’s no surprise that people living there would want a rainfall now and again.

Thus, a Swiss company took advantage of the situation and began building 33-foot-high towers that produce negatively charged ions. These supposedly generate the formation of storm clouds. The theory of ionization has been around since the 1890, being first mentioned by Nikola Tesla. However, there was no evidence of it actually producing any rain in the various experiments conducted since. Moreover, the Swiss company is unwilling to share any proof or information regarding its technology and how it actually works, keeping it a closely guarded secret. There were a few rain storms since the installation was put in place, but scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology have said that these were part of an unusual weather pattern the Middle East was experiencing at the time.


Controlling the Weather

WIF Space-001

– WIF Mad Science

Unavailable Technologies – WIF Science

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Incredible Technologies

You Can’t Use

Technology sets us apart from all other living things. It’s true that, compared to other animals, we have larger brains and opposable thumbs, but these are what made technology available to us in the first place. And with the use of this technology, we became the dominant species on Earth.

But unfortunately, not all of this technology is available to us now. Some of it got lost in the mists of time, while others are deemed as classified by various governments, and we’ll probably never hear about them anyway. And there are still other pieces of technology which have been created, but considered as not economically viable by some influential people. Whatever the case, we’ll take a look at 10 such pieces of technology we’ll probably never have the chance to use.

10. Damascus Steel

damascus

During the Middle Ages, swords made out of a metal known as Damascus Steel were produced in the Middle East, by using a raw material known as “wootz,” brought there from India and Sri Lanka. This Damascus Steel was so strong that it was said it could cut through any other type of sword. By examining the steel, scientists could deduce that it had a high concentration of carbon in its mixture, making it much stronger than regular steel, but at the same time, flexible enough to not shatter on impact.

Even though people now know the composition of Damascus Steel, they don’t know the exact process through which the medieval Arabs were able to make it. According to Dr. Helmut Nickel, curator of the Arms and Armor Division of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, legend says that the best blades were quenched in “dragon blood.” What this “dragon blood” really was is a matter of debate and possibly the key to making Damascus steel. Some stories say that such blades were quenched in donkey urine, or that of a redheaded boy (gingers are the work of the devil, after all), or even plunging the still red hot blade into the body of a muscular slave so that “his strength would be transferred to the sword.” While all these processes were based on superstition, Dr. Nickel believes that all of them contributed to the process by adding nitrogen to the alloy.

Whatever the case, the exact recipe was lost, due in part to the secrecy with which the blacksmiths were making the alloy, as well as the emergence of gunpowder. Other theories say that the wootz ore ran low, and they could no longer make Damascus Steel. The period in which this super steel disappeared was around 1750 AD.

9. Vitrum Flexile (Flexible Glass)

flexible glass

The story behind flexible glass is more of a legend than anything else. The “tale” takes place in Ancient Rome during Emperor Tiberius’ rule (14-37 AD). It is said that one day, a glassmaker requested an audience at the imperial court in order to present a glass vial to the Emperor. After Tiberius examined it and saw nothing out of the ordinary, the glassmaker took the vial and threw it to the ground. Instead of shattering like any other ordinary glass vial should, it just bent slightly at the point of impact. With the use of a small hammer he was even able to restore the bottle to its original shape.

Seeing this, the Emperor, truly amazed, asked the glassmaker if he revealed his invention to anyone else. After saying no, Tiberius had the glassmaker killed and his workshop burned, fearing that the new invention would undermine the value of gold and silver in the imperial treasury and collapse the economy. While it is quite possible this would had been the economic outcome, had the glassmaker begun producing the vitrum flexile, it also made sure nobody would ever see or use this technological marvel for the next 2,000 years.

Normal glass is based on silicon dioxide (sand) with sodium and calcium as the metal oxides. But scientists nowadays believe that in order to make vitrum flexile, boric acid or borax should also be added to the mix. Our glassmaker might have had access to this element, either brought to Rome via the Silk Road, all the way from a remote region in Tibet, or he found some lying around near the steam vents of the Tuscan Maremma, north of Rome. In 2012, the American glass and ceramics company Corning introduced a new product called “Willow Glass,” which is very flexible and used in the construction of solar energy collectors. The only difference is that this glass can’t be returned to its original state.

8. Mithridatium: An Antidote to All Poisons

mithridate

An antidote to all poisons, as well as a cure to many ailments, is said to have been developed by king Mithridates VI of Pontus, and then later refined by the personal physician of Emperor Nero of Rome. According to historians, the original formula was lost, but did manage to survive as late as the Renaissance, with some mentions in the German, French, and Spanish pharmacopoeias of the 19th century. It is almost certain that by this point, the original recipe would have been lost already.

Nevertheless, some say that among the 36 ingredients found in this universal antidote were opium, small quantities of various poisons and their antidotes, and even chopped vipers. According to Adrienne Mayor, an historian at Stanford University, Sergei Popov, a USSR biological weapon specialist, tried to recreate it before defecting to the US, but to no avail.

7. Greek Fire

greek fire

Among all of the technologies on this list, we’re glad that this particular item has been lost to us. Back in 673 AD, Kallinikos from Heliopolis, a citizen of the Byzantine Empire, came up with a weapon of such great devastation, it’s still frightening just thinking about it. This is Greek Fire, or as its inventors called it, “Liquid Fire.” With this weapon, the Byzantines managed to save their Empire from being conquered by the Arabs in two attacks on Constantinople, in a number of wars against the Rus and Bulgarians, as well as a series of internal revolts. All of these battles ended in success.

Most likely made of a petroleum based mixture, Greek Fire was extremely flammable, burning at high temperatures and sticking to any surface it came in contact with. It even continued burning on water, making it ideal for naval warfare. It was sprayed out of a cannon type mechanism, and powered by a pump, acting quite similar to a present-day flamethrower firing napalm. It was also used in the form of a hand grenade. Besides the obvious damage it inflicted on ships and soldiers, it had an immensely terrifying effect on enemy morale, being a perfect terror weapon. Its impression on people back then is similar to the introduction of nuclear weapons in the 20th century.

Not wanting it to fall into the wrong hands, the recipe for this Byzantine super-weapon was a closely guarded secret. It was handed down from one Emperor to the next, and together with a handful of trusted craftsmen, they were the only ones who knew this recipe. This is also the reason why it was forgotten, as the Byzantine Empire entered a period of instability and the chain of passing down the formula was eventually broken.

6. Inca Stonemasonry

incas

Of all the things that made the Incas great, their wall building is among the most interesting and a mystery in its own right – so much so that some people have gone so far as to credit these techniques to demons, aliens, or any other higher power one could think of. While we do know that the Incas were the ones who made those walls, it’s fairly uncertain as to how they did it.

The first mystery here is how they were able to bring a 140 ton stone slab from the quarry, to the construction site, some 35 kilometers away. Because the Incas hadn’t yet discovered the wheel, and based on the stone’s polished surface, it is possible that they simply dragged them there on gravel roads, using at least 2,500 men to do it. The problem is not this, but rather how so many men fit on an 8-meter wide ramp, while pulling this immense stone uphill. Furthermore, the stones used at Saqsaywaman were fine-dressed at the Rumiqolqa quarry and show no signs of dragging.

The next bit of mystery is the precise positioning of these stones, as they fit perfectly with one another and without the use of any mortars or adhesives. We’re talking about being unable to even fit a single sheet of paper between any two stones. Located in an earthquake prone area of the world, it is a true feat of engineering that these walls are still standing, centuries after their construction. Archaeologists believe that it required a lot of measuring and planning beforehand, rather than a trial and error process, but whatever the case, nobody knows how the Incas were able to achieve it.

5. Roman Concrete

roman concrete

While we’re on the topic of ancient construction, we can talk about Roman concrete. Even though the Romans were heavily influenced by the Greeks in their architecture, they were able to take those constructions to a whole new level. While the concrete we use today is made to last about 120 years, the one the Romans were using made their buildings last for millennia.

Some of these Roman buildings are so spectacular in their construction and beauty, that modern builders would never attempt something similar, not even with today’s technology. It’s been known for a while now that the volcanic sand used in Roman concrete and mortar made their buildings last for this long. Moreover, while Portland cement (the one we use today) needs temperatures of about 1,450 degrees Celsius to be produced, Roman concrete only needed roughly 900 degrees, or even less. And given the fact that we use more than 19 billion tons of concrete per year, a reduction in production cost can go a long way. Not to mention that the production for Portland cement accounts for 7% of all CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, the planet would thank us for emulating the Romans.

The only thing with Roman concrete is that, while we know what it’s made out of, we don’t know precisely how it’s made, even though we know the basic recipe. Scientists were stuck up until a group of archaeologists stumbled upon the recipe, which was written down by the Roman architect Vitruvius. It only remains to be seen if we will attempt to perfect and use it in our constructions anytime soon.

4. The Iron Pillar of Delhi: The Iron That Never Rusts

iron pillar

There is an iron pillar in the Qutb complex of Delhi, standing 23 feet, eight inches high, and a diameter of 16 inches. This isn’t anything all that out of the ordinary. But the fact that it’s 1,600 years old, out in the open and not completely rusted, is. In fact, with the exception of a thin layer of surface rust, which looks like it’s partially keeping the metal in its current state, the pole and the iron it’s made out of are in pristine condition.

The tower has not always been in Delhi, having been moved there from central India, from a town called Udayagiri, somewhere around 1050 AD. As to why the pillar is still standing, there are several theories to it. One is based on the material it’s made out of, which is 98% wrought iron of pure quality, while the other is based on environmental factors, which somehow make the pillar not form any more rust.

Others believe that there is a strong correlation between the processing, structure, and properties of the pillar’s iron. All of these work together and have formed the outer, thin layer of rust we mentioned before, keeping the iron underneath from oxidizing any further. A fence was built around the tower to protect it from tourists who believe that by touching it, the pillar will bring good fortune. While this is innocent enough, it could peel off the existing layer of rust, exposing the metal underneath.

The pillar at Delhi is not unique in the world, and other such iron pillars exist at Dhar, Mandu, Mount Abu, Kodochadri Hill, as well as several iron cannons (all from India). That means it’s fairly safe to assume that there is something else at work, other than a series of fortunate events that have kept all these objects in such tremendous, almost new condition.

3. Tesla’s Free Wireless Energy

tesla

By most accounts, Nikola Tesla was decades ahead of his time when it came to electricity and wireless technology. He was the one who discovered alternative current and gained a lot of fame for his victory over Thomas Edison in the well-publicized “battle of currents.” Here, he proved that his alternating current was far more practical and safe than Edison’s direct current. And soon enough, the whole world would use Tesla’s discovery, as well as his other great inventions (the Tesla coil, the radio transmitter, and fluorescent lamps). By 1900 he was widely regarded as America’s greatest electrical engineer.

In 1905, Tesla was ready to put into practice his greatest invention yet, by building a 187-foot-tall Wardenclyffe Tower. Atop this tower was a 55 ton dome of conductive metals, which continued down the tower and then 300 feet into the ground itself. His aim was to use both the planet itself and the overhead ionosphere as huge electrical conductors, transporting electricity wirelessly anywhere on the face of the Earth. Famed financier and investor J.P. Morgan saw the potential such distribution could bring and invested $150,000 to relocate Tesla’s lab to Long Island, to construct a pilot plant for this “World Wireless System.”

Not long after construction began, another competing scientist named Guglielmo Marconi executed the world’s first Trans-Atlantic wireless telegraph signal. Though considerably less ambitious, and despite the fact that Marconi’s project borrowed heavily from Tesla, his new device scared Tesla’s investors. The fact that Marconi required less money to put his apparatus into practice, along with the stock market crash in 1901, quickly guaranteed that no further investments would be made to the Wardenclyffe Tower. After Tesla’s death, many other scientists tried to recreate his invention but to no avail. Even though all of them studied his notes, Tesla relied heavily on his photographic memory, and his notes are notorious for being extremely vague and lacking in any real technical detail.

2. Starlite

In the 1980s, an amateur scientist by the name of Maurice Ward came up with an invention that was said to have the ability to revolutionize space travel as we know it. He came up with an indestructible, heat-resistant plastic that could withstand 10,000 degrees Celsius. He was compelled to create it after he witnessed an airplane burst into flames. Besides the incredible heat-resistance, Starlite could also resist the impact of the force equivalent of 75 Hiroshima bombs, could endure temperatures three times the melting point of diamonds, and could be shaped in any form.

NASA was ecstatic about all the improvements Starlite could have on spaceship astronautical and security designs, but Ward was reluctant to part with the recipe, fearing that some companies would profit from his creation. Maurice never revealed the exact composition of Starlite but said that it contained “up to 21 organic polymers and copolymers, and small quantities of ceramics.” In 2011, Maurice died without parting with his secret formula. Since then scientists have tried to replicate this amazing material, but have had no luck.

1. The Sloot Digital Coding System

coding

This is going to sound like the plot of Silicon Valley, but it’s something that actually happened, making us wonder if Mike Judge may have based his HBO series on an inventor named Jan Sloot. In the early 1990s, Sloot came up with a revolutionary data compression technique that claimed to compress a 10 GB movie down to just 8 KB without any loss of quality. A lot of people doubted the possibility of Sloot’s invention, but the technology company Philips saw the potential and arranged to sign a deal with him. The day he was due to sign, however, Sloot died of a heart attack. Nevertheless, Philips was still interested and prepared to utilize Sloot’s technology after his death, but a key floppy disk that contained the actual coding software had gone missing. After months of searching, Sloot’s disk was never found and his technology forgotten.

According to Roel Pieper, an influential Dutch IT entrepreneur who was also involved in Sloot’s project (in keeping with the Silicon Valley similarities, the fictional compression company in that show is called “Pied Piper“…coincidence?), the coding system was not so much about compression, but rather by having some background knowledge, shared by both the sender and the receiver. Pieper said of the algorithm, “It’s not about compression. Everyone is mistaken about that. The principle can be compared with a concept as Adobe-postscript, where sender and receiver know what kind of data recipes can be transferred, without the data itself actually being sent.”


Unavailable Technologies

– WIF Science

Here Today Gone Tomorrow – WIF Into the Future

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Things You’ve Used Today

That Won’t Be Around

in 20 Years

In the new millennium, progress and change is happening more rapidly than ever before. For example, look at how different life in 1996 was compared to 2016. Cell phones weren’t yet commonplace, the internet was still making headway in becoming more mainstream, and so on. So it makes you stop and wonder: just how different will things be in another 20 years?

10. Plug-in Phone Chargers

A problem with all of the new tech that will replace everything is that it will require energy. As of right now, if you go out without charging your phone, it’s a pretty big annoyance. However, if you need your phone because it has all of your information (credit cards, car insurance, and so forth) stored, it’s important that it is charged all the time. Of course, that means taking time out to plug your phone, and other devices, into an outlet so it can charge for a few hours.

However, looking to solve that problem, a few companies are developing technology that will allow people to charge their devices without even taking them out of their pockets. Specifically, using radio waves. How they all essentially work is using special antennas that focus cellular and Wi-Fi signals into a pocket of low-powered energy that is on the back of the phone. Then, a receiver converts the radio power into DC energy, which charges the battery.

This technology isn’t far off, either. By late 2016, a company called Energous is planning to release a wireless charger that, from a distance of up to five feet, would charge a phone similar to a wall charger. At 10 feet, it would be similar to charging using a USB, and at 15 feet, it would be like a trickle of a charge.

By 2036, this technology will be stronger and charging units could be dispersed publicly, meaning your phone and other devices could always be charging.

9. Physical Wallets

wallet

Wallets may become obsolete simply because, sooner or later, there will be nothing to put into them. Essentially, everything in the wallet is going to get outsourced. Physical currency may still be used, but things like credit cards and debit cards will be changed to apps. This transition is already happening with apps like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

Forms of identification will also become digital, but one of the main pieces of ID may be on its way out in about 20 years as well. It is predicted that by 2025, self-driving autonomous cars will be introduced (Google, you’re probably aware, is already hard at work on this project), and that by 2040, they will be commonplace. This could eliminate the need for a driver’s license altogether.

Finally, in your wallet there are a lot of things that you keep safe, like your money and your pieces of identification. If you lose your wallet, it could lead to a lot of problems, like identity theft. However, phones are encrypted and even the makers of the phone and the FBI have problems hacking them. Plus, unlike your wallet, they can be traced with GPS if lost or stolen.

So without a need for debit and credit cards or a physical driver’s license, wallets may just be relegated to objects that 2036’s form of hipsters use to be ironic.

8. Pennies

Due to inflation, the humble penny has really lost its relevancy over the past few decades. Many people wouldn’t stop to pick one up, and if they do it may just be for good luck because it certainly won’t improve your own personal wealth. Most of the time pennies are used solely to get rid of them, or to keep yourself from getting any more by having exact change. Finally, in countries like the United States, not only has the value of the penny gone down, but copper prices have also gone up. In 2014, it cost 1.7 cents to make one penny.

The solution, which countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have already done, is simply to eliminate the penny in cash transactions. Instead, it is just rounded to the nearest five cent increment. Electronic transactions, like paying with debit and credit cards, will still count cents.

With inflation and copper prices expected to go up, by 2036, the use of the copper pennies will be eliminated in many countries.

7. Passwords

In theory, specialized passwords are a good idea for security. However, on average, most people have between five and 10 passwords, all of which should be complex for greater security and half of which they forget and constantly have to reset anyway. Not that we speak from experience, or anything. Ahem. Moving on, the problem is that our brains have a hard time remembering complex sequences, like those ideally used for passwords (which IT specialists tell you should include combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers in random order).

In 20 years, passwords and pin codes for internet and banking accounts will be old news. Technology is currently being developed that would use different biometrics that would be hard to copy. This includes iris scans, voice recognition, fingerprint scans (which Apple, for example, already lets you use to access iPhones, and which can be used in place of passwords for several apps), facial recognition, and even a scanner that recognizes veins in people’s hands.

Besides the elimination of passwords, there will be other, very futuristic, Big Brother-ish sci-fi security on devices, like phones, that measure behavior. A company called BioCatch has a technology that creates behavioral profiles that analyze over 500 parameters, such as how someone holds their device, how they scan a website, and what sites they visit. If someone who is not you is using the device, the device can be shut down, or have the usage limited.

6. Physical Media

broken cds

For physical media, we thought we would break it down into four subcategories: music, movies, books, and video games.

For years, music and movies have moved away from physical media and have become digital downloads or are available through streaming services. We’ve seen this through the fall of places like Tower Records and Blockbuster Video, while iTunes and Netflix have skyrocketed in popularity. So it should not be a surprise that in 20 years, things like physical CDs and even DVDs and Blu-Rays will mostly be relegated to things people buy simply because they want a physical copy. The reason this is happening just comes down to cost and convenience. For example, music is recorded and mixed on a computer, then burned onto a CD, then shipped out to the store or Amazon warehouse, and so on. With digital, there are no materials or shipping costs – not to mention the immediacy of it, or the fact that a downloaded file can’t be damaged or scratched, unlike a disc.

Where this gets a bit more complicated is video games. Obviously with games, downloading and streaming with companies like Steam are becoming more and more common. However, where the industry is heading is still highly debated with two schools of thought. Will people still buy individual, physical games, or is Steam (or potentially a Netflix-style game site) the wave of the future? Well, the problem is games are way more complex than movies and television shows. This has led to speculation that game technology will always be too complex and too big to be entirely streamed, though digital downloads remain an increasingly popular option.

The final physical media is also the oldest – printed books. Of course, if you talk to a book lover, they will think it is crazy to even suggest that print books would be obsolete in 20 years. After all, other forms of physical media don’t necessarily affect the experience. Yes, the quality changes if you are listening to vinyl as opposed to a CD. However, it is impossible to tell the difference between CD and high quality digital downloads. However, there is a noticeable difference between reading a printed book and an e-reader. This may be why books are more resistant to death over the next 20 years. In fact, in 2015, digital book sales started to drop and the sale of printed books increased. So the future of books, both electronic and printed, is uncertain.

5. Needle Injections

Getting a needle injection is a bit of a paradox, because you stick a piece of metal into your body (which seems scary, and always feels like a bad idea), yet the injection may be lifesaving. Well, good news for people who don’t like getting pricked by needles: in 20 years, we’ll all probably be prickless. Wait, that didn’t come out right. Well, you know what we mean.

Two projects at MIT are looking at two very different ways to give people injections without puncturing the skin. The first uses jet injection technology, meaning it can shoot a substance at ultra-high speeds. The device is able to inject medicine by traveling almost as fast as the speed of sound, which allows the drug to flow through an opening in the skin that is about the size of a mosquito proboscis.

A second technology may sound rather horrible, but it actually could be a much safer way to administer drugs: capsule-coated needles that would deliver drugs directly to the stomach lining. The reason that some drugs have to be given to patients intravenously is because if a drug is made from large protein molecules, the digestive system breaks them down as if they are food. This new method of swallowing the injection would allow doctors to dose patients with large antibodies much more efficiently. This would include drugs used in cancer treatment and vaccines.

4. Washers and Dryers

Doing the laundry really isn’t that difficult of a chore, especially when you compare it to how things would have been before electric washer and dryers. Yet, we know that deep down, no one really likes to do the laundry. It’s time consuming, and we’re lazy.

The good news is that 20 years from now, we may not need to. Two separate groups of researchers, one in China in 2012, and another group in Australia in 2016, developed a coating from nanoparticles that reacts similar to bleach when it is exposed to the sun. For the Chinese group, it took 18 hours to coat the clothing, and it couldn’t be traditionally washed afterwards. However, the Australian group was able to coat the clothing in 40 minutes and the nanoparticles stayed on the clothes even when they were traditionally washed 15 times.

Once clothes can be cleaned by just putting it out in the sun, well, then it’s just a matter of doing exactly that and ditching your washer and dryer or trips to the laundromat. After all, being able to use the sun to wash your clothes should be easy for everyone who doesn’t live in England or Seattle.

3. Car Mirrors

car mirror

More and more cars are taking advantage of cameras. In fact, starting in May 2018, all new cars that are manufactured are required to have a rearview camera. Besides just replacing the rearview mirror, cameras are also expected to replace side view mirrors as well. Cameras are simply becoming cheaper, and there is more of an advantage because cameras have a better range of view, such as seeing into blind spots. Finally, as cars move toward being self-driving, the amount of cameras will increase, and since a computer wouldn’t use mirrors to look around the car, they simply won’t be practical.

Beyond cars, there are even some who believe that mirrors will start to disappear from everyday life (which is really going to cause people to get more creative with how they take selfies). Instead, they will be replaced with high resolution monitors that will allow you to do close ups, get biometric readings, and see yourself dressed in different outfits. This would also have decorative features because that big area in rooms that are taken up by mirrors could be anything on the screen.

2. Metal Keys

People have been locking up their possessions since the days of Ancient Egypt, but over the next 20 years or so, keys are going to be given a radical update. Mainly, they will be electronic and on your phone or other portable, electronic device. Volvo, as shown in the video above, is at the forefront of trying to get this movement away from physical keys started. There’s a good chance you’ve also been in a car that’s got a push button starter, which only requires what is basically a keyless fob to be in the car for it to start.

New digital keys will do more than just lock and unlock the door for users. Doors could also be opened with blue tooth. Virtual keys could also be sent to guests with timers, and you can control who has access to open the locks, and at what times.

Using your phone as a key is already being used in Starwood Hotels and Range Rover is using the technology in their cars. Currently, the problem is that digital copies of locks may be easier to pick, and with so many important, personal items on your phone (credit cards, ID, the key to your car…you know, basically half of your life), losing or damaging your phone could be devastating.

1. Checkout Lines

check out

Online shopping certainly has its advantages compared to retail shopping. However, sometimes you just want to look at, touch, and try out a product before buying it. Also, sometimes there are benefits of browsing the store, whereas visiting a website you may only visit certain sections. But, in order to compete, stores will have to look to be innovative, and one of the best ways to do that would be to eliminate lines. After all, who likes to line up to hand over their money?

Well, frictionless commerce is already starting to emerge. The most notable company that takes advantage of this is Uber. There is no money exchanged, it’s all just on the app. Well, this will happen when you do things like grocery shop. Any time you put something in your bag, it automatically tallies up and charges you as you walk out of the store.


Here Today Gone Tomorrow

WIF Future-001

– WIF Into the Future

Futuristic Toys and Gadgets from WIF

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Futuristic Toys and Gadgets

 Many of the technologies on this list used to be relegated to the confines of science fiction stories. Today they are found in toys, often made for children. One reason they are found in toys is because toys are usually not very complex, thus making them great testing fields for emerging technologies. That means that while they are toys today, they may be everyday technology in the near future.

10. Kinetic Sand

Kinetic sand is a very innovative building and molding toy because it successfully tackles sand’s biggest problem, which is that it tends to get everywhere and never seems to leave. We’re sure everyone has a bag they brought to the beach years ago that still has some remnants of sand in it from that day. Kinetic sand, on the other hand, works like a magnet when it touches other grains of kinetic sand.

It is a very unusual substance that is 98 percent pure sand and two percent polydimethylsiloxane, which is silicone oil that is similar to what is used to give Silly Putty it’s unique properties. This special mixture makes the sand easy to mold, like wet sand. But since it uses silicone oil, the sand never dries out and never becomes dusty. It doesn’t even make your hands dirty when you use it. The only thing that kinetic sand sticks to is itself.

So if you’ve ever dreamt of making a sandcastle inside, this will probably be your best opportunity. That is unless you want to pull a sadistic prank on someone. Then use real sand, and you’ll have one less person on your Christmas card list. Win-win.

9. Hoverkraft

If you like Jenga, but find that building a tower on a flat, level surface is not challenging enough, you might really enjoy the game Hoverkraft. As you can probably guess from its name, the game has a floating platform. Specifically, it uses magnetic repulsion.

The object is to stack different shaped blocks, like Tetris pieces, on top of each other on the floating platform. As you can probably tell, the game is pretty difficult and most games last five minutes at most.

8. Cognitoys Dino

Toys that talk and interact with people aren’t exactly new. Probably everyone who is old enough remembers Furby, the must-have toy of 1998. While Furby isn’t as popular as it was when it was first released, the concept and the technology of a toy that interacts with people has been evolving over the years.

Perhaps the neatest interactive toy is the Cognitoys Dino. The plastic dinosaur uses IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence technology and Elemental Path’s Friendgine, which is a system that helps the Dino learn and adapt. The Dino has Wi-Fi, so it evolves on a cloud based system based on what it hears from the child and adapts its programming to their age and educational ability. Once it adapts, it remembers the child’s name, tells them jokes and stories, answers questions, and has educational games that develop vocabulary and math skills.

7. Sphero

Games using round spheres, or balls if you will, have been around for millenniums and are the definition of low technology. But in the new millennium, balls have gotten a robotic update. An amazing example is Sphero, which is an app enabled robotic ball. You can control where the hard plastic ball rolls using a smart device, and this includes going off road and underwater. Besides being a remote controlled ball, Sphero also has over a dozen games and apps, including an obstacle course, a version of Hot Potato, and games like Exile that allow you to use the ball as an arcade joystick.

Sphero’s other notable robotic toy balls are replicas of the BB-8 droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The BB-8 uses gyroscopic propulsion and is controlled by an app.

Another very cool robotic ball is Leka, which is a rolling ball with an electronic face inside that changes facial expressions based on its mood. Leka’s makers are hoping the ball becomes a “robotic companion” to children with special needs, especially autism. Leka has games that help improve cognitive and motor skills and for children with autism, it will help with recognition of emotions in other people.

6. Thymio

A big theme in toys of the future is that, from a young age, they will teach children programing, coding, and computer skills. A toy that is quickly gaining popularity as a teaching tool in this area is Thymio. Thymio is a small programmable robot that was introduced in Switzerland four years ago and helps teach the basics of robotics and computers. Since then, more than 14,000 units have been sold and are currently being used in schools throughout Europe.

The small robot with two wheels comes preprogrammed with behaviors that will make it act differently. This includes settings like like explorer, friendly, and fearful. After some lessons, students can program their own behaviors into the Thymio. There are also more advanced lessons, like using add-ons that can convert the Thymio to a helicopter and be programmed to fly.

Beyond computer and robotics, there are applications and games that can be programmed into the Thymio. These include games that help young people explore their senses, and also teach music, help in the understanding of the principle of force, and there are other games that help improve math skills. Currently, there are 50 different ready-to-use kits and they all come with instruction material for the teacher.

So with children learning coding and programming at an early age, maybe people should stop giving kids a hard time about not learning cursive writing because they’ll be better programmers than most adults. And in a world of advancing technology, those skills are probably going to be more important than cursive handwriting.

5. Mindflex

For some time for now, we’ve been told that games and apps of the future will be controlled using our brainwaves. The amazing thing is that toymaker Mattel already released a board game named Mindflex that is controlled using electroencephalography (EEG) technology, which is a way to measure brainwaves.

To play the game, you wear a headband that was developed by NeuroSky, a company that develops and manufactures products that read EEG and electromyography (EMG). Based on your level of concentration, the headband powers a fan that moves a Styrofoam ball along a track. There are a few different games for one or two players, including moving a ball through an obstacle course, a duel, and an aiming game, just to name a few.

When PC Magazine reviewed Mindflex in 2012, they said the game had a steep learning curve to get the exact type of concentration needed to move the ball. But they said that once they figured it out, it was an undeniably amazing experience to move something with your mind like Luke Skywalker or Magneto.

4. Hoverboard

Thanks to Back to the Future II, many people were hoping by 2015 that hoverboards would be commonplace. Of course, they aren’t, but that doesn’t mean several companies aren’t trying. Lexus built one, but it only works in specialized skate parks. Another company called Hendo Hoverboard has a levitating board, but they are only at the Kickstarter phase and have no mass production plans at the time of this writing.

Instead, probably the closest thing we have to a hoverboard comes from Hoverboard Technologies, but we have some bad news. The board doesn’t levitate. Instead, it has one wheel in the middle of a skateboard-like deck, and uses gyroscope technology (like Segways) to keep its balance.

The board goes 20 MPH and can travel 15 miles per charge; it needs about an hour to charge, or 12 minutes with a supercharger.

While the Hoverboard looks cool and seems like an excellent way to get around, it does have major downsides. It is apparently hard to ride even for experienced skaters and snowboarders. It is also fairly heavy, weighing 20 to 25 pounds. Finally, it definitely isn’t cheap. It costs $3,000 for the lite version of these bad boys, and for the full model, which includes sonar and blue tooth speaker, it will set you back $4,000.

Hoverboard Technology is ramping up mass production and will be shipping out the first units in July 2016.

3. Meccano Meccanoid G15 Personal Robot

A futuristic toy that Martin Prince from The Simpsons would love is the Meccano Meccanoid G15 Personal Robot, which is a programmable robot you can build yourself. The robot is made up of 600-plus pieces and has six motors that move the head, the arms, and the wheels on its feet. Meccanoid also has voice recognition technology so you can give it commands that it will follow, like shake hands, give high fives, and walk hand-in-hand with you.

Another feature of the robot that is found on the Meccanoid’s app is the Motion Capture. Simply activate the feature on your smart device and place the device in the robot’s chest. Once installed, the Meccanoid will copy your movements.

Also, the robot is more than your slave-friend who is there to give you high fives whenever you’re lonely (although admittedly that’s like 90% of the reason we want one). It also has thousands of programmed phrases, jokes, comments, and witty comebacks. It’s also programmed with several games it’ll play with you.

Meccanoids come in two different sizes: there’s the standard G15, which is almost four feet tall, and then there is the G15 KS (Kid Size), which is about two feet tall. Finally, while the main design is a humanoid robot, the pieces can be used to create completely different objects and structures.

2. Google’s Tilt Brush

For centuries, artists have been able to show depth in their paintings that gives the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface. In the last century, 3D movies began to make it look like pictures were popping off the flat surface of the movie screen. Then in 2016, 3D art got a radical update, thanks to Google. Google’s $29.99 Tilt Brush app allows people to paint in three dimensions using the HTC Vive virtual reality headset and controllers. It has a number of special features that you would never find in the art world, such as painting with fire, snow, and starlight. Once your creation is done, you can share it as a full scale VR experience, or just a small animated GIF.

Of course, the Tilt Brush has further applications than just being a toy. One area that could be drastically changed is any field of design. For example, fashion designers can design a full clothing line of 3D clothes and paint with different materials like denim, silk, cotton, and so on, without cutting a piece of fabric. Or an interior designer could give a client a virtual tour of a room without painting a wall or moving a single piece of furniture.

1. No Man’s Sky

Of course, video games aren’t a new toy, but there has never been another game quite like No Man’s Sky. The game has a universe that is so enormous that it nearly rivals our own.

The point of the game is to travel around the vast universe and explore galaxies, solar systems and its 18 quintillion planets. Yes, you read that right, but to be exact, there will be 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 individual planets in the game. The universe is so big that there is a good chance you will never run into another player because there are 2.6 million planets for every person on Earth. According to Wired magazine, if you wanted to explore every planet in No Man’s Sky, it would take someone a mind-boggling five billion years to do so. If all that wasn’t mind blowing enough, on many planets there are sets of plants and animals which have evolved on their own. The developers don’t even know what the plants and animals look like on a vast majority of the planets.


Futuristic Toys and Gadgets

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Hobbies that Changed the World – WIF Imagination

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People Whose Hobbies

Changed the World

10. Tolkien’s Hobby Changed Fantasy Forever

tolkien

The list of things inspired by Lord of the Rings and, to a lesser extent, The Hobbit is so long that it literally has its own Wikipedia page. If you don’t have time to click that link, we’ll summarize by saying that virtually anything you’ve ever seen, heard, or read that features any reference to Orcs, Elves, Halflings, Dragons or Dwarves, was almost certainly inspired in some way, shape, or form by Tolkien’s work, meaning you can thank him for Skyrim, Dungeons and Dragons, World of Warcraft, and this Megadeth song. Speaking of music, dozens of metal bands have cited Tolkien’s work as an influence over the years, meaning along with every piece of fiction ever written about elves, Tolkien is also directly responsible for about 4000 guitar solos. Which is great.

But here’s the thing: Tolkien only wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a vehicle for his awesomely nerdy hobby of making up languages. Hell, there’s even a quote from Tolkien himself where he basically says that he wrote The Lord of the Rings for no other reason than to “provide a world for the languages” he’d spent years creating so that it didn’t seem like he’d wasted his time making up words. In fact, Tolkien put so little stock in The Lord of the Rings as a serious work of fiction that he almost never published it, being content just to leave it as a story he could tell his grandkids, and was only inspired to finish it because his friend CS Lewis bugged him to. So we guess we should thank him, too, for being able to gut stab orcs in that Shadow of Mordor game.

9. One Guy’s Obsession with Bugs Gave Us Pokemon

pokemon

Pokémon has had an almost immeasurable impact on pop culture, and the popularity of the series is such that, when an episode of the original anime literally caused kids to have a bunch of seizures, causing it to be temporarily removed from the airwaves, fans in Japan gathered in the country’s major cities and solemnly sang the show’s theme song because they were that worried it was going to be cancelled forever. And you know a show is popular when fans shrug off the fact an episode nearly killed a dozen of their peers. Weirdly, though, the franchise may never have existed if it wasn’t for one guy’s hobby of collecting bugs.

That guy was one Satoshi Tajiri, the creative mind behind the entire concept of Pokémon, and a man responsible for more fractured childhood friendships than yo-yo injuries and girls we liked. As a child Tajiri was obsessed with collecting insects to the point his childhood nickname was, get this, Dr. Bug. Along with collecting bugs, Tajiri would catalogue them and even trade them with his friends in an effort to, for lack of a better phrase, catch ‘em all. Tajiri found this hobby so satisfying and enjoyable that he endeavored to create a video game that centered around a similar concept, eventually molding this idea into the Pokémon series we all know and argue about today.

8. Disneyland was Inspired by Walt’s Miniatures Hobby

walt

For a guy with a creepy looking mustache who was obsessed with princesses and anthropomorphic mice, Walt Disney was a terrifyingly powerful man, as evidenced by the fact the company bearing his name can technically tell Darth Vader what to do. The foothold of the Disney empire is arguably located in Disneyland, where Walt’s hobby of collecting miniatures helped enthrall a generation of children into buying enough of his company’s merchandise to buy out Iron Man.

Unsurprisingly for a man who used to measure how many steps people took before throwing their garbage on the floor as they walked around Disneyland, Walt Disney was a guy with a bunch of weird hobbies. One of the weirdest was his apparent obsession with tiny versions of things. According to those who knew him best, Disney would spend hours playing with miniature figurines, creating elaborate scenes and dioramas for his own amusement, and spending hundreds of his own dollars to expand his (ironically) ever-shrinking collection.

While this isn’t the only factor known to have influenced Walt’s eventual decision to create Disneyland, his hobby of collecting miniatures and, more specifically, creating magical worlds for people to explore is largely noted to have been one of the things that “ultimately led to its creation.

7. Bo Jackson’s Pro Football Career was Basically a Hobby

bo knows

Bo Jackson is widely regarded as one of the finest athletes of all-time, in part because he’s one of only a handful of people to become an All-Star in two sports (baseball and football), but mostly because his physical accomplishments are freaking insane. Able to run the 100 meter dash in just over 10 seconds, leap 20 feet through the air, and throw a rock hard enough to straight up kill a pig, Jackson was always destined for greatness as an athlete. However, the true extent of his skills may never have been known if he never decided to join the NFL, basically as a hobby.

When Jackson joined the LA Raiders in 1987, he did so almost purely because he was bored and wanted something to do during the baseball offseason. Obviously, he’d been a Heisman Trophy-winning football player in college a few years earlier, but baseball was his real passion. As a result of this off the cuff decision to dominate the NFL in his spare time, the true extent of Jackson’s natural ability and his sheer natural athleticism became apparent, leading to one of the most popular advertising campaigns of all-time, and this TV spot for an episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

6. Roget’s Obsession with Words Led to the Thesaurus

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The thesaurus, for anyone who’s never right-clicked a word and searched for a smarter-sounding synonym while writing an essay, is one of the most influential pieces of literature ever created, next to the dictionary and possibly the Harry Potter series. The first thesaurus, unimaginatively titled,

Dr Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases classified and arranged to facilitate the Expression of Ideas and assist in Literary Composition was only created, though, because its author, Peter Roget, had a quirky hobby of cataloguing words.

 This hobby was of such interest to Roget that he eventually spent three years of his retirement logging the different meanings of every word he could think of, culminating in the release of the thesaurus in 1952. It’s become a book so popular it has quite literally never been out of print since the first time it was published. Suck on that, JK Rowling.

4. Roosevelt’s Love of Reading Made Him a Great President

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Listing the reasons the public loved Teddy Roosevelt is like listing the things a 10 year old boy wants to be when he grows up. He was a judo black belt, sheriff, cowboy, and explorer who personally shot half the animals in the Smithsonian. However, what endeared him to the politicians and big-wigs who sponsored his presidency was his eloquence and ability to speak knowledgeably about, well, everything. Anecdotes from those who knew Roosevelt speak of him being able to effortlessly converse with friends and strangers about everything from poetry to natural history with the kind of authority you’d expect from an expert on the subject, or Kelsey Grammer’s character from Frasier.

Roosevelt’s seemingly superhuman ability to retain knowledge is said to have stemmed from his time as a child. More specifically, all the time he spent cooped up in bed with nothing to do but read. You see, Roosevelt was a very sickly child who was frequently bedridden by illness, and as a result, he spent much of his time reading because the Gameboy hadn’t been invented yet. Reading would eventually became a lifelong passion of the pre-pubescent president to the point he was known to read three books every day of his adult life. This vast repository of brain knowledge unquestionably helped Roosevelt’s political career, as it allowed him to charm virtually anyone, from any background, by being able to speak with them about any interest they happened to hold.

3. Lemmy’s Obsession with Nazis Shaped his Worldview

Lemmy

Lemmy, former frontman of the heavy metal band Motörhead and current corpse, is a man about whom it is impossible to overstate how much ass he kicked. He was a hard-drinking, hard-partying, grizzled veteran of rock and roll who drank a bottle of whiskey every day for 30 years and reportedly slept with over 2,000 women. He was a mainstay of metal who inspired everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Metallica, who were such big fans of Lemmy that they once dressed up as him and played the song,Overkill, for his 50th birthday.

One of the things that made Lemmy such a legend within the rock and roll community was his irreverent wit and nonchalant, accepting attitude towards his own mortality, once being quoted as saying:

“Death is an inevitability, isn’t it? You become more aware of that when you get to my age. I don’t worry about it. I’m ready for it. When I go, I want to go doing what I do best. If I died tomorrow, I couldn’t complain. It’s been good.”

This blasé approach to life was apparently inspired by Lemmy’s obsession with Nazi paraphernalia, of which he was an avid collector. Along with collecting Nazi memorabilia, Lemmy was well versed in the history surrounding it, which shaped his anarchist world view and inspired much of his inimitable straight-talking advice. For anyone curious about why Lemmy collected Nazi memorbillia, according to the man himself, he simply liked the way it looked, saying:

Look, it’s not my fault the bad guys had the best [crap].”

A quote we very grudgingly censor, because we’re pretty sure censoring a Lemmy quote is, like, a crime or something.

2. Linus Tolvard Created Linux Out of Boredom

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Linux is the operating system Wikipedia assures us about 1% of the people reading this currently have installed on their computer. In essence, Linux is an open source operating system similar in function to Windows and OS X, only better because you don’t have to pay for it. While not widely known amongst casual PC and laptop users, Linux’s ultra-streamlined and highly customizable nature has helped it become virtually the only operating system used in supercomputers, which, judging by the name, areway better than the computers most of us are reading this on.

Peculiarly, though, the only reason Linux even exists is because the original creator, Linus Tolvard, was bored and decided to make the operating system just to see if he could, describing the whole thing as “just a hobby,” adding that it wouldn’t be “big and professional.” A statement that’s kind of hilarious in retrospect, considering the operating system has been classified as being, quite literally, the fastest of the fast operating systems” by the people making the computers that can calculate pi to a trillion places, and a lot of other really smart sounding stuff.

1. Amateur Astronomers Have Mapped Much of Our Galaxy

astronomy

Given that the universe is infinite, there are technically an infinite number of things to learn about it, meaning there’s enough out there for any dumbass with a telescope or camera with a zoom lens to discover something. And boy, you had better believe that throughout history there have been a lot of dumbasses who’ve done exactly that.

The list of things in our universe discovered by “amateur astronomers” who considered what they were doing to be little more than a hobby is actually quite humbling, and includes things like comets, stars, and supernovas, as well as advances in telescope technology that have allowed ordinary people to see into God’s toilet, if they want to. The impact amateur astronomers have had on the field is so notable that there are even awards for amateurs to encourage them to keep looking to the stars and doing NASA’s job for them. Which we think is a lovely thought to end on. There are people out there taking pictures of the sky with big-ass cameras, who have accidentally discovered more about the universe than the people we pay to do it. Sort of like that episode of The Simpsons where Bart discovers a comet.

Hobbies that Changed the World

– WIF Imagination