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Sometimes certain inventions are too good to be true. Or the flaw is in the design, an error that others will include in a more advanced device. Other times, the idea was a bluff that only served to make money and run away.
Inventions that fail, however, often become as important as those that break through. After all, most of the worst choices we make in life prepare the best ones. There is always something brilliant lurking on the fringes of technology.
Here are 9 inventions that got off to a great start and then ... well, let's forget it.
1. Thomas Edison's electric pen
thomas edison he held 1.093 patents for as many inventions after the famous incandescent light bulb, as well as the first film cameras. But few know that among his inventions in 1875 he also brought out the electric pen.
Specifically, the pen used power from a connected battery and left a mark through small holes - a kind of tattoo gun, but without ink. Obviously, this invention did not survive the XNUMXth century, but before giving it up Edison sold his patent to Albert Blake Dick, which turned the least brilliant of Edison's inventions into the mimeograph, the first standard office copier.
Later, coupled with an ink tank, Edison's ill-fated patent made it possible (guess what?) Just tattoo guns.
2. Ask Jeeves, the Google that didn't make it
In the mid-90s the internet was so new that most people had never heard of it. And for those who used search engines, the most eye-catching was Ask jeeves. Ask Jeeves (see: Inventions before Google) was the first search engine to understand natural language queries.
Poor Jeeves didn't arrive in the 2000s - Google stole the show with better technology, a simpler interface, and a foolproof advertising model. Farewell, Jeeves. You were beautiful.
3. The AT&T Videophone
In "2001: A Space Odyssey" the characters communicated with family and friends on the other side of the solar system ... with videophones! Today, some of us speak more on screens than in person. The times, it can be said, are ripe (and other innovations are announced, the last is from Zoom).
Years ago, someone left too early, though. AT&T unveiled a "Picturephone" to the world as early as 1964. If you want to know how bad it went, here is the post where I talk about it.
4. A robot to help you read
Today fewer and fewer books are being read: someone already predicted the problem decades ago, and sought inventions to remedy it. Invented in 1963, the Robot readamatic aimed to help slow readers speed up their pace by displaying one line of text at a time. The arm of the device moved at custom rhythms to keep the reader focused on the line at hand.
It sounds like a lot of engineering for something anyone could do with a ruler, stopwatch, and hand.
Oh well, who knows why it failed. And it certainly won't come back, because we have new inventions for reading, including ebooks, audio books and voice assistants.
5. The Boat Car
Is it a car that floats or a boat that drives? We will never know, will we?
The first inventions of an amphibious vehicle that goes on the road and in the water date back to the mid-XNUMXth century. Everyone thought they were the next big thing, like aliens on Mars. In several decades, apart from praiseworthy (and bizarre) attempts, auto-boats or auto-boats have not made it through, unless Elon Musk (as he tweeted last June) you don't really make an amphibious Cybertruck.
6. The single wheel
You have thought about it with every puncture, confess it: what good are four wheels, when we could do with just one? Among the most Ionic inventions, that of the single wheel is the longest-lived: it has had enthusiasts since 1869, the year of its first appearance.
That's 152 years of failure, thank you.
There is a twist: last summer, in the middle of the Covid crisis, a team of engineering students from Duke University built and tested what aims to be the fastest electric monowheel in the world. They aim to break the Guinness World Record, set at 70 mph (112,65 km / h). Will it help it to establish itself after a century and a half?
7. Bill Gates' tablet, and why it didn't become the iPad
Inventions like this one enter by right in the column "the future that never was". Before the iPad reached tablet supremacy, Microsoft tried one of its products. Bill Gates was still actively managing the company at the time, and in 2000 he said, "Our tablet will become the most popular form of PC sold in America within five years."
A sensational mistake. The problem was that Microsoft thought its tablet would replace desktop computers. Apple (in 2010) brought a different product, to complement and not replace desktop and laptop computers. And he won over. Today, years later, ideas converge: Microsoft Surface and Apple IPad Pro are tablets that can perfectly replace many desktop PCs.
8. A UFO camera
No, I'm not kidding. Do we have absurd inventions? A while ago, in the 50s, reports of UFO sightings were so abundant that the United States Air Force enlisted the help of the general population to find out what the hell was going on.
And introduced the Flying Saucer Camera, which integrated a second lens to allow even amateur photographers to determine the identity of objects in flight. The first lens took a conventional photo, while the second split the lights into their composite colors. Lights created with human technology would be instantly recognizable. Whether someone can confirm or not an object of non-terrestrial origin, it seems that the Air Force has underestimated the public's desire to enjoy the mystery more than disappointing explanations.
9. Theranos, the most thunderous flop of recent years
This goes straight to the inventions that we wished there were, but alas.
A few years before the pandemic, a company called Theranos claimed to have a new machine under development capable of performing several automated tests of (miniscule) blood samples. The founder of Theranos Elizabeth Holmes, an iconic businesswoman who emulated high tech gurus, called these inventions "miniLab".
Holmes' goal was to have the device approved by the FDA for emergency use, being able to detect the Zika virus, among others.
While the world waited for Holmes to show what might be a breakthrough technology, she raised nearly $ 1 billion in investor capital. But there was no magical Zika sensing device. At least, not a working one. Theranos was closed and Holmes investigated.
As mentioned, a lot remains of these failed or boasted inventions: experience, first of all. The thing that makes every failure gold, and is the antechamber of all success.