9 Absurd Transportation Modes that Never Got into Gear

by Kenn McCracken

1. The Monowheel

In 1869, French craftsman Rousseau of Marseilles built the first in history's line of unsuccessful monocycles. Sitting inside the monowheel, a rider steered the contraption by shifting his or her weight in the desired direction. As if that wasn't difficult enough, the massive outer wheel remained directly in the rider's line of sight at all times. Braking was also potentially hazardous, as stopping too abruptly would cause the rider to be propelled forward along with the outer wheel. But perhaps the biggest strike against the monowheel was the immediate comparison of any rider to a gerbil—something even the French wouldn't tolerate.

2. The Daihatsu Trek

daihatsu_trek.jpgIt's a car! It's a bed! It looks suspiciously like a child's toy! For the outdoorsman who has everything except a really expensive Big Wheel, there was the Daihatsu Trek. A single-passenger off-road vehicle, the Trek not only allowed drivers to travel to remote areas, it also gave them a place to bed down for the evening. With its collapsible seat, steering wheel, and roll bar, the boxy monstrosity from 1990 offered all the comforts of a really cheap motel room. And while we can't be sure why the car never made it past the concept stage at Daihatsu, we can only guess members of the off-road focus groups felt silly driving a Transformer.

3. The Avrocar

Much more after the jump.

avrocar01.jpg A quasi hot potato of international engineering, the Avrocar was initially funded by the Canadian government, designed by a British engineer, and eventually assumed by the U.S. Defense Department as part of the Cold War weapons race. The UFO-like contraption was 18 feet in diameter, but only 3 feet thick. It featured vertical takeoff and landing and was designed to reach speeds up to 300 mph while remaining elusive to radar. Unfortunately, the two-person craft was never able to stabilize at heights above 8 feet, nor travel faster than 35 mph. After eight years and more than $10 million, the project was abandoned in 1960.

4. The Dymaxion

dymaxion-car.jpgBuckminster Fuller was many things—inventor, philosopher, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and bearer of a name that makes Frank Zappa's kids feel average. Among his many architectural and engineering creations, Bucky tried his hand at automobiles. In 1933, using a V-8 engine loaned to him by Henry Ford, Fuller built the Dymaxion car. Truly a wonder to behold, the Dymaxion was nearly 20 feet long, got 30-plus miles to the gallon, held up to 12 people, had a maximum speed of 120 mph, and could do a U-turn in 20 feet, thanks to a single rear wheel that controlled the steering. Unfortunately, the car's steering appears to be at fault for a fatal accident at the 1933 World's Fair, when the Dymaxion was rubbernecked by another car. Although later evidence placed fault on the driver of the other car, negative publicity surrounding the wreck caused investors to pull away from the project, and Fuller was freed up to build geodesic domes and work on his friendship with John Denver. The fortunate outcome of the Dymaxion's failure? Denver's hit tune, "What One Man Can Do," which was written for Fuller.

5. Da Vinci's Clockwork Car

Picture 1.pngLeonardo da Vinci is renowned for his forward-thinking sketches and intricate designs, which included blueprints for a bicycle, a submarine, and a helicopter. But you can't win 'em all. Da Vinci also designed a three-wheeled wagon-like device—often referred to as the clockwork car—that never really lived up to the hype. Its spring-operated design makes it the first-known concept for a self-propelled vehicle. And because it was designed without a driver's seat (though a secondary steering column was present) and was meant to be programmed along a specific course, the clockwork car is also thought to be one of the world's first robots. Some speculate that faulty interpretations of da Vinci's notes prevented the success of his ideas, but there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. When engineers finally constructed a working model of the car in the late 1990s, it only traveled 40 feet.

6. The KAZ

1kaz.jpgOriginally designed in 2001 to push the limits of electric automotive technology, the KAZ (Keio Advanced Zero-emission) vehicle is part science-fiction, part sports car, part limousine, and entirely unattractive. But the beauty of the KAZ lies in its eight wheels, each powered by its own battery, which allow the luxury concept car to reach speeds in excess of 190 mph without emitting any pollution. The car's design also makes for a safe ride because what would normally be the engine compartment is a crushable zone, reducing risk to the driver. Sadly, the KAZ came off as less luxury automobile and more cartoon, sending the designers back to their drawing boards.

7. The Bell Rocket Belt

Picture 2.pngEveryone who grew up watching "The Jetsons" and playing with the Steve Austin action figure dreamed of a day when people travelled to and from work via jet pack. The tease: a rocket belt developed under military contract by Bell Aerosystems in 1959. The hydrogen peroxide-powered Small Rocket Lift Device (SRLD), also known as the Bell Rocket Belt, was flown successfully throughout the 1960s. Unfortunately, the contract was later dropped, due largely to its limited flight duration (it held only 21.5 seconds worth of fuel). Although the belts are still used occasionally for entertainment (the opening of the 1984 Olympics and, most memorably, in the film "Thunderball"), our adolescent dreams of rocket-powered backpack flight will be confined to the silver screen and the funny pages for a while longer.

8. The Amfibidiver

Amfibidiver-front.jpgIf you've been looking to practice your spy skills, this is your toy. The Amfibidiver is a car that's also a boat that's also a submarine. All you have to do is find a way to fit your tuxedo underneath your scuba suit. Of designing the 007-mobile, Belgian inventor René Baldewijns says it was easy. "Just take one dream, the fuel tank of an airplane, two bicycles, the motors from five electric wheelchairs, the hull of a sailing boat, seven drink containers (a real justification for that empty bottle collection), several kilos of resin, a few garden seats, and several miles of electrical cables." Voilà! You've got an Amfibidiver! Baldewijns built a prototype for the machine, but his health problems caused the project to be shelved before it found commercial realization.

9. The Superbus

luxurious_superbus_concept.jpg

In 1988, Czech-born architect Jan Kaplicky attempted a feat that flew in the face of all odds: bringing change to Britain. The Superbus was a sleek, aluminum-bodied craft that charged itself at bus terminals and had the ability to lower its frame at stops to make it easier for passengers to enter and exit. The design was rejected in favor of the traditional red, double-decker Routemaster buses long associated with London's public transportation system. Was the Superbus truly hideous, or was it just one step closer to the 20th century and a decent dental plan? We may never know.

This list was pulled from an issue of mental_floss magazine. Make our editors happy and subscribe here today!

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Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Now Has Its Own ER
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If you thought massage chairs were the height of airport health perks, you’ll probably be impressed by a recent addition to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in Texas. The travel hub has opened what might be the country’s first airport emergency room, as Condé Nast Traveler reports. Located at the south entrance, the 8160-square-foot center has everything you’d expect from an urgent-care location, including an X-ray machine, a CT scanner, and a laboratory.

The ER is intended to serve dual functions. Because DFW is a massive operation, employing 65,000 workers, airport staff will be able to obtain speedy attention for ailments without having to leave the site. And because traffic at the airport is so high—more than 67 million travelers pass through each year—visitors will be able to address symptoms without delay. That’s especially useful if they’re experiencing respiratory-related issues or conditions frequently associated with air travel, like deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the legs that can migrate to the upper body and cause a pulmonary embolism.

The airport told Condé Nast Traveler that it was only a matter of hours after opening that a passenger came to the ER complaining of chest pain. (He was treated and released.) Because the facility is located outside of security checkpoints, it’s also open to the general public.

The site’s operator, Code 3, previously opened an urgent-care center in the airport’s international terminal, as well as another urgent-care location in Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport. The company eventually hopes to expand its ER practices to other high-profile and highly trafficked airports around the country.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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The Secret to a More Pleasant Flight? Urinals
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Even if you can deal with the lack of legroom, privacy, and decent meal options on airplanes, your patience may start to wear thin when it comes time to pee. Being stuck waiting in long bathroom lines on planes may feel like one of life's unavoidable annoyances, but according to WIRED, there's a way to make the experience more tolerable. The secret involves urinals and a bit of math.

At last month's Crystal Cabin Awards, a competition that recognizes innovation in aircraft interiors, Zodiac Aerospace introduced the Durinal, a two-urinal plane bathroom that takes the place of one toilet. Replacing a bathroom that serves all passengers with one that's made for only half the population may seem like a quick way to make the long-line problem worse, but there's some logic behind the proposed solution.

As Wouter Rogiest, a mathematician at Ghent University in Belgium, tells WIRED, gender-neutral bathroom lines are shortest when men have the option to head straight for a urinal. That's because it's quicker to use a urinal than a stall, and when men opt for the urinal, it frees up stalls for women. When he drew up an equation looking at hypothetical bathroom wait times at a concert, he found that a ratio of 14 toilets to eight urinals produced the most desirable wait times: one minute, 27 seconds for women and slightly under a minute for men. On a commercial plane, this ratio would come out to one or two Durinals per six conventional bathrooms.

Rogiest's concert equation isn't a perfect stand-in for airplane scenarios, so a more specific study would be needed before airlines could consider installing urinals. Unfortunately, if bathrooms with urinals do show up on airplanes, you can expect the spaces to be just as tight as they are now.

[h/t WIRED]

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