What the Past Thought the Future Would Be Like

Taking a stroll through old Popular Mechanics and Popular Science-type magazines is always good for a few smiles. Here are ten images worth taking a closer look at:

So whatever happened to the robots we were promised in the 50s and 60s -- you know, the ones that would be helping us around the house? Sure, we've got iRobot Roomba vacuums and Husqvarna's automower, but they don't quite measure up to the one on the cover of this mag. How long until Mitsubishi's wakamaru hits the average home?

Here's one they sort of got right! Personal watercraft (PWC) first hit the scene in the 1960s. In the "˜70s, they quickly became known colloquially as Jetskis after Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A. introduced the JET SKI® watercraft. This was the first stand-up PWC. PWC now come in sit-down models that can hold up to 3 people.

Google "ski car" and you'll find a pantload of Web sites recommending the best vehicles to take on a ski weekend. The only true skiing cars were invented almost simultaneously in Russia and New Hampshire in the early 1900s. Both systems fitted track and ski units to existing cars—U.S. inventor, Virgil White, used the Ford Model T. These were forerunners to modern snowmobiles. Fun Fact: The first McDonald's drive-thru accessible by snowmobile was opened in Piteaa, Sweden in 2002.

This futuristic design never came to fruition. The clear plastic top and upholstered armchairs in a living room-like setting promised a smooth ride, however, car production ground to a halt in January 1942 because of World War II. One of the few newly designed cars of 1942 was the Buick Roadmaster convertible. Its list price was $1,700.

The first submarine for personal use was designed in the 1970s by Graham Hawkes. Most personal subs launch from the rear of yachts. Aruba offers submarine tours to tourists on personal submarines and the company, U.S. Submarines, has created the first luxury style sub. For about $30 million you can design and own a Seattle 1000 complete with 5 state rooms.

The first interactive fishing game was, er, cast by Radio Shack in 1977. Since then, the technology and realism of the games have improved. In 2007, Wii released "Hooked!" that uses a fully functional rod controller equipped with a rotating reel to simulate natural fishing.

In 1966, a Motorola engineer invented the pocket TV with a 1-1/8 inch screen. But he died before he was able to convince Motorola to mass produce the invention. D'oh! The first mass produced mini television was created by Panasonic in 1970. It weighed just under 2 pounds and had a 1.4 inch screen. Considered a futuristic flop, Panasonic waited another 10 years before marketing another mini-television.

While it didn't look anything like this cover image, the first motorcycle to break the 300 mph mark was the Yamaha Silverbird in 1975. Believe it or not, way back in 1937, the BMW streamliner motorcycle reached a then-record-breaking speed of 173 mph.

Harold Graham piloted the first untethered flight of the Bell Rocket Belt, invented by Wendall Moore, in 1961. The flying belt could only stay in flight for 20 seconds. Later on in the 60s, the Bell Company recreated the flying belt with a jet turbine that could run for 26 minutes but could barely lift off the ground. In 2008, EAA Airventures launched the Martin Jetpack. Deemed "the world's first practical jetpack," it will be available for private sale in late 2010—guess who's putting it on his Amazon wish list right now?!

The closest man has come to this fantabulous image, is the International Space Station(ISS) that was begun in 1998. The station is still under construction and won't be ready for another year, minimum. It has been continuously manned since 2000. The ISS hovers just 250 miles above Earth, hardly deep space, however it was visited by its first tourist, Dennis Tito, in April 2001.

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Apple Wants to Patent a Keyboard You’re Allowed to Spill Coffee On

In the future, eating and drinking near your computer keyboard might not be such a dangerous game. On March 8, Apple filed a patent application for a keyboard designed to prevent liquids, crumbs, dust, and other “contaminants” from getting inside, Dezeen reports.

Apple has previously filed several patents—including one announced on March 15—surrounding the idea of a keyless keyboard that would work more like a trackpad or a touchscreen, using force-sensitive technology instead of mechanical keys. The new anti-crumb keyboard patent that Apple filed, however, doesn't get into the specifics of how the anti-contamination keyboard would work. It isn’t a patent for a specific product the company is going to debut anytime soon, necessarily, but a patent for a future product the company hopes to develop. So it’s hard to say how this extra-clean keyboard might work—possibly because Apple hasn’t fully figured that out yet. It’s just trying to lay down the legal groundwork for it.

Here’s how the patent describes the techniques the company might use in an anti-contaminant keyboard:

"These mechanisms may include membranes or gaskets that block contaminant ingress, structures such as brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps around key caps; funnels, skirts, bands, or other guard structures coupled to key caps that block contaminant ingress into and/or direct containments away from areas under the key caps; bellows that blast contaminants with forced gas out from around the key caps, into cavities in a substrate of the keyboard, and so on; and/or various active or passive mechanisms that drive containments away from the keyboard and/or prevent and/or alleviate containment ingress into and/or through the keyboard."

Thanks to a change in copyright law in 2011, the U.S. now gives ownership of an idea to the person who first files for a patent, not the person with the first working prototype. Apple is especially dogged about applying for patents, filing plenty of patents each year that never amount to much.

Still, they do reveal what the company is focusing on, like foldable phones (the subject of multiple patents in recent years) and even pizza boxes for its corporate cafeteria. Filing a lot of patents allows companies like Apple to claim the rights to intellectual property for technology the company is working on, even when there's no specific invention yet.

As The New York Times explained in 2012, “patent applications often try to encompass every potential aspect of a new technology,” rather than a specific approach. (This allows brands to sue competitors if they come out with something similar, as Apple has done with Samsung, HTC, and other companies over designs the company views as ripping off iPhone technology.)

That means it could be a while before we see a coffee-proof keyboard from Apple, if the company comes out with one at all. But we can dream.

[h/t Dezeen]

Google Adds 'Wheelchair Accessible' Option to Its Transit Maps

Google Maps is more than just a tool for getting from Point A to Point B. The app can highlight the traffic congestion on your route, show you restaurants and attractions nearby, and even estimate how crowded your destination is in real time. But until recently, people who use wheelchairs to get around had to look elsewhere to find routes that fit their needs. Now, Google is changing that: As Mashable reports, the company's Maps app now offers a wheelchair accessible option to users.

Anyone with the latest version of Google Maps can access the new feature. After opening the app, just enter your starting point and destination and select the public transit choices for your trip. Maps will automatically show you the quickest routes, but the stations it suggests aren't necessarily wheelchair accessible.

To narrow down your choices, hit "Options" in the blue bar above the recommended routes then scroll down to the bottom of the page to find "Wheelchair accessible." When that filter is checked, your list of routes will update to only show you bus stops and subways that are also accessible by ramp or elevator where there are stairs.

While it's a step in the right direction, the new accessibility feature isn't a perfect navigation tool for people using wheelchairs. Google Maps may be able to tell you if a station has an elevator, but it won't tell you if that elevator is out of service, an issue that's unfortunately common in major cities.

The wheelchair-accessible option launched in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney on March 15, and Google plans to expand it to more transit systems down the road.

[h/t Mashable]


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