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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A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
The 'David Bowie Is' Exhibition Is Coming to Your Smartphone
 Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images

"David Bowie is," an exhibition dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of the pop icon, concluded its six-year world tour on July 15. If you didn't get a chance to see it in person at its final stop at New York City's Brooklyn Museum, you can still experience the exhibit at home. As engadget reports, the artifacts displayed in the collection will be recreated in virtual and augmented reality.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, the curator of the exhibit, and the David Bowie Archive are collaborating with Sony Music Entertainment and the sound and media studio Planeta on the new project, "David Bowie is Virtual." Like the physical exhibition, the digital experience will integrate visual scenes with the music of David Bowie: 3D scans will bring the musician's costumes and personal items into the virtual sphere, allowing viewers to examine them up close, and possibly in the case of the outfits, try them on.

"These new digital versions of ‘David Bowie is’ will add unprecedented depth and intimacy to the exhibition experience, allowing the viewer to engage with the work of one of the world’s most popular and influential artists as never before," the announcement of the project reads. "Both the visual richness of this show and the visionary nature of Bowie and his art makes this a particularly ideal candidate for a VR/AR adaptation."

"David Bowie is Virtual" will be released for smartphones and all major VR and AR platforms sometimes this fall. Like the museum exhibition, it will come with an admission price, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

[h/t engadget]


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