9 Bizarre and Endearing Inventions From 100 Years Ago

Popular Mechanics has long profiled interesting new ideas and inventions, even if those innovations were destined to go no further than the magazine's pages.

1. Electric kitchen table, 1917

Even in the early 20th century, there was still a frightening amount of housework needed to keep the average home running. The "Electrified Kitchen Cabinet" was intended to help the modern housewife solve that problem... in very specific ways. The Kitchen Cabinet could knead bread, chop food, and make ice cream by means of attachable hardware connected to belts and motors. It also had an automatic dishwasher and "a clock to break the circuit and the required moment, so that constant attention to the work in hand is not required."

2. The great "Sea Tank," 1917

The plans for the mighty Sea Tank were submitted to the Council of National Defense in 1917. Meant to assist in beach landing offensives (it was referred to as "somewhat" amphibious), the Sea Tank was basically two water wheels with gun turrets for hubcaps, as well as another turret mounted in the center of the axle. The axle would hold the landing crew as well. How was it supposed to move? With some complexity. "Powerful motors mounted on heavily weighted sliding platforms in the lower part of each drum engage cogged rings encircling the inner circumference of the cylinders. In tending to climb the latter they impose weight that revolves the drums and causes paddles to send the craft forward."

3. Convertible office desk, 1917

While some "almost-inventions" seemed to lay clear paths to failure before they ever came off the drawing board, others really seem like they could have made it. The Convertible Desk is a clever space saver, combining the nooks and crannies of a roll top with the ability to expand usually only found in Grandma's table at Thanksgiving. Fold the desk top wings once to have downward access to files and assorted necessities, and flip the folds to create a large drawing board.

4. Elevator to Jungfrau summit, 1921

This beautiful piece of engineering might have actually been built if WWI hadn't come along. The Jungfrau railroad was built over the course of 16 years, finishing in 1912. It was meant to increase tourism to that particular region of the Swiss Alps, by bringing passengers a good deal up the summit of the famous mountain. The elevator was intended to bring them the rest of the way, 2206 feet straight up. Though the elevator was never made, the Jungfrau train station is still the highest in the world, and its terminus under the mountain contains many caverns and tunnels designed to delight tourists.

5. Personal submergers, 1921

This "Submerging Boat," meant exclusively for fun and frolic at the beach, falls into the category of "What an incredible idea! That makes no practical sense!" It was neither a real submarine nor a personal speedboat of any merit. The depth it could reach was controlled by four "planes" mounted on the sides of the vehicle, which the driver controlled with foot pedals. The wheel controlled the rudder, and to prevent drowning there was a "buoyant ball mounted on a tubular guide on the stern of the boat." When the water pressure of the sinking vessel caused the ball to rise too high, it would strike a switch that cuts off the motor, keeping the passenger bobbing shoulder deep in the water.

6. Extendible gunstock for recoil, 1921

The adjustable, shock-absorbing gunstock was intended for the lady sportsman, whose love for athletics might not be outweighed by a sore shoulder from that nasty kickback. The stock could be lengthened or shortened to meet personal preferences by means of setscrews, and, reportedly, 70 percent of recoil was absorbed by the springs placed with the setscrews.

7. Elaborate auto bungalow, 1918

This 1918 "Elaborate Auto Bungalow" prototype looks similar to the recreational vehicles that would succeed it decades later. Except this one is quite a bit fancier, used by Captain Charles Percival, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars, as he toured the country. It had a hardwood body with room for a typewriter desk, sink, water tank, and cabinets. Ahead of its time, but not by far.

8. Hand-powered velocipede, 1918

In 1918, the newest form of transportation in Paris was the hand-powered buckboard scooter. This "velocipede" was meant to be propelled with the same action as boat rowing, except with handlebars instead of oars. Steering? Why, you'd do that with your feet, of course.

9. 5-in-1 playground, 1918

The 5-in-1 playground is clever—and not even remotely safe. The slide was the starting point for all the other toys. Remove the slide board and place it over the "lower standard," and you'd have a teeter totter, plus monkey bars where the slide used to be. The board and lower standard could also support a little roller coaster, which was kept on track with flanges. We certainly don't advocate that talented home craftsmen try to recreate this perilous structure... but we  do  wish our own dads had thought to do it.

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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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