8 Phone Booths of The Future (Of the Past)

New York phone booths, once ubiquitous across the city, will soon be no more. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to replace every pay phone in NYC—there are around 8,400—with WiFi hotspots. Each of these slender kiosks will provide free Internet access for up to 250 devices, and will also allow users to make gratis domestic calls via cell phones connected to the network.

The city hopes to eventually install 10,000 of these pillars, none of which will offer a sliding glass door, coin tray, or dangling chained phone book. The phone booth as we know it is on its last legs, but its death has been in the works for decades. The following inventions sought to either replace, improve upon, or merely repurpose the shell of classic phone booths.

1. Video Conference Booth

Phone booths looked to be a thing of the past as early as 1930, when The New York Times teased the development of a revolutionary new "sight-sound television system" that was a precursor to video chat. The paper explains:

"Suppose that a transcontinental wire or radio circuit is in use and a person in New York wishes to speak with a friend in San Francisco by television so they can see each other. They step into television-telephone booths which are about the size of an ordinary phone booth. They turn in swivel chairs and face the screen, about a foot square. The faces are rapidly scanned by a mild beam of blue light which reflects from their faces to the photoelectric cells and give rise to the current which transmit their image to the distant booth."

2. Chore Booth

In 1960, Westinghouse announced a new technology that would connect a house's appliances to a "dial control" system that would let you call in orders from any phone booth. As the Times explained, “One can sit down in a Los Angeles phone booth and cook a steak, wash the laundry, defrost the refrigerator, or switch the lights on in a New York apartment."

The future is someone turning on the gas range by calling the wrong number and burning down your house.

3. Phone Booth Vending Machine

This patent application, filed in 2010, wanted to turn pay phones into vending machine-hybrids that would dispense products while offering telephone service.

The inventor theorized, "pay phone[s] today [are] obligated by law regulations for providing and enabling accessibility of emergency calls as necessary public service to all people..Mobile phone made pay phone service neglected. Pay phone[s] must offer additional service to the market to provide answers market is demanding."

Make a phone call on your mobile device without eating a Twix, or make a phone call in a phone booth while eating a Twix. The choice seems pretty obvious.

4. Family-Style Restaurant Multi-Media Booth

This behemoth wanted to combine restaurant and phone booths, add "satellite TV, cable, broadcast TV, computer programs and gaming, internet access," and then connect them with other similar booths to "promote high quality video conferencing dining." If it sounds expensive, don't worry—"the cost for videoconferencing can be reclaimed in the price of the food and/or beverages." You mean to tell me this cheeseburger costs $39.99 and you'll broadcast video of me eating it? Yes, please!

5. Phone Booth That Charges Cell Phones

This Chinese invention is the result of seeing a market trend and then providing the very first solution that comes to mind. "The utility model provides a mobile phone charging function [in] public telephone booths, to solve the problem of low utilization of public telephone booths the rise."

It's worth noting that the kiosks New York plans on installing will feature charging stations for mobile devices.

6. Wireless, Booth-less Pay Phone

It's a pay phone, but without a wire. The patent application provides no more information, nor does it answer questions like, "What's to prevent people from walking away with the pay phone?" and, "Where do the quarters go?"

7. Drive-Thru Phone Booth

While not the most prescient idea at the time, had this 1992 invention that combined combustion engine-powered travel with tethered land lines come out in the '50s, it would have been all the rage.

8. Nitrogen Tire Inflation System

This proposed use for old phone booths makes sense, although it's doubtful New York City would want to convert 8,400 decommissioned pay phones into nitrogen dispensers.

Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:

AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively

Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]


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