Innovative Products From the Past That Never Were: Home Edition

By milo on Aug 6, 2010 | 2 Comments

Those of you who’ve been following our recent posts know that we occasionally catalog inventions that were predicted to be part of our daily lives (by pundits of several generations ago) but are still not making a presence. Due either to technological impossibility or simply the absurdity of the ideas themselves, these products were born and, for the most part, stayed on the pages of old newspapers and magazines. Today, we focus squarely on the home and the appliances and inventions that were supposed to be maintaining our households and entertaining our needs as we speak.

Maid Without Tears

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The curiously named “Maid Without Tears,” which seems to imply that human maids cry so often that their misery is almost worth doing housework yourself, was a presumed robotic housemaid not entirely unlike Rosie from the Jetsons. Foretold in the 1978 book Exploring the World of Robots, this ambitious robotic system consisted of many different robots scattered across the home and yard, all of which were subservient to a programmable “robotic brain” that would give orders. The homeowner’s only task would be to feed a list of chores to the robot brain (vacuuming, dusting, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, etc.) and the army of robotic servants would be put to work. Doesn’t sound half bad, does it?

Automatic Shopping Computer

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The image above comes from the 1979 book Future Cities: Homes and Living into the 21st Century and depicts the living room of the future: a posh and relaxing environment packed to the brim with all sorts of technology and convenience. Some of the author’s predictions are surprisingly accurate, such as the large flatscreen TV hanging from the wall. However, where this scene goes wrong is the automatic shopping computer that would take care of the unpleasant task of grocery and other shopping without a modicum of human effort.

The control panel in the background is what this system was proposed to look like. From the book: “This [computer] is used to order shopping via a computerised shopping centre a few kilometres away. The system takes orders and indicates if any items are not in stock.” Such a system reminds usof the computer-aided shopping websites that some grocery stores offer and is also somewhat similar to Alice.com, which helps manage household product essentials (laundry detergent, trash bags, etc.) online by reminding a user when he or she might be running low on a product and sending the product directly to the user’s house. However, today’s technology is far from requiring its own massive computer, nor can it truly inventory your home to automatically place and fulfill orders for you. And even the services that come somewhat close are in no way ubiquitous or common.

The Glass Oven

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An issue of the 1943 Morning Herald ran an article describing “The Kitchen of the Future.” Among the many ideas the authors of the piece had was one for an all glass stove that allowed the cook to examine the food and work on it without having to open the door and reach in as before. “The oven has a sliding, heat-tempered glass hood,” said the article. “When the roast is revolving on the motor-driven spit mother can look at it from all angles and without opening the oven door as of old.” Unfortunately, in our modern world, all glass ovens have not yet saved us from burning the roast or under-cooking the chicken. Plus, if you’re looking, you’re not really cooking, right?

Holographic Entertainment Systems

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Okay, we’ll give credit to the guy who predicted the commonality of the flatscreen TV in 1979, however, the author of the 1981 book Tomorrow’s Home (World of Tomorrow) was certainly way off the mark when he described the holographic entertainment center. The illustration depicts the actors of a play coming to life in 3D holographic imagery and playing out their scenes right on the family’s living room carpet. The closest market-ready similarity to this we have are 3D movies that require big bulky glasses and don’t even come close to the amazing realistic detail this book imagined.

An excerpt from the book reads, “Once perfected, [holographic technology] will produce a show that takes place not on a screen but in real space – even around you. You could walk in and out of the action, and view it from any direction – the ultimate in realism.” It’s also worth noting that this invention suggests that everyone will have access to a movie screen-sized television in their living room. And, while home viewing theaters do exist, they are certainly not currently a reality for the masses.

Robotic Cook

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Robot servants have always been an obsession of the human imagination. After all, why toil through all the unpleasant tasks involved in keeping a home and feeding ourselves and our children if an emotionless bot could just do it for us? A 1959 edition of the famous Closer Than We Think column in the Chicago Tribune featured this solution to cooking for yourself—a robot that not only takes care of general cleaning but also cooks you a full meal entirely on its own, without any supervision or effort on your part.

The column describes the robot as “…a device to take food automatically from storage and cook it on a preset schedule.” What’s more? The robot hovers several inches from the ground on an air cushion rather than using wheels to get around. Why? Because it’s the future! Plus, it could also save on vacuuming duty.

Summer Terrace

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Summer is a carefree time to enjoy yourself, go for a swim and let your worries go on the warmth of the wind. When winter hits, many people in colder regions of the country begin to long for the sun and the fun that summertime brings—but not in the world of the future. The summer terrace was a solution to the winter woes predicted in the 1960′s book The Golden Age of Advertising – The 60s. The terrace would be efficiently climate controlled and encased in glass to preserve the perfect atmosphere of summer all year long, no matter where you lived.

“Electrically operated, climate-conditioned [patio areas] will permit ‘summer terraces’ [by using] by your electricity,” the book claimed. As the illustration shows, your friends could be outside playing in the snow while you kick back shirtless by the poolside, catching a tan and enjoying your artificial summertime weather. While it’s certainly not energy-friendly in the least, it would probably help save on airfare to Mexico during the holidays.

Thought Recording Machine

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Our final future prediction comes from a newspaper article that is almost a century old. The “thought recording machine” was discussed in a 1919 edition of the Syracuse Herald and was expected to read your mind and transcribe its thoughts onto a roll of tape. The illustration seems to suggest that another person would still be needed to write the thoughts down, which seems largely inefficient.  Perhaps the machine transcribes in code and the person who types out the thoughts is the decoder? Either way, this machine seems strangely unsettling, as we cannot always control where our thoughts wander. For that matter, why not just simultaneously think and write your own thoughts down? Or why doesn’t the machine just do it all? All these are questions the author of the article left unanswered, leaving us to ponder the true usefulness of such a product. It also leaves us to wonder what such an invention would do to the therapy profession…

Comments

2 Comments on “Innovative Products From the Past That Never Were: Home Edition”
  1. PsychoDeli says:

    I’ll have one robot please :)

  2. aesthetigeek says:

    Can you imagine what it would be like if the transcript from your personal thought recorder were released online?

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