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Humanity’s Worst Inventions

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Minds can sometimes go astray, as proven by the recent article from Popular Science. Its editors went back to take a look at the most impractical, failed inventions they have featured over the years. The highlight is probably the piano-vacuum, an instrument that can be converted into a pedal-operated, enormous, 400-pound vacuum cleaner. Only one thing can be said about the design: it sucked, big time.

Then, there was a pooch-mobile, a small vehicle employing an oversized running wheel as the primary means of locomotion. The inventor was obviously a good mechanic, but he was barking up the wrong tree – dogs are not gerbils, and they simply didn’t cooperate. Still, the 1939 version of a zero-emission vehicle is nothing to sniff at.

But probably the most innovative was a crew-less tank from 1934. It was an autonomous, programmable vehicle designed a decade before the first electronic computers. The program was simply punched on a phonograph disk – simple, but brilliant. It didn’t strike the right note with the military, though. Without proper artificial intelligence, the vehicle was simply stupid. That didn’t stop scientists from fine-tuning the idea, which eventually resulted in today’s Predators.

Parachute jacketThe PopSci list was fun, but it seems incomplete. I personally know at least a couple of failed inventions that weren’t featured, and I had a feeling it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Some quick research proved me right. And also gave me a bad case of laughing pains.

If you thought that vacuum-cleaning piano was awkward, what do you think about an anti-eating face mask? While slightly freaky and reminiscent of various Saw scenarios, it was certainly working. Please remember: if at any time you choose to forcibly limit your food intake, you owe royalties to Ms. Lucy L. Barmby and the U.S. Patent Office.

The next invention is even stranger. After all, why would anyone need three-legged pantyhose (my apologies to the radioactive mutants all around the world). Well, the third leg is a backup in case of runs or tears, and I’m pretty sure it’s well worth the potential social humiliation.

I’d also like to give an honorable mention to the parachute jacket. This potentially life-saving idea failed to save its own creator, as he jumped from the Eiffel Tower to promote his invention. Well, maybe Franz Riechtel fell short of his goal, but at least he stood by his designs.

For more cheap giggles, be sure to also check the electrified table clothhands free towel carrying system, or a distressing baby cage to hang outside your window.

Just imagine how much better our lives would be if those great designs hadn’t died in obscurity

But if you think misguided inventions are a thing of the past, just take a look here. This thing, called CueCat, was hyped as a gadget that’ll change Internet user behavior forever. The idea was somewhat similar to QR codes – you could scan the codes displayed in a newspaper to get to the advertiser’s website. For some strange reason, the idea that people would read magazines holding a strange, wired cat-like contraption in their hand, proved wrong. The company lost loads of money, and most CueCats ended up in the dump. A handful of them serve to this day, as paperweights for people completely devoid of good taste.

Another failed gadget would be a Virtual Boy. This premature venture into VR Land proved to be simply a very expensive headache inducer. You could get the same feeling at a fraction of the price by staring into a very bright bulb for half an hour, while someone else is scratching glass with Styrofoam behind your back.

I could go on like that for hours, but do I even have to mention spray-on hair, Microsoft BOB, the beerbrella, and many, many others?

With USPTO giving out patents like candy on Halloween, I must say I’m tempted to start a career in strange inventions. On the other hand, I don’t think I can beat Microsoft and Apple at their own game. Even I wouldn’t be able to come up with an operating system that you close by clicking “Start,” or a mouse with a single button.

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About Chris Piskorski