Monday, December 22, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Everyman's Folding Auto (1939)

The November 26, 1939 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) featured this prediction of the fold-up car of the future.
Even the young man of the scientific future may find trouble, one day on the road, with his sunpower automobile. He gets out, tips up the car with one hand and looks underneath. Finding what seems to be the trouble, he unscrews a few clamps, takes out the engine, and starts off jauntily to the repair shop, as though he were only carrying an alarm clock.

Strong muscles? Not at all, merely a lightweight engine.

Next day he comes back for the engineless car, folds it up like a collapsible baby carriage, loads it on the most convenient high speed bus or aero bus, takes it home and tucks it away in any handy closet until the engine has been repaired.

These are not Professor Harrison's predictions, but they are made possible by one of his, that of stronger metals.

What requires so much weight in automobile engines or bodies, in giant bridges, in the steel frames of buildings and a thousand other things is that much metal must he used to make the beams or castings strong. Weight Itself is useless. Need is only for strength.

"Great strides have been made recently," Professor Harrison writes, "in the physics of metals—the study of how atoms cling together to form crystals and these crystals hang together in metal rods and wires. All metals are permeated by microscopic cracks and flaws which greatly reduce their strength.

"If only Ihe crystals of which they are composed would hang to one another with the forces with which the individual atoms cling together! Then a cable of steel an inch thick would safely support four million pounds, instead of the mere 300,000 pounds which it now will held."

Such metals 13 times stronger than now can mean not only lighter engines and folding, fly-weight auto bodies, but also taller buildings, longer bridges, faster airplanes, larger ships--or deadlier machine guns and farther-ranging submarines.

Previously on Paleo-Future:
Dymaxion Car of the Future (1934)
Streamlined Cars of the Future
Zipper-Bag Airplane (1958)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Exploring Space (1958)

While The Complete Book of Space Travel was aimed at teen and pre-teen boys, the 1958 book Exploring Space was looking for a younger audience (still of boys, mind you, since we all know that lady-parts get confused with all that science and math).

Below are sample pages from the book, including one that some little tyke got after with a brown crayon.

While some scientists are trying to find out how to land rockets safely, others are learning what kinds of suits space travelers will need. They pump air out of a room, so it is like space. Men who are inside wear space suits to test them. The men breathe through a hose connected to an oxygen tank.
Next a man may test a space suit in a three-stage rocket. Perhaps he will pilot stage three after it breaks away and speeds into space. He will go too fast to feel the pull of gravity. His body will lose all its weight. He will float around the cabin, if he isn't strapped in place. Will the first space traveler like the ride? When he lands, he will tell us.
Other men will follow the first space traveler into space. They will test bigger and bigger rockets. And so scientists will learn how to build great big rocket ships. These ships will fly around the world in an hour.
In time, scientists will know how to build rocket ships that can carry people to the moon. After the moon, what next? Perhaps people will visit other worlds in the sky.
Perhaps when you are grown-up, rockets will be as common as airplanes are now. Then you and all your friends will be space travelers. Rockets away!

Previously on Paleo-Future:
Closer Than We Think! Space Coveralls (1960)
The Complete Book of Space Travel (1956)
Challenge of Outer Space (circa 1950s)
Man and the Moon (1955)
Space Suit (1956)
Rocket Ship (1956)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Game Parlor of the Future (1982)

This two-page spread from a 1982 issue of Electronic Games magazine is pretty spot on with many of its predictions. However, being "chained to the family TV set" isn't such a big deal when Little Johnny Future now plays on a 72-inch monster TV. Thanks to Paul H. for sending this article my way.
The world of electronic gaming moves fast. The manufacturers regard any year that does not boast at least five major technological breakthroughs as a fallow twelve months. This time-lapse perspective makes foreseeing the future a particularly chancy business - predicting events weeks ahead can be perilous, crystal-balling the hobby as it will exist in the next century is like walking, unarmed into a dragon's lair. You might sneak out with the treasure, after all, but chances are you'll be incinerated.

Keeping all this firmly in mind, the fact is that the calendar on the wall reads "1982." We sit a little more than a year away from the day when George Orwell envisioned gigantic TV monitors in every home and on every street corner. Big Brother, he feared, would be watching us very closely.

Actually, Orwell's vision was somewhat clouded. What he though were images of fascistic governmental overlords were, in fact, great big videogames! Those big-screen TV's arrived ahead of schedule, you see, so instead of using them to supress [sic] freedom, people decided to play games on them.

Still, even 1984 is a good distance from 2001. Yet in researching the future of electronic gaming, certain fascinating bits of information and conjecture keep turning up again and again. Sitting down to put the puzzle together, at least a small portion of the future became clear. The smoke in the crystal ball began to dissipate and here's what we saw:

Obviously computers will play a major role in the arcader's future. Some of them will be so specialized that they will realistically draw the player right into the contest. The computers will provide total sensory output: audio, visual, olfactory (smell), and tactile (touch). Systems can already be manipulated by voice commands, and even some home videogames are chatting happily back at us as well. Interactive fiction should continue to do well, as will role-playing games that involve the arcader in ever more personal ways (such as Prisoner and Network). Players will be able to assume the role of a detective, questioning the suspects in a murder case with full audio/visual accompaniment.

Graphics are the fastest growing area of game design in less than a decade. Technology has jumped from Pong to Zaxxon, with Atari and other coin-op companies reportedly testing three-dimensional games in Europe.

Look for arcades to be constructed along the lines of big-budget science fiction movie sets, with special effects a major attraction of the games. For example, there might be chairs that rock back and forth, swing from side to side or swivel a full 360 degrees.

"Gaming and interacting with machines is an appetite the public has only recently discovered," points out Tom Lopez of Activision. "With our fast-progressing technology, one constantly updating and improving upon itself, the boundaries that confine most games will become limitless. The computer will soon become a daily tool used by everyone. As microprocessors and transistors become more refined and are, in turn, mass-produced, prices will drop. Computers continue to offer more capacity for less money. It will be cheaper - and more stimulating - to play computer games than to pay to be entertained at clubs or concerts, or in packed sports arenas."

Since arcade games have the distinction of being designed for the purpose of executing one, specific program, they should be able to maintain an edge over home computers. The pay-for-play devices also utilize special monitors, that incorporate groundbreaking scanning technology, while home games remain chained to the family TV set.

The arcade games of the next century may not only be activated by voice command, but conceivably even by thought - at least in a sense. Something akin to galvanic skin-monitoring devices attached to the gamer's arm, perhaps in the form of a bracelet, could measure emotional response and even act as a triggering device.

In terms of futuristic audio, tomorrow's coin-ops - that is, if there still are such prehistoric items as coins still in use - will have miniature synthesizers to produce more highly defined sounds. There might even be devices to release pertinent smells at appropriate moments - the smell of gunfire for example. Such a machine could even blast the gamer with sound via headphones. Think about that for a second. Can you imagine the ambiance of a silent arcade? Now that would take some getting used to.

Visually, an expanded screen could project pictures all around the player. Special effect would be attained, with shutter lenses that use a liquid crystal diffusion process, in which a cathode ray delivers one picture after another in synchronized fashion, so fast and so frequently that it generates a convincing illusion of movement.

Picture this scenario: You are absorbed in a game of the future, seated within a totally enclosed environment. Images of shattering explosions, comets and asteroids whirl by as your seat shudders from the concussion. An asteroid passes so close you could almost etch your initials in its craggy surface. Over your headphones, meanwhile, your squad leader is passing on commands from headquarters. You have only split seconds to react, the results of an intergalactic battle hangs in the balance.

"When the games become transparent to the viewer, it will be so realistic, you'll feel you were there. Then the form of the game itself will disappear - as if it melted - and you will forget you're playing a game," predicts Lopez.

"We're rapidly reaching the point," concedes one computer expert, "where technology is outstripping our ability to use it." The ability of the computers man has constructed begin to awe us with their blinding growth. The ultimate solution to this problem may be the development of team-designing as a way of life in the arcade industry of tomorrow.

In the early days of videogames, a single individual created each program from conception to execution - everything but painting the title on the cabinet in some cases. As the sophistication of the industry grows, companies like Midway are setting up design teams, composed of people who specialize in each area of game invention. Some 16 creative artists and programmers combined talents to produce the marvelous Tron coin-op, with graphic concepts, audio effects and cabinet design handled by separate individuals under the supervision of a single manager.

George Gomez, head of the Midway in-house research and development group agrees that teamwork is the key to future game design. "It's too hard to find any one, or any two or three people with sufficient expertise in all the areas necessary to create a modern arcade game. We feel that areas such as cabinet and joystick design are vital elements in a game's success or failure."

Whether or not we'll see these innovations in the next century, the next decade or, perhaps, never, depends on the direction in which this wildly unpredictable business moves in the time ahead. But one thing does seem certain - electronic gaming will never die.

"People need sensory interface," as Tom Lopez puts it, "and electronic gaming gives that to people. More to the point, it's fun! Gaming is entertainment and it's here to stay!"

Even in the year 2001.

Read more:
Future Arcade Games (1985)
Connections: AT&T's Vision of the Future (Part 3, 1993)
Computer Games of the Future (1981)
Virtual Reality (1980s-today)
Home Entertainment of the Future (1981)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jetpack Dreams

I haven't yet read Mac Montandon's book Jetpack Dreams, but thanks to this video it's made its way to the top of my book heap.

Jetpack Dreams Trailer from Mac Montandon on Vimeo.

Read more:
Disneyland Jetpack (1966)
10,000 Years From Now (1922)
Jet Pack Video (1966)
Bell Aviation's Rocket Pack (1964)
Jet Flying Belt is Devised to Carry Man for Miles (New York Times, 1968)
Where's My Jetpack? (2007)
How Do You Like Them Apples?

Tomorrow's Kitchen (1943)

The July 16, 1943 Morning Herald (Uniontown, PA) ran this piece about the kitchen of the future, complete with built-in pots and pans. The kitchen was designed by the Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass company, which may be the same company that imagined the glass house of the year 2008.

A special thanks to Warren for pointing me in the direction of these photos from Life magazine, which inspired me to track down this story. The photo featured at the top of the piece comes from the newspaper article. The rest of the photos are from Life.

It's interesting to compare this vision of the future kitchen with that of 1967. Both are messages from companies wishing to sell a lifestyle of post-war consumerism as much as the products themselves, it seems.

TOLEDO, O. - The "Kitchen of Tomorrow" that does everything but put out the cat at night now makes its debut.

It eliminates pots and pans.

It does away with stooping and squatting.

Sore feet will be only a memory of the sad past—because in this kitchen three-quarters of the "little woman's" work can be done while comfortably seated.

Dishwashing becomes a pleasure and burnt fingers practically impossible to acquire.

And, in the vernacular—that is not the half of it!

Between meal times and without the help of a magic wand the kitchen can almost instantly be transformed into a gaily-decorated play-room for the children.

In the evening, it changes into a buffet bar.

With a minimum of effort it converts to extra living space—with all of the familiar kitchen '"gadgets" and appliances buried from sight.

Designed by the Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company to help point the way toward more practical and gracious living in the post-war era, the kitchen has an "all this and heaven, too" theme developed by the use of easily obtained and familiar materials worked into new shapes and forms.

Sliding panels cover the sink, cooking unit and automatic food mixer, so when not in use these units become part of a long buffet—ready for use as a study bench for the children or a bar for dad.

An "out of this world" refrigerator of glass construction has four times the capacity of today's model. Built on the principle of the cold storage locker, it is separated into compartments, each with an individual temperature control. One compartment shelf revolves—so that salads and often-used foods can be placed in it from the kitchen side and removed from the adjoining dining alcove.

The oven has a sliding, heat-tempered glass hood. 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.

Most of the cooking is done in evolutionary unit one-third the size of the average stove and with built-in pots and pans which double as serving dishes.

All of the kitchen equipment has been raised to an easy working level and the space ordinarily cluttered with storage bins and cabinets has been left free to provide room for the housewife's knees.

Storage cabinets gain a new grace by being hung on the wall and equipped with sliding glass doors-no bumped heads!

And not overlooking a thing, H. Creston Doner, designer of the kitchen, turned out a model dining alcove, as a "running mate" for the kitchen. He pointed out that, other than making the ideas of his department available to other designers and manufacturers, his firm's sole interest is to demonstrate some of the decorative and utilitarian advantages of glass.

So that it, too, may be used for extra living space, the dining room sports a plate glass-topped table that folds back against the wall and becomes a mural-—the folding legs forming a frame to the sand-blasted design in the glass.

Read more:
The Future of Glass (1958)
1999 A.D. (1967)
Frigidaire Kitchen of the Future (1957)
Monsanto House of the Future Brochure (1961)
How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D. (1950)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957-1967)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957)
House of the Future for the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition (1956)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Robot Christmas (1958)

Well Medicated recently compiled a number of paleo-futuristic images (mostly stolen from the always-excellent blog Modern Mechanix), including this one from the December, 1958 issue of Popular Electronics magazine. The robot family of the future sure is adorable, putting up their Christmas tree and all. If you recall, Parade magazine had a more terrifying depiction of the robo-dog of the future back in 1959.

If you love this style of robot, might I recommend the tremendous artwork of Eric Joyner? A delight for all robots, big and small.

A special thanks to BoingBoing and Jeremy for the heads up on this robo-family find.

Read more:
Santa's Reindeer Out of Work (1900)
Will robots make people obsolete? (1959)
Closer Than We Think! Robot Housemaid (1959)
Call a Serviceman (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
The Electronic Brain Made Beef Stew (1959)
Something must be wrong with its radar eye! (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D. (1950)