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oobject: 'daily user-ranked gadget lists'
Flight simulation is quintessentially high tech, the inspiration for Virtual Reality, so I went looking for early examples and found some delightfully quixotic alternatives to modern day immersive environments. These include the wooden mockups of the Apollo capsules, the stunted Link simulator, used during WWII, which looks like a kids ride outside a supermarket and the very early pre-WWI training rig for the Antoinette aircraft, which principally consists of two half barrels on top of each other. But the best of all are the incredible Convair trainer which has an extra cockpit attached to its front and the celestial navigation trainers which are masterpieces of pre-electronic navigational complexity.

12 Retro Flight Simulators

Although there are many ironic underwater technologies that got there by accident, such as planes and trains or by design, underwater escape training helicopters, there are also mail boxes, telephone systems, cars, motorcycles, kayaks (yes underwater kayaks) and air conditioning units that are there just to mess with us. Here are the most surreal we could find, vote for your faves.

surreal underwater technology

And you thought the matrix was fiction? Robots designed to access hostile areas such as radioactive areas are also used beneath the streets to clean or repair sewers or to lay cables. They were among the first things on the scene after 911 or Katrina and have a particular rugged beauty. Vote for your faves.

12 super sewer robots

This year is special, in theory it is the first year since 1982 that keytars have not been mass produced as musical instruments, and that would have been something to celebrate if Guitar Hero and Rock Band hadn't brought them back, with a vengeance in the form of game guitars.This list is a warning reminder of what people really look like when they play Rock Band. It features keytars from their earnest debut to parody, to some kind of post-post-modern resolution with self aware but not-really-joking keytarists like Ben Folds.After the Moog Liberation was introduced in 1980, a variety of performers from Thomas Dolby to Jan Hammer made keytars a staple of 80s music, with Devo being the first to seize the ironic potential. Later weird Croation keytarist Belinda Benekovic became an internet meme and more recently Flight of the Conchords took a jab at a Roland Axis player.Her are some videos of keytars in action from classic 80s synths to circuit bent toys. Vote for your worst.

worst keytar (videos)

One of the most odd objects we’ve ever seen these items are sometimes confused with spy gadgetry, but the truth is stranger. Jailers’ keys were apparently filled with gun powder to create a primitive gun that could be detonated if there was any trouble when opening a cell door. We found several original versions that back up this claim, dating from the 17th century and of various complexity.

jailers key guns

For the last decade, Apple have absolutely dominated gadget design, bringing modernism to the masses in a way that architects never did. Yves Behar, the Swiss born (but not Swiss) designer is the first person to really challenge Apple's hegemony, he designed the original Slingbox and Paypal's recent attempt to compete with Square, but is becoming well known because of the superior design of the Jawbone headset and Jambox wireless speaker. Here are our favorite Behar designs.

12 Yves Behar Designs

What are the essential gadgets to carry around every day? The first in a series where various people describe their current or ideal stash. Today its Oobject's turn. Vote to rank our choices.

Oobjects perfect gadget bag

The most impressive neon districts in the world include Tokyo's Ginza and Shibuya, Osaka's Dotonburi which was the inspiration for Blade Runner, the worlds largest shopping street, Nanjing Road in Shanghai and, of course, Vegas and Times Square. Bangkok's Soi Cowboy district (named after an American who opened one of the first go go bars in the 70s) deserves inclusion on account of its unpleasant strangeness, with live elephants paraded up and down the pink neon streets.Most dramatic of all, however is Hong Kong where the entire skyscraper cluster is animated for 15 minutes as part of the worlds largest light show.Vegas and Times square deserve double mentions as they are more famous for iconic signage which has since been demolished or taken down. We have included footage of both past and present.Although the classic welcome to Vegas sign by Betty Willis has been preserved, many of the famous signs lie in the Vegas neon boneyard and we have included a movie made by urban spelunkers who broke into the yard to explore it.

The 10 most important examples of neon signage

Soviet computer manufacture had a promising beginning with devices such as the MESM, which when it was produced in 1950 was the first universally programmable computer in continental Europe. By today's standards, you'd have to fill the Empire State Building full of MESMs to have the same processing power as an iPhone. Later Soviet block computers were invariably based on Western counterparts with a myriad of Sinclair Spectrum clones, an Apple II based machine, PC compatibles and later on, Vax based systems from Robotron in East Germany.

12 Soviet Block Computers

Kinetic sculptures may have been first developed by Duchamp and Moholy-Nagy, but the tradition is still very much alive. Some of the most impressive kinetic sculptures, such as those by the famous Theo Jansen are still distinctly analog, but this is an area where digital gadgetry has opened up nearly limitless possibilities. Here are a dozen of our faves, vote for yours.

12 mesmerizing kinetic sculptures (videos)

Despite the uninteresting name, these rectifiers are one of the most beautiful gadgets ever made. As a result they are often seen if films and are quintessential elements of mad scientist labs, yet few people could name them or know what they were used for. Invented at the beginning of the 20th Century, Mercury Arc Rectifiers were like spectacularly large versions of the Tubes in pre-transistor era electronics. They were used to convert electricity from alternating to direct current.

mercury arc rectifiers

Ted Stevens was right, the Victorian Internet consisted, quite literally, of a ‘Network of Tubes'. Paris, London, Prague and Vienna had extensive networks of pneumatic tubes which delivered messages in capsules. In New York 5 million mail messages passed every day through an underground pneumatic system, and a network in Berlin delivered hot meals directly to people's homes suggesting that kitchens would no longer be needed in the future. Today these systems can still be purchased where they are used in places like hospitals where samples are passed between departments.

15 pneumatic message networks

Vehicles that are actually driven by screws were developed as all terrain vehicles for places like snow driven Siberia. In the US there were several experimental vehicles including the Fordson snow devil, built on top of a tractor. Included here are as many videos of them in action, as I could find.

9 screw drivers

Perhaps it’s because we sometimes take the things we see around us for granted and a technical drawing of its design shows the effort that went into it that I find these Nasa drawings so interesting. That in addition to the labels saying what things do. With that in mind, i included an diagram which isn’t really a blueprint, from a Apollo 15 press kit showing how they unpacked the lunar rover – for some reason I always wondered how they did that. I also cheated with a couple of NASA project images that aren’t from NASA to show how other companies were involved – such as Lockheed’s Hubble Telescope and Boeing’s drawings of the Saturn V configuration.

12 Nasa Blueprints

From commercial kits such as the Chaos Toy or Spacewarp, to the world's largest ball run, the 70 foot high Energy Machine in the Hong Kong Science Museum, these complicated contraptions are a classic form of Rube Goldberg Machine.Here are a collection of videos of some of the worlds most impressive ball runs in action, including the Mark Bischoff machine that was recreated for Anthony Hopkins' obsessive character in the movie Fracture, to one built for a one-off ending to Sesame Street.

15 videos of amazing rolling ball machines

After the furor over the potential Koran burnings last week, I had a look at the precedents, which it seems are everywhere, from Harry Potter to the Bible. For thousands of years, all religions and ideologies have been burning each others' texts.

14 other examples of book burning

From the ground, these inflatable tanks, missile launchers and planes look like children's toys. Yet from the air, these objects are almost indistinguishable from the real thing, complete with accurate thermal signatures over areas such as windows. Think what fun you could have playing havoc with Google Maps and some of these.

8 inflatable military decoys

Just when people are talking about banning the incandescent light bulb, designers are noticing how beautiful they are and making lamps which show of rather than hide bulbs. Here is an eclectic list of items in honor of the humble light bulb, including a couple of takes on other types of lamp, for good measure

Homage to the Light Bulb

Machines designed to smash large tough items into small bits, including a machine that eats trees whole, and yes, a real bone crusher, that makes fertilizer from animal bones.

Industrial crushing machines

Cargo holds are often impressive, cavernous spaces containing strange and interesting objects and equally interesting when empty, often displaying a stark minimalist beauty. They are iconic spaces which often feature in video games and in science fiction, perhaps most famously in Aliens. Here we show our favorites from the real world including giant cargo planes, ships holds that have been turned into a restaurant and a theater and, of course, the Space Shuttle cargo bay.

12 cargo holds

Alain Robert, known as Spiderman, climbs the tallest buildings in the world, without ropes. Last summer he famously scaled Frank Genry's new tower for the New York Times, in Midtown Manhattan. Here is a list of video footage of him climbing a dozen different structures.

12 videos of spiderman climbing real skyscrapers

What a tech bubble needs is bubble cars like these classics from the 40s to the present. Perhaps they should replace the Google bus with a 1958 Goggomobil?

Bubble Cars

oobject header image

Category: 'contraptions'

There were justifiable fears of being buried alive, before modern medicine could safely identify the difference between certain types of paralysis or coma and being dead. Fears which were exacerbated by fiction such as The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe. As a result a bizarre range of contraptions were invented to signal having been buried alive, from bells, whistles and even a spring loaded ejector coffin which might actually kill other people from the shock of seeing an interred body spring out of the ground in a cemetery.Added to this were ranges of hermetically sealed iron coffins and a device to prevent grave robbing consisting of a booby-trap subterranean torpedo.For more of these, check out: http://deathreferencedesk.org/2010/02/02/premature-burial-device-patents/

I normally try and avoid military stuff unless there's an ironic design twist, and there is here. Somehow, these crude, mechanical ‘remote control' rifles, used for shooting over trenches manage to emasculate the phallic nature of guns and turn them into something worthy of Rube Goldberg himself. Nevertheless, they are for killing people sneakily, something to remember, while admiring their weirdness.

Complex dangerous machinery isn't the first choice for a home-brew project, unless you are rural farmer, apparently. Some of these look like remnants of a cargo cult, and most of them received stern warnings from the relevant civil aviation authorities to not even try firing them up, but a couple actually flew.

Mechanical horse are interesting because they straddle the gap between the era of the internal combustion engine (we still notionally benchmark our cars relative to horses through horse power) and that of bone & gristle.

One of the most odd objects we’ve ever seen these items are sometimes confused with spy gadgetry, but the truth is stranger. Jailers’ keys were apparently filled with gun powder to create a primitive gun that could be detonated if there was any trouble when opening a cell door. We found several original versions that back up this claim, dating from the 17th century and of various complexity.

Teasmades possibly represent the nadir of industrial design, combining Rube Goldberg, or more appropriately, Heath Robinsonesque unnecessary mechanic complexity with technological denialist styling and often capped off with horrid little lampshades.Appropriately enough, these diabolical devices were pioneered by a brand called Goblin, and were rendered obsolete after unfashionable UK Prime Minister, John Major’s wife Norma confessed to having one in Downing St. Sadly, someone is making them again.

Solar cookers are reflectors which focus sunlight enough to heat food, but they are a simple eco-friendly gadget that happens to look interesting and comes in a large variety of interesting forms.Because solar cookers are shiny and look like satellite dishes, they have a particularly futuristic appearance which often creates an extreme contrast with the surroundings where they are used, as some of these testify.

Flea circuses share one thing in common with combine harvesters. They are something that you hear about lot as a kid but rarely see. Popular since the 1600s till the late 19th Century, there is something fantastically creepy and Victorian about them, since they were cheap entertainment for the poor and the best performers were human fleas. Despite the mythology, flea circuses are real, and some still exist. Here are some pictures and videos to prove it.

From commercial kits such as the Chaos Toy or Spacewarp, to the world's largest ball run, the 70 foot high Energy Machine in the Hong Kong Science Museum, these complicated contraptions are a classic form of Rube Goldberg Machine.Here are a collection of videos of some of the worlds most impressive ball runs in action, including the Mark Bischoff machine that was recreated for Anthony Hopkins' obsessive character in the movie Fracture, to one built for a one-off ending to Sesame Street.

Beautiful working model Stirling engines are a favorite of the Steampunk style, because these efficient engines use external flame heat as an energy source, combined with Victorian brass or steel mechanisms.But they have an added benefit, in that their workings are entirely intuitive and help people easily understand the principals of cylinder engines in things like cars. Here are a collection of videos of some of our favorites, some, but not all, 'Steampunky', in action.

Here are a range of videos of some bizarre automated drawing machines, from an instrument that draws mushroom clouds from the dust from nuclear test sites, a large industrial robot used to automatically draw what it sees and a variety of increasingly odd contraptions.

The point of this list was to find interesting fountain designs that are truly modern, something that is rare, since fountains are luxurious, flowing and decorative by nature.For example Rome's Trevi fountain may be a masterpiece, but trying to recreate classical splendor today always looks awful and kitsch. The horrid water display at the Vegas Bellagio is a case in point, opulence without craft. In fairness, its designers, WET design have produced many other much more interesting designs which balance fun with restraint. Here are some of our favorite designs, from computer controlled fountains such as the wonderful animated version at Detroit Airport to Chicago's celebrated screen based Crown fountain

Gym equipment has a habit of making people look stupid, like that weird guy on TV with the pony tail and the abs machine. These machines are the zenith of fitness absurdity - teaching you to swim on dry land, anywhere. Handy if you are an Olympic swimmer holed up in a hotel room, waiting to be airlifted into Beijing when the smog clears.

Our top burglar alarms include an array of guns with trip wires or trigger mechanisms, designed to scare off thieves, including the hellish looking device from a London dock warehouse, a clockwork 19th century doorstop burglar alarm, and a device from the 1930's which dialed an emergency number and played back an alert message from a gramophone record. Vote for your faves.

Bicycles are very efficient machines, more efficient than legs! Here are some of the more bizarre bicycle powered objects from a washing machine, to a bulldozer, a centrifuge at NASA and even a rollercoaster.

Brain devices tend to look interesting an unusual, from passive, insect like EEG caps with trailing wires to interactive Brain Computer Interfaces. These devices range from largely useless toys to profoundly impressive technology used to control things such as prosthetic limbs. Here is an eclectic mix of our favorites, vote for yours.

From giant wind blown animal sculptures to an armored mechanical shark. The number of possible entries in this list is huge. Here is a selection of some of our faves, vote for yours.

Named after the famous cartoonist, Rube Goldberg machines are unlike ordinary gadgets in that they are deliberately inefficient, taking the maximum number of steps to achieve a goal. Last years winner of the Rube Goldberg competition took over three hundred steps to squeeze a glass of orange juice.To truly appreciate RG machines you need to see them in action. Here is a list of videos of our favorites. Vote for yours.

Ever since Evel Knievel attempted to jump Snake River Canyon, by sitting in a rocket powered bomb, dressed like Elvis, Darwin Awards contenders have tried to create inappropriate rocket powered items. These days we have YouTube to show us 10 thousand varieties of rocket powered skateboard. Here are our favorites, vote for yours.

A gallery of giant ears. Before electronic RADAR, acoustic listening devices were like giant mechanical ear trumpets which could locate sounds and even calculate distances by bouncing sound waves in exactly the same manner that SONAR works in water. Ear trumpets themselves were only fully replaced by electronic devices in the middle of the 20th Century, because of their conspicuous nature, they were often hidden in anything form beards and wigs to table ornaments.

Time Machines come from two places: Ebay and movies. They also come in two varieties: hat with wires and vehicle, depending on whether the trip is physical or metaphysical.A notable exception is in the machine used in the TV show The Time Tunnel where the black and white spiral induces the effect of an acid trip to the extent that it doesn't matter that it is neither a hat or a car.