These are possibly the most impressive gadgets on earth, beautifully complicated, polished stainless steel instruments that employ electron, x-ray, and ion probes, often in combination with depth profiling techniques, for surface analysis. They are the instruments featured on the covers of science lab and university brochures and are exactly what I want for my birthday. Vote for your faves.
Bank vaults comprise the most impressive fortresses ever built. Their giant mechanical doors are supreme gadgets, as large as a truck but built with the precision of a Swiss watch.Working vaults range from the New York Federal Reserve with 5000 tons of gold beneath Starbucks on the corner of Nassau St. to the giant doomsday project seed bank vault in the Arctic. Reconverted vaults are used for an amazing array of items such as underground farms, dry cleaned garment stores, wine cellars, radioactive material storage and restaurants. There are even bank vaults which have survived nuclear explosions in both Nevada and Hiroshima. Here is a collection of some of the most celebrated or unusual vaults in the world
Its strange to think that the now obsolete VCR or VTR has a half century history, from the giant Ampex and RCA machines used in TV stations to the multiple, competing format, consumer cassette players that culminated in the dominant VHS standard.Today you can by a DVD player for the same price as a DVD itself, due to the small number of moving parts and emerging market labor. However, VCRs were always relatively expensive because of their complex mechanisms, latterly involving gimballed rotating heads.In terms of design, aside from the robust utilitarian looking professional models, VCRs were ugly devices from the outside, but complex marvels inside.There are several great sites dealing with VTR history, including the excellent: http://www.totalrewind.org
Ray guns originated in the US in the 30s, from shows like Buck Rogers. What makes them a particularly interesting object is that despite, for all practical purposes, having never existed, there is an almost endless variety of designs for toy ray guns, from around the world.Here are some of the best we could find. Most are for sale, and are posted without description, since the images speak for themselves.
There are some design classics here, from the John Russell Barlow, French Opinel and Laguiole, Japanese Higo no Kami and of course the Swiss Army knife, where we show the original 19th C version and the one actually issued to Swiss soldiers today. We have included a couple of multi-tool curiosities such as a surgeons knife with gruesome implements such as an abscess lance and a Veterinary blood letting pocket knife which we found in our attic. To demonstrate the history of pocket knives which go back to 500BC we have selected a modern looking Viking pocket knife and an amazing Roman Soldiers multi-tool which predates the Swiss Army by nearly 2000 years.
Get into a car anywhere in the world and you are pretty much guaranteed that you will understand how to drive it. Cars have the ultimate user interface and Formula 1 cars perhaps represent the pinnacle of this UI, with the most demanding requirements.As recently as 1992, F1 steering wheels were round with 3 buttons (neutral, drinking water supply, radio), but since the advent of paddle gear changes there has been a sudden explosion of electronics and feature driven complexity.The complexity is ubiquitous, all 11 Formula 1 teams produce cars with more or less the same multi button design allowing adjustment and tweaks of traction and aerodynamics from the wheel itself. Unlike a road car, space and focus constraints mean that the entire dashboard is on the steering wheel. This is something that will no doubt be copied, unnecessarily, in consumer cars in future, but would that be a UI improvement?Given that all 11 F1 teams have converged on a remarkably similar UI, independently, you would think that dashboard steering wheel style was a rational design, however its complexity possibly caused Lewis Hamilton the 2007 F1 championship, when he accidentally pressed the neutral button (top left of the 2007 McLaren Mercedes wheel).We have gathered together as many of the modern style wheel designs that we could find and put a date to, to demonstrate the UI pattern. What is clear is that there is no clear accentuation of features (color, size) by how often the are used, merely by position. Even if drivers like Hamilton are experts and fully familiar with the UI, there is a tiny percentage chance of error. Our guess is that this trend in car UI would be a mistake if it filters through to everyday cars, and that F1 cars will revert to a more simple UI over time.
There is possibly no simpler gadget that is more creepy than a vintage ventriloquists dummy. A primitive automaton that threatens to come to life and haunt you. Here are a collection of slightly unsettling old ventriloquy puppets with their often equally unsettling owners.
The interesting thing about luxury trains is that they share a common and unintentionally ironic style - that of a stationary, fragile, cut glass and velvet, Victorian brothel interior moving at more than 60 miles and hour.
For sheer baroque complexity of appearance, planetarium projectors are among the most amazing gizmos ever built. They range from enormous machines more than 20 ft. high to a soccer ball sized $300 home version.Their purpose is a bizarre reversal of a large optical telescope, taking an internal view of the the universe and projecting it on a dome, rather than creating a view from peering outside of one, but the aesthetic is somewhat similar. Another curious similarity is how much they look like some early satellites.Our personal favorites are the original Zeiss, Mark I and the truly amazing machine built by the Korkosz brothers for the, appropriately named, Seymour Planetarium.
I started this list as a Thanksgiving homage to American innovation via its greatest inventor. Reading more about Edison and his strange obsession with things like filming electrocutions, using alternating current, of everything from small animals to people and even an elephant, just to try and put people off the rival AC system, managed to put me off him. So as an act of revenge here are some of his less successful, stranger inventions from concrete phonographs to what became the tattoo machine and a ghost detection instrument. Happy Thanksgiving anyway.
Some of America's best Mid Century Modern architecture is in the form of gas stations, with their simple space requirements and focus on innovative roofs.Several of the best known names in architecture have created gas stations, around the world, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van der Rohe, Willem Dudok, Jean Prouve, Arne Jacobsen and Norman Foster, but nobody created a design package that was as enduring and comprehensive as Elliot Noyes for Mobil.
When I was an architect, it was common for structural engineering books to have this image of two people effortlessly supporting a third to demonstrate the cantilever principal of the famous Forth Rail Bridge outside of Edinburgh. When I was looking for this picture, I noticed that the people were different. It turns out that this iconic image is not unique and here are the three variants I could find, making this the shortest (and one of the more obscure) oobject list to date.
With the possible exception of the 1972 Munich olympic stadium, Beijings 'Birds Nest' stadium, designed by fashionable Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, promises to be the clear winner, architecturally. Here is a list of all 16 post-war olympic stadia. Vote for you faves.
Although crash test dummies are iconic, there are a variety of different types, dating back to the fifties. There are ones for different genders, age, size and more recently, weight, with fatter dummies to represent the growing trend of obesity. There are different ones for cars, trains, planes, motorbikes and even those used for pedestrian impacts. Here are a dozen interesting examples.
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.
Nothing makes architecture quite as gadget like as if it folds up into a kit or a box. Here are 12 examples of rooms in a box by various designers. Many of these are actually purchasable, which is sometimes rare for conceptual architecture. Click through the links for their sources.
Nothing seemed as modern as the space race, gleaming white rockets and cutting edge technology. Except that that was decades ago, and some of the most spectacularly important pieces of technology have been left to rot. Soviet shuttle prototypes have been spotted in the most unlikely places, from the wind swept deserts of Bahrain to a river side dock, full of scrap metal, in a Moscow suburb.The NASA LUT-1 launch tower that sent the first men to the moon was described as 'the modern day equivalent of the dock from which the Santa Maria sailed for the New World'. It lay in a rusting pile of collapsed metal until it was broken up for scrap four years ago.