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oobject: 'daily user-ranked gadget lists'
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.

9 Strange Edison Inventions

A gallery of incredible streamline design. No other period in product design is more important to American history than the Streamlined period. Here are our favorite gadgets and vehicles from the Sky Captain World of Tomorrow.Ironically the streamlined shape is less aerodynamic than it looks. It came from the high speed steam trains designed by people like Raymond Loewy or cars by Norman Bel Geddes (the father of the actress who played Miss Ellie in Dallas) and still exists in kitchen and bar-ware and the 40s style Airstream trailers which escorted the Astronauts off the Space Shuttle today and still look futuristic.

24 Sky Captain gadgets & vehicles

Fixed-gear bicycles, without gears or brakes were created for the controlled environment of a velodrome. This environment could not be more different from hilly San Francisco or car ridden New York, but their appeal as being both stripped down and minimalist as well as requiring considerable risk and commitment to learn to ride has made them fashionable in hip neighborhoods of large cities, such as New York's Williamsburg.This has lead to an interesting morphing of a classic post-war track bike design, to city fixies which inevitable become like beefier road bikes to be ridable and more recently to celebrity endorsed and/or fashion branded, limited edition products.The stunningly beautiful 1950's Cinelli, Italian team bike, best represents the classic track bike and the solid titanium saddle and merlin frame captures the road-bike-in-denial urban fixie (albeit, without the current vogue of sawn off straight handle-bars). The fashion house branded versions include graffiti artist, Futura's Colnago track frame, a Kid Robot bike a Fuji and Obey fixie and the surprisingly nice Nike AF1. The fashion bikes are particularly odd, because they are created by designers rather than bike enthusiasts and mix and match components purely on the basis of how they look. In this sense the transition of fixies from track to urban messenger to fashion designer is a continuous trend away from ergonomics to superficiality.Vote for your faves, ours is the 59 Cinelli.

the genealogy of fixies

Yesterday we managed to get into CERN and do some exploring. Our mission? Not to go to the Giant LHC experiments, such as Atlas, but to root around the campus itself, find the exact place where Tim Berners Lee invented the web, marked by a small plaque, and photograph it, license-free, since there seem to be no images of it that we could find. We went through several doors marked ‘radiation’, were told to leave one place, because ‘the beam was on’, saw the Grid data center and rooms with blackboards covered in equations – but we found it.

oobject search for web birthplace at CERN

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.

Mechanical Animals

f the industrial revolution was typified by Northern England's dark satanic mills, the Chinese manufacturing revolution consists of of more subtle kind of hell: antiseptic, shadowless, pastel colored assembly lines.The most striking thing we noticed when putting together this list was the uniformity of color, typically green floors with hospital blue appearing here and there, and highlights of yellow or pink, drowned in uniform fluorescent lighting that would make a drug store feel like a candle lit bistro.Some of these images are from the Toronto photographer, Ed Burtynsky's great photo essay about Chinese manufacturing, however others are from publicity shots for the factories themselves. The publicity photos unknowingly reproduce the same clinical blandness.

chinese factories

Although folding bicycles have seen somewhat of a renaissance, there has not been as much innovation compared to mountain bikes, because the market is smaller. This is a shame since although there are some great products such as Bromptons or the Birdy, there is, in our opinion, no ideal foldup. An ideal foldup would be one that folds so small and is so light, that you could take it in a backpack, just in case, like carrying an umbrella in case it rains. A couple of the concept designs here come close - vote for your fave.

10 concept folding bikes

If there is one kind of hammer that you don't want to get your thumb stuck under, its a steam hammer, a giant hellish machine that defined the industrial age.There are several claims to its invention in the mid 19th century, to hammer steel into shape and smash out impurities. One of these is Creusot, who exhibited a version at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1878.Looking at the Creusot Hammer, I would argue that it was the inspiration for the Eiffel tower, ten years later.Here are a variety of hammers including the mechanical or hydraulic versions that replaced steam, but still have the same titanic look.

10 massive steam hammers

Climbing walls are both functionally and aesthetically fascinating. They often have beautiful abstract shapes reminiscent of Kurt Schwitters Merzbau or are just plain intricate and impressive.Included in our collection here are interactive musical climbing walls, enormous artificial ice towers, surreal climbing forms and a huge climbing wall inside a disused Texan grain silo. Vote for your faves.

Great Climbing Walls

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/

12 Safety Coffins

If you thought the Bullet train was the fastest thing on rails, you would be wrong - more than 6000 miles per hour wrong. Rocket sled test tracks were originally designed for the V2 in WWII and can reach up to 6400 mph.They were made famous in the 50s when Lt. Col John Paul volunteered himself to test a 200mph track designed for crash test dummies, called the Gee Whiz. The test was intended to show the effects of deceleration in a plane crash, where it was assumed that nobody could survive more than 18G. Strapp survived an unbelievable 35G.More recently a rocket sled was featured in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.However, the lasting legacy of the Gee Whiz test is Murphy's Law, coined after a real engineer called Murphy who worked briefly at Edwards Air Force Base on the test track.

Rocket Sleds

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.

3 forth bridge demos

Thrones provide a history of self importance through design, from Ivan the Terrible's ivory throne to some of the more absurd set pieces, complete with enormous backdrops.The throne and sculptural setting for Papal audiences is a fitting example of something that would have Jesus rolling in his proverbial grave, quite missing the entire message of the scriptures. Other favorites include the coronation throne in Britain which is covered in antique graffiti, as if it were a unimportant school chair, or Saddam Hussein's scud missile set piece. My personal favorite is the throne which the lunatic singer, Michael Jackson had made for himself, which actually looks ordinary here.

thrones

All of these car commercials are from 1973, the last time the economy tanked because of oil. The embargo started late in 1973, at the point when family sedan's did less than 10mpg, were the size of a boat and often sloshed around on suspension that felt like you were at sea. While the Detroit manufacturers were pitching speed, horsepower or comfort, one relatively obscure Japanese import, was already selling based on fuel economy. Can you spot the odd one out?

oil crisis car ads

Fingerprint scanners are a dime a dozen these days. But how about devices which can literally grant access by the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you type or write, bite or grip. Here is a chart of state of the art biometric applications, including futuristic devices like portable Game Boys which are ominously called HIIDE (handheld interagency identity detection).

18 futuristic biometric devices

This year the MIT class ring, the Brass Rat, hides a hackers' diagram of a subterranean campus wide tunnel network.Networks of secret passages and tunnels have been built on a giant scale, from components of the Maginot line to the Viet Cong Cu Chi Network. Others perform a peacetime function, such as the half mile tunnel network H.G. Dyar built under his Washington home, as a hobby, the passageways under Disney's Magic Kingdom or the unbelievable 5000 year old Lizard People tunnel network under Los Angeles that the L.A. Times published a diagram of during the depression.Here is a collection of our favorite tunnel network diagrams, drawings or models.

12 of the worlds most fascinating tunnel networks

Manikins used for dental training are either deep into uncanny valley (creepy) territory if they try and look at all realistic, or just plain terrifying in their more abstract incarnations. A lot of this is just becuase (a) people are very good at interpreting faces and anything face-like seems possessed, (b) dental manikins have to bare their teeth so often have bizarre expressions. Anyhow, they are quite interesting, particularly the vintage metal ones which are a nastily grotty and beaten up.

12 dental training heads

In case there were any doubt about just how unpleasantly weird Kim Jong Il’s tyrannical grip over North Korea, here are 12 examples of his propaganda posters. They range from imagery of attacks on the US in a bizarre blend of Soviet art and 50s American comic books to perhaps the most macabre of all, pictures of copious abundance of produce in a place where people are starving to death.

12 North Korean Propaganda Posters

There have been four core audiences for Apple along the years, the original Mac for graphic designers and Desk Top Publishing, the OSX based machines which lured developers, the iPod which brought Apple into the consumer market with lifestyle apps, and the original Apple II which became a computer widely used in schools.Looking at these old commercials from the late 70s and 1980s, including the first ever Apple ad (which was a store ad not produced internally), you can see how much they were aimed at kids. Even then, there is a faint glimmer of the artistry of later Apple ads which aimed for high ideals and changing the world

apple II commercials (videos)

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.

10 inappropriate rocket powered items

Considering what guns are actually designed to do, its pretty amazing how many other products and gadgets are designed to look like them. Here are a few of our faves. Vote for yours.

13 gun shaped non guns

oobject header image

Category: 'retro futurism'

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.

New York's retro futurism is particularly interesting becuase the city itself is an anachronistic view of modernism - an antique skyscraper city. Each one of these proposals is not just a past vision of the future, but a past vision of the future which is now in the past itself.The 15 items here, range from the purely conceptual work of Italian 60s architects, Superstudio, who designed a continuous monument around the earth, crashing through lower Manhattan to Lindenthal's serious proposal for an absolutely gargantuan bridge across the Hudson, with towers bigger than some of the tallest skyscrapers and where the keystone, still exists today.Along with Buckminster Fuller's well known idea for a geodesic dome over mid-town Manhattan, is his lesser known one for an array of huge, cooling tower like housing projects in Harlem, each holding 40,000 people. There are a couple of representative engineering projects showing plans to dam the Hudson or drain the East River and an array of transportation concepts, including Raymond Loewy's idea for a helicopter pad covering Bryant park, 10 storys above ground.Weirdest of all is the proposal for a spherical nuke proof 2nd city, below ground.

Nothing dates like the future and nothing is more symbolic of gadgety futurism than a modern kitchen. Included here is a design lab from a trendy Michelin starred restaurant that makes endless courses of microscopic over-engineered food, a trend which we feel is now obsolete.

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.

Manhattan is an antique modern city, dark, decaying, malevolent and at the same time wonderful. The most recent screen versions of Batman have captured this dark feel perfectly. Here are our picks for the buildings and elements of Manhattan that make up the real Gotham city.

A gallery of incredible streamline design. No other period in product design is more important to American history than the Streamlined period. Here are our favorite gadgets and vehicles from the Sky Captain World of Tomorrow.Ironically the streamlined shape is less aerodynamic than it looks. It came from the high speed steam trains designed by people like Raymond Loewy or cars by Norman Bel Geddes (the father of the actress who played Miss Ellie in Dallas) and still exists in kitchen and bar-ware and the 40s style Airstream trailers which escorted the Astronauts off the Space Shuttle today and still look futuristic.