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oobject: 'daily user-ranked gadget lists'
In the Avengers, Steed carried a sword cane. A sword cane was only one of a variety of gadget or system canes that were made popular in the Victorian era when everything from automatons, whiskey flasks, pipes, lighters, guns, umbrellas and golf clubs were combined in these antique gadgets.Here are some of the best ones we could find. Vote on your faves.

10 sword and gadget canes

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.

bizarre drawing contraption videos

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.

9 diabolical teamaking contraptions

Before electricity, lighthouses relied on lamps that would almost be considered mood lighting by today's standards. Mechanisms were clockwork and had to be wound as often as every two hours. In the 19th century, Fresnel designed a lens that could focus this light into parallel rays and project it horizontally, dramatically improving lighthouses. By the end of the century, all lighthouses had Fresnel lenses classified into orders, with first order being the largest and most impressive.These days lighthouses use less elaborate lamps such as the beacons found at airfields, or even powerful, but unremarkable to look at, LEDs. Here is a list of some of the most beautiful and important lights ever made, including some 1st order beauties that stand 20 feet tall, and were floated on a mercury bed. There are no descriptions of each item, for this chart, as the images speak for themselves, however, the sites linked to have information about the lighthouses where they came from.

15 beautiful lighthouse lights

Photo finishes are made using strip or slit scan cameras. They are an assemblage of slices of something as it passes a certain point, such as a finish line. The same y axis at different points in time rather than different points in an x,y plane at an instant. As such they produce sometimes beautiful or plain weird distortions, from the arched backs and smeared limbs of Olympic cyclists and runners to pictures of aircraft propellers which appear impossibly separated from the nosecone.

12 examples of photo finish photography

Although current proposals for 4000 mph Maglev trains running in evacuated tubes, would offer New York to Beijing in less than 2 hours, built versions of pneumatic railways predate regular subways. Brunel built one, and an underground pneumatic railway was built by Alfred Ely Beach, in Manhattan, in 1869. The late 19th century stock market crash, depression and Civil War, destroyed the idea and little of it remains apart from the station, which features in the movie Ghost Busters II.

Pneumatic Trains

Nail houses have become emblematic of the accelerated rate of development in China. They are buildings whose owners have resisted selling to developers and which remain standing in the middle of new construction all around, like stubborn nails which can't be beaten down with a hammer. Here are 9 examples including ones in the US and Europe.

9 nail houses

If you have a hi-fi a TV, cellphone, computer and digital camera you already own several sets of speakers, amplifiers, microphones, screens and cameras. The idea of modular gadgets appeals on multiple levels, from Zen minimalism to the joy of playing with Legos.Here are some of our favorites.

lego like modular gadgets

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

The iPhone is a state-of-the-art, minimalist gadget where a lot of effort was put into the case design. These phones are as precious to people as Gollum's ring and in order to avoid scratching them, many people have attached protective covers. This activity ranges from being like leaving the plastic cover on a new sofa to gilding a lilly.Some people go further, however, and actively defecate on the lilly. There are an amazing variety of iPhone cases which completely ignore the fact that the iPhone is a futuristic design in an appropriately minimalist modernist enclosure. iPhone case are produced using incompatible styles associated with military ruggedness (Oakley unobtainium rubber) or pre-industrial luxury materials (diamond and gold) and made to specifications which are often much worse than the thing they are designed to enhance. Vote for your worst.

12 worst iPhone case designs

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.

12 steampunk stirling engines (videos)

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

Unintentional comedy is one of the consequences of Moores Law (that computer power doubles every two years) and almost any claim made in a computer ad more than a decade old. Included here are claims that compared to the Macbook Air that I am writing this on, a computer with 2 million times less RAM will "satisfy your lust for power"; that a computer a thousand times slower will give you "answers fast" for demanding applications and that a computer with several thousand times the volume is "compact and mobile".

16 hilariously unimpressive computer ads

Included here are the RC helicopters that filmed New Orleans streets after Katrina, a seven foot Yodeling man and a remote controlled zombie for halloween. Vote for your fave.

18 best remote controlled gadgets

If there was one cassette deck to own, it was a Nakamichi. With the release of the model 1000 (its number reflected its high price) in the early 70s, reel-to-reel tape recorders were rendered all but obsolete, for consumers. With the release of the 700 Nakamichi created a functional and design classic.Because cassette tapes are in the gap between vintage retro and mere obsolescence, Nakamichis can be picked up for a reasonable price on Ebay.

8 Classic Nakamichi Cassette Decks

Scoping this list was more difficult than finding the items - I've tried to keep to electronic devices, the first transistor radio rather than the First radio, and products that were actually sold such as the Dycam Model 1 digital camera rather than the Fuji DS-1P.My favorite here is the first web server, it was one of 2 NeXT machines bought for Tim Berners Lee and nobody knows which one (they both survive) was the first to serve a web page. The NeXT was a beautifully designed machine that Steve Jobs built to show what a personal computer should be, after being ousted from Apple. Berners Lee specifically needed a NeXT to be able to build the web and had difficulty getting approval.You could argue the first web server is merely the machine that happened to perform a first role, rather than a device designed for a purpose, but the fact that Berners Lee needed the NeXT to be able to develop the web quickly and elegantly, shows that sometimes the development of the first example of something predates it actually being used for the pioneering purpose for which it is suited.

12 earliest models of gadgets

Included here are notable landings based upon being spectacularly close to high rises (the old Hong Kong airport), very short runways (Saba, aircraft carriers), specific vehicles (the Space Shuttle and Concorde) or a reconstruction of the Amazing US Airways flight 1549 which ditched safely in the Hudson after all engines failed.

videos of plane landings from the cockpit

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

Apple's refresh of the Macbook line this fall is more evolutionary than revolutionary. In terms of design they have continued the trend, which started with the iPhone (see the drilled headphone jack hole on the original model) towards machining directly from block metal. This has lead to the latest Macbooks as being described as having monocoque structures, something which may not strictly be false but which is meaningless in the context.A monocoque is a single piece shell structure, it is a nice sounding word and is often used in marketing literature because it sounds technical. Because of this, and because of the fact that things like commercial airliners are hybrids of frame and shell structures almost anything can be described as such. There is a perfect geodesic truss in the list below which is described as a monocoque shell structure (the opposite), while an ordinary soda can is a monocoque. The use of machining for Apple parts has more to do with tolerances and finish and almost nothing to do with structure, so the term is not relevant.Below we discuss the merits of things which are described as monocoque - but as for the Macbook, not really

Apple monocoque or not

P.J. O’Rourke observed that when someone digs up Manhattan in 2000 years, they’ll wonder what kind of hideous torture the civilization inflicted on people there because of the amount of gym equipment. The same could be said of this stuff which, despite its bizarre appearance, is generally quite benign.Most interestingly, these devices were the work or Dr Kellog, now better known for his breakfast cereals which were part of his health regimen as medical head of the Battle Creek sanitarium.A big thank you to John EverBlest at Healthexhibits.com who provided me with these pictures from his wonderful collection.

15 Dr Kellog Contraptions

The essential fashion item if you are going to the Beijing Olympics to watch people compete in air made of Jello - a gas mask. Gas masks are all more or less terrifying to look at, which is why some people get a kick out of them, creating artsy fetish masks, or artists create ironically cute masks such as Bill Barminsky's Mickey Mouse mask.The irony is on the artists, however, since genuine Mickey Mouse inspired gas masks were given to children in both the UK and the US, during wartime, to appear less scary

unusual gas masks

What do you do when you have lots of cash and cheap oil, but mess around in expensive cars in a manner not much different from America in the 50s. Arab drifting is the name given to handbrake slides, perfected in places like Saudi, where Arabian Stallions have been replaced by metal Mustangs. Here it refers not just to the videos of the stunts which are interesting in of themselves, but the cultural drift, as exemplified by the range of music that accompanies the videos, from rock to rap to house. This list is contains not just Arab Drifts but clips of car culture n the Arabian peninsula, proving Youtube's worth as an anthropological treasure trove.

arab drifts (videos)

Before there was Lego, there was the Erector Set. This was an altogether different type of toy that resembled genuine engineering construction with trusses and girders, rather than plastic, primary color pixelated, objects.Although Erector Sets are sold today, they are re-branded versions of a different toy. The original Gilbert sets were made from 1913 till 1967 and are an iconic toy for gadget aficionados that can be picked up relatively cheaply on Ebay. Here are 10 favorite vintage kits that are currently for sale.

vintage erector sets to buy

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From legendary conceptual architects Haus Rucker, who created mind expanding fly head like human cocoons and inflatables, in the 60s, to Lawrence Malstaff who does brilliant installations today, including a real typhoon in a cylindrical pod to humans shrink wrapped between to pieces of plastic, with a breathing tube. Here are a range of beautiful, filament like, cocoon structures produced by artists and architects.

Giant projected images on buildings have been iconic examples of futurism since the movie Blade Runner. More recently they have become a lot more sophisticated via projection of animated 3d computer models onto quasi 2 dimensional surfaces such as building facades. Examples here range from the skyscraper projections for Nokia in London, to guerrilla activist projections of Al Weiwei on a Chinese Embassy and the Occupy Wall street ‘bat signal' on the Verizon tower in Manhattan.

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.

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.

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.

Aside from the POV Parkour here, non of these videos involve super human skills, Spidey Senses or Red Bull addiction. I actually prefer the seemingly bland but interesting ones such as strapping a GoPro to a dog, hula hoop, time lapse of the view out of a commercial flight or RC car in Walmart to endless surfing videos

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.

Such was the propensity for the Soviets to put fighter jets on plinths dotted around the empire that they are sometimes referred to as Migs on sticks. Other people did this, of course. In the US, Phantom jets were a favorite and some of these Migs are in places outside the Soviet Union, like Somalia, where Russian jets were bought. The trend also intended to a variety of other planes such as the particularly ungainly looking Tupelov monument, in this list. But there is something about a Mig on an angled concrete base that is reminiscent of Soviet graphic design, crass and muscular with people leaning forward in earnest. Comic like, but deadly serious.

The telescopes chosen for this list are largely based on how they look, from a design perspective, rather than their scientific importance. Their unusual requirements create interesting structural engineering approaches. However, the Holmdel Horn Antenna is possibly the most interesting from both points of view, its highly unusual shape is like a gigantic ear trumpet sticking out of a garden shed, but it also happens to be the device which discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation - the echo of the big bang. I've included a view beneath the mesh of the gigantic Arecibo dish, just because I always wondered what that space was like. For the rest I've chosen ones which best display the spiky, high tech look of giant scaffolds and space frames or which are attached in impossibly top heavy ways ancillary buildings, like the giant upturned umbrella of the Parkes telescope.

The history of the pressure suit from its origins in the 30s for high altitude pilots to space missions is one which perfectly encapsulates (no pun intended) all of the aspects of product design from craft to science. Aesthetically, the first pressure suit, created by the aviator Wiley Post in 1934, looks more like a deep sea diving one, just as deep sea diving inspired the fictional aesthetic for robots and space men, until the space race. But the Post suit is where the two design styles diverge, culminating in the Apollo mission suits which were produced in craft fashion by the seamstresses of bra manufacturer, Playtex after their proposal outperformed those submitted by engineering contractors.Pressure suits don't need to be air tight, apart from the helmet, because human skin is, they just need to be tight to stop your skin swelling. Those worn by pilots are usually different from astronauts, who also have to wear external layers of reflective insulation (separated by intermediate layers of non heat conducting material, exactly like modern loft insulation) and a protective skin against micro-meteors and abrasive dust. As well as all fabric pressure suits, there are rigid or partially rigid ones, such as some of the moon walk prototypes or space walk (EVA) ones which are hybrids of a rigid torso and flexible limbs. EVA and moon walk suits have a life support system as a backpack, while astronauts often carry theirs like a suitcase, as a backup in case cabin pressure fails.

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.

Attempts by architects to create utopian communities usually have one distinguishing feature - they are not utopian and they fail. As such, they make great settings for dystopic fiction, such as the slightly kitsch and creepy Portmeirion in the Kafkaesque Prisoner TV series or Seaside, Florida in the Truman show.Some uptopias have been built and failed, such as Soleri's semi-inhabited Arcosanti and some were only half realized, such as Disney's Progress City, which ended up being watered down as Epcot. But possibly the most insane of all is Le Corbusier's utopian vision for Paris which consisted of bulldozing the city of lights and replacing it with what resembles the worst projects in the South Bronx. It says a lot for the profession that the vision of arguably the world's most famous architect was to destroy what is arguably the world's most beautiful architecture.

The sight of a Zeppelin under construction must have been an awe inspiring experience. The hangers that were constructed for this purpose are the largest structures even created and the lightness required for the Zeppelin frames meant that their trusses consisted of sophisticated aluminum struts where each strut was in turn another truss. The overall effect is of incredible complexity and detail, like a gigantic high-tech whale set in a space that resembles a Piranesi engraving of a dungeon with enormous shafts of sunlight lit by dust. Because of their age, this technological look is combined with distinctly archaic elements, such as the gas bags which were made from thousands of cows' stomachs or the scaffolding and ladders which are wooden and rickety.

Bel Geddes is the industrial designer most associated with the streamline style, an aerodynamic form than was as much about aesthetics as wind resistance. These designs actually look better than more aerodynamic forms and as such were used by Geddes for things that didn't have to move at all, such as his streamlined school desk. Geddes started out as a theatrical designer then made a series of model cars and prototypes for trains and planes, including the incredible airliner number 4 - a 1929 proposal for a transatlantic boat plane carrying 450 passengers and an army of staff including a musicians and entertainers. But the other thing that Geddes created was his daughter, who was Miss Ellie in the TV series, Dallas.

I combined two types of concept plan in this list that are very different but share the fact that they show an alternate universe where airports weren't giant fields on the edge of cities.On the one had there are the airports that literally float on water, and although these have become a reality with projects such as Kansai or military aircraft carriers, some of the original designs are for runways floating on rivers right in the middle of cities. Here the concept overlaps with the other type of floating airports: those that metaphorically float above the city on stilts - or over rather than on a river, via a structure like an overhead railroad.These concepts are not as unpractical as they appear, by using short-takeoff, quiet planes, London city airport is very close to the financial center of London and its a shame that aircraft haven't been developed to allow some of these magnificent, early ambitions to have become a reality.

Diving bells were originally just that - an upturned church bell with enough trapped air to stand in while reclaiming things from shipwrecks in relatively shallow water. As such the engraving of Edmund Halley's 18th century diving bell is one of my favorite images on oobject, because it shows gadgetry from an age prior to machines. There's a guy walking around the sea floor in what looks more like a velvet courtier's outfit that a divers suit. This list is a collection of images of diving bells that evoke that same sort of weirdness, as best I could find

Although we previously did a list on diving helmets, the variety of strange diving outfits warranted another list. Having spent hours pouring through these to pick my favorites, it occurred to me that the inspiration for early science fiction robots and space suits, before the age of actual space travel, clearly comes from this pre-space age technology.Deep sea diving equipment needs to be solid and heavy it has a very different aesthetic from aviation and space equipment which needs to be light, so there is a market difference between the look of space things in science fiction, between the 50s and 60s.

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/

A tank has an iconic shape and when it deviates from that it looks strange, despite the fact that many of these alternative forms are equally viable. They include designs that are based on steam tractors, tricycles and cannon and ones where ordinary tanks are adapted for different tasks such as mine clearing. In the latter case, the Progvev T is particularly weird, where the gun has been replaced by a reverse mounted Mig fighter jet engine, in order to clear mines by blasting them with an afterburn.

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.

Long before periscopes became uniquely associated with submarines, they were widely used to peer over the trenches in WW1. Here are other uses from on board jet aircraft to golf courses, bank vaults and even to look underwater from dry land - the inverse of what we associate periscopes with.

At first glance this lesser known part of the telephone inventor's life seems crazy. Bell became obsessed with pyramids, building towers, buildings, boats, kites and eventually planes made entirely out of little tetrahedrons (triangular pyramids). Eventually setting up the Aerial Experiment Association, he built 3 tetrahedral kite planes where each pyramid frame component had 2 of its 4 sides covered in fabric.His obsession, however, was ingenious and is possibly feasible - that if you could fly a pyramid frame structure then by combining lots of them together you would be adding no more weight per unit of lift, so you could fly a structure of any size.Although only one of Bell's planes managed to fly under its own power, the tetrahedral frame structure was to become a much used component of high tech architecture more than half a century later, giving these images of the Victorian inventors a bizarre science fiction feel.

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