Science

The World’s Most Stupid Inventions

Technology is constantly changing and updating, bringing newer and smarter solutions to improve and revolutionise our lives. But with every improvement, a few oddballs get thrown in. Some have been (thankfully) swept under the rug, whilst others linger to make us cringe…

The ones that didn’t make it…

Operation Acoustic Kitty
In the 1960s, the CIA discovered that high-level Soviet diplomats lunched on a particular park bench. Instead of bugging the bench they devised a cunning plan: they installed a microphone, battery pack and a transmitter inside a live cat. Unfortunately, after being deployed in the direction of the bench, the $20 million cat was run over by a taxi.

The Motorised Surfboard
Because there are obviously so many situations in life in which we need a self-propelling surfboard, Hollywood inventor Joe Gilpin invented one in the 1940s. Surfing to work without getting your clothes wet is the epitome of cool.

They installed a microphone, battery pack and a transmitter inside a live cat.

The Steam-Powered Plane
This Victorian idea consisted of two giant steam engines powering two tiny flapping wings. It had to be catapulted into the air with a few firemen to shovel the coal to power it. Unsurprisingly, it plunged to its doom in a large fireball.

Blue Peacock
In another Cold War creation, the USA built an atomic landmine for the German frontier. During the winter months, however, the mine froze. The solution? Build an underground poultry farm around the mine and use chickens to keep it warm. The project was only cancelled after it was thought politically inadvisable to hide atomic landmines in an allied country.

And the ones that unfortunately did…

Shutter Shades
Do they enhance your eyesight? No. Do they protect your eyes? No. Do they make you look good? No. Sorry Kanye, the only thing these glasses are good for is giving you some crazy tan lines.

Car Alarms
Alarms on cars and houses provide peace of mind, but who pays that much attention to a neighbour’s screaming alarm at night, besides putting a pillow over their heads and attempting to get back to sleep?

The only thing these glasses are good for is giving you some crazy tan lines.

The Rotary Printing Press
The Rotary Printing Press finds itself here for a rather different reason. It may have been very important to the modern world but its inventor certainly regretted making it just before it killed him –  Richard Hoe’s foot was pulled into the machine and badly crushed. He later died of the infection.

Self Service Checkouts
They’re spreading like a virus throughout the UK, pushing out the old checkouts to make way for shops to save money. Supermarkets don’t appear to have clocked on to the fact that the scales are so sensitive that a member of staff needs to operate it anyway, and then there are the items that you’re not allowed to scan in yourself. One phrase sums up the frustration these machines cause: ‘unexpected item in the bagging area!’


Timothy Winstanley

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Image via Burns Library, Boston College

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Science
2 Comments on this post.
  • Elena
    12 March 2013 at 19:53
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    The snooze button

  • Tim Winstanley
    20 March 2013 at 09:03
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    Its a shame that many of the really crazy inventions didn’t make it into the final article. The Cat guided bomb was a particular favorite of mine…

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