Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Future Ain't What It Used To Be (02/23/09)

Remember the Future? When everything was going to be clean and bright and efficient? When we'd all be whizzing around in flying cars to supervise our robots or eating meals in pill form?

I was reminded of those days that never were when I saw that February 21 was the anniversary of Waldo Waterman's first test flight of his "Aerobile," the world’s first flying car -- in 1937! 1937?! You mean, we've had flying cars for over 70 years, and no one bothered to tell me? And to make matters worse, Glenn Curtis built a flying car in 1917?! (Though, to be fair, that model may not have made it off the ground).

Waterman was an aviation genius, but he was never able to make his flying car practical. He built six of them, and only five of those flew -- and only two of those were able to make the first test flight from California to Ohio.

Reading about the Aerobile made me wonder if there were any other inventions that were supposed to be parts of the far future, but had actually already existed. Somehow we didn't even notice how big-screen TVs infiltrated our homes or how computers went from filling whole rooms to fitting on our laps.

And robots? Most of us still don't have robots to run our space ships or clean our homes (or do we?), but who knew that the first robots were built in 1206(!), or that there were human-like robots in movies as early (or as late, I suppose) as 1920, or that they were walking around the 1939 New York World’s Fair?

The more I looked, the more revelations appeared. Personal jet-packs? Done. Death rays? Old hat. Moving sidewalks? Barely worth mentioning. Heck, even Disneyland’s "House of the Future," which showcased such unimaginable gadgets as microwave ovens and PicturePhones became obsolete and was torn down in 1967!

While teleportation, man-made food, and interstellar travel still aren’t commonplace, we have to admit we’re glad that such "innovations" as artichoke hair and glass clothing never came to be. Although that head-mounted flashlight does look pretty sweet...

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