Hello again! This week is another Science Fiction Problems, based on an article published last week on Complex.com titled “The 50 Worst Fails In Tech History”. I was intrigued by Damion Scott’s take on past product bungling and found 3 of my favorites to present this week. When you’re coming up with ideas for your science fiction world, it’s always a good idea to look at where technology looks like it’s going, and where it has been. These products failed for many reasons, some because of unfortunate marketing or financial problems (boring), but many because the idea was just badly timed, or simply not any good. So let’s take a look at my 3 picks from Complex.com’s 50 Worst Tech Fails, and what we can learn from them as writers:
#3: PREPARE TO BE ASSIM- oh wait, sorry, let me answer this email really quick…
Working in reverse-order from the bottom up, Complex.com’s number 49 is the Xybernaut Poma Wearable PC, which came out in 2002. Not only did it make you look like you’re on your way to a Star Trek convention, but the result of splitting all of the components of a desktop computer to distribute across the human body only made the most basic tasks awkward and tiring. The keyboard on the arm meant all typing was one-handed, the eye-piece was low-resolution and strained the eye, and to top it all off, it was very expensive with only middling performance.
The idea behind it (although poorly executed) seems like a sci-fi winner, and indeed it has been used before. However, before you outfit characters in a getup like this, think about the practicality. Nowadays we’ve got smart phones that can do everything this device was trying to do, and much more, so even though it seems like a cooler idea, it would be more consistent to develop the idea of all-in-one portable devices than the kind of techno-suit that inspired the Xybernaut Poma. If you simply must have a computer like this, consider cybernetics, as in a brain interface, to take care of the problems with the eyepiece and arm-keyboard.
#2: Why Walk When You Can Lean Forward Awkwardly
This one’s number 19 on Complex.com’s list, and one I’m sure most of you are familiar with. “It will replace wa
lking!” said inventor Dean Kamen, “It’ll be bigger than the PC”, said Steve Jobs, and all for a paltry sum of $5000! I can’t imagine why this didn’t catch on. Aside from looking ridiculous, the Segway had a very limiting battery life and top speed, which for all its nigh-uncrashable self-balancing, it could not become the new transportation device of the new millennium.
The biggest hurdle to electric vehicles currently is the battery, a means to cheaply and efficiently store and use electricity in a large enough quantity that it can reliably and profitably replace combustion engines. While I personally am not convinced at all about the threat of Global Warming or any other catastrophic man-caused climate disaster (and think certain environmentalists can just shove those carbon-credits where they sun don’t shine), electric vehicles certainly have the potential to render traditional engines obsolete. However, such an impractical vehicle as this has no place in the world of tomorrow. In a story, you can account for limitations such as batteries and reliable means of generating electricity (Nuclear, anyone?), but you need to make sure that whatever little vehicles you have flying around your futuristic city, there is a point to them beyond mere background noise. Ask yourself: Is this craft something people would actually buy and use?
#3: A Page By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet
This is the 3rd worst product on the list, and its place is justified if you ask me. It has to be the most bizarre idea I’ve ever encountered on the internet, and that’s saying something. The DigiScents iSmell (not making this up) is a desktop device which uses a cartridge of 128 “primary odors” to mix together a particular smell for whatever internet site you are currently visiting. I have no idea how this works , but as the article’s author explains: “It. Was. A. Product. That. Let. You. Smell. The. Internet.” I could see this interacting with perfume sites, etc., and perhaps even games (Crisis with some sort of jungle smell, maybe?), but this product is just too strange to have been long for this world.
As far as science fiction goes, I can’t see anyone using this idea without it being comical to some degree- perhaps if this sensation was to be integrated with some kind of holographic virtual reality it could work, but having what amounts to “smell-o-vision” for the internet just won’t fly in most stories.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some weird and faulty technologies! Next week I’ll take on one of my favorite new (to me) ideas for weapons in a future civilization: caseless ammunition!
Until then, what strange products have you seen over the years, failed or otherwise?