The jetpack, the flying car, free electricity for the world – all these ideas are way ahead of our time in the practical sense.
With time on our side, however, the idea of what’s out of our technological reach is always changing. Circuits get smaller, engines get more efficient, bored scientists find new and interesting solutions to unusual problems.
Then that cutting-edge stuff becomes commonplace and gets used as a foundation to go a little deeper, rattle a few more technological sabers.
For example, we couldn’t explain to you how a flush toilet works, but ancient Minoans were building them in 18th century BC.
Here’s a collection of this and 7 other inventions that were simply ahead of their time.
Contact lenses – 1632
Rene Descartes, the ‘I think therefore I am’ guy, is actually the first on record as having come up with the idea of corrective lenses in a 1632. (Leonardo da Vinci had a similar but ultimately different idea before him). Instead of using semi-sexy language like ‘corrective lenses,’ Descartes described them as glass tubes filled with liquid, placed in direct contact with the cornea.
Solar cells – 1883
The solar cell was first demonstrated experimentally in 1839. But Charles Fritts, in 1883, was first to build a functioning solid state version.
Vending machine – some time in the first century
Forget your Cokes and Mike & Ikes — the first vending machine dispensed holy water. It was a device invented by Hero of Alexandria in the first century.
If anyone’s especially interested in vending machines, make sure to look into its culture in Japan. Yes, it’s a culture.
Military mind control – right now!
Future soldiers may be equipped with helmets that hack their brains. HowStuffWorks has an excellent and concise explanation:
‘An Arizona State University researcher…is trying to develop a military helmet equipped with technology to regulate soldiers’ brains. The technology is transcranial pulsed ultrasound, which delivers high-frequency sound waves to specific regions of the brain…For example, he or she might want to be more alert after being awake for many hours or relax when it’s time to catch some shuteye. The soldier might even be able to relieve stress or become oblivious to pain, eliminating the need for morphine and other narcotics.’
Mercedes Biome – right now!
This creation is so ahead of it’s time that it’s not even available for purchase. It’s a Mercedes concept car and it sounds awesome. Again, from HowStuffWorks:
‘Engineers…created the car as part of the Los Angeles Design Challenge, which called for a safe and comfortable compact car of the future that could accommodate four passengers, demonstrate good handling and weigh only 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms). The BIOME represents the Mercedes-Benz vision. It is made from an ultralight material called BioFibre so that the finished vehicle, though wider than a typical car, only weighs 876 pounds (397 kilograms).’
Difference engine – 1822
Though one was never built in his lifetime, Charles Babbage proposed his idea for a difference engine, a kind of minimalist steampunk take on what a computer should do.
His ideas helped lay the foundation for the personal computers we have today.
Electric car – 1828
In 1891, William Morrison built what we today would recognise as an electric car. It carried six passengers at a top speed of 14 miles per hour.
His car was instrumental in helping drum up interest in exploring the idea of electric car as a major means of transportation.
Flushing toilets – 18th century BC
There’s nothing new under the sun. A different version of the flushing toilet in your house right now dates back to 1800 BC in ancient Minoa.
Want more tech history?
Originally published on Business Insider Australia