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9 Amazing Inventions That Were Ahead of Their Time

        posted by , September 17, 2011

Sometimes an idea is so far ahead of its time that it's not appreciated for decades, centuries or even millennia.

1. Computer (1837) — Charles Babbage

English mathematician Charles Babbage designed a programmable general-purpose computer in 1837 (Analytical Engine).

The Analytical Engine was complete with an arithmetical unit, control flow, loops, and memory (turning-complete). Babbage tried to build his computer but ran out of money — the first computer was not actually built until 1943 (106 years later).

2. Electric Car (1828) — Ányos Jedlik

Electric cars existed before gas powered engines. Infact, electric cars held the land speed record until 1900. A rocket shaped electric car broke the 100 km/hour barrier in 1899 (Jamais Contente).

Electric cars were commercially successful in the late 19th century. However, they eventually lost out to the internal combustion engine due to their limited range. There was renewed interest in electric cars in the late 2000s due to environmental issues and technology advancements .

3. Frequency-hopping Spread-spectrum Communication (1942) — Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil

Hedy Lamarr, a A-list Hollywood actress who starred in more than 20 films, invented a technology used today for Wi-Fi and CDMA communication.

Lamarr called her invention Secret Communication System — it involved communicating by hoping across 88 different frequencies. It was intended to secure communication with radio controlled torpedoes.

4. Steam Power (150 BC) — Plato

Plato detailed 70 steam powered inventions in his Hero of Alexandria. Almost 2000 years later, the steam engine helped to spark the industrial revolution in Britain (1780s).

5. Vending Machine (~50 AD) — Hero of Alexandria

The Greek mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria constructed a working vending machine in 50 AD. It dispensed holy water in exchange for a coin.

Vending Machines did not appear again for almost 2000 years (early 1880s, London).

6. Parachute (1485) — Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci stetched a parachute design in the margin of his sketch book with the following text:

If a man is provided with a length of gummed linen cloth with a length of 12 yards on each side and 12 yards high, he can jump from any great height whatsoever without injury.

In 1617, the first successful parachute jump was made from a tower in Venice.


7. Contact Lenses (1636) — Rene Descartes

The French philosopher Rene Descartes invented contact lenses in 1636. Each lense consisted of a glass liquid filled tube attached directly to the eye. The only problem: the wearer would not be able to blink (designs were scraped and a prototype was never constructed).

It was not until 1888 that the first working contact lens was fitted.

8. Solar Power (1883) — Charles Fritts

American inventor Charles Fritts developed the first working photovoltaic cells in 1883. They only converted %1 of the sun's energy into electricity. Solar power did not become practical until the advent of silicon based cells in 1941.

9. Talking Doll (1888) — Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison invented the cylindrical phonograph in 1877 and was looking for ways to commercialize it. In 1888, Edison developed a china doll equipped with a cylindrical phonograph with pre-recorded messages. It was a commercial flop — consumers thought the dolls were creepy.
Talking dolls did not enjoy commercial success until 1959 with Mattel's Chatty Cathy. Chatty Cathy could say 11 phrases and was the second most popular doll of 1960 (after Barbie).

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