It's easy to believe that most of the big technological inventions came in the 20th or 21st century. Often, though, the ideas for the gadgets we rely on have been around for years, if not centuries. Check out this list of inventions that were ahead of their time.
In 1979, Kane Kramer of England came up with the idea for a pocket-size solid state music player. He called his portable device the IXI System, and it was a roughly the size of a cigarette pack, with a display screen and buttons for four-way navigation. Kramer and a friend, James Campbell, built five of them, according to Kramer's website. The memory chip on Kramer's IXI System was able to hold only three and a half minutes of music, but he had plans to remedy that through the use of flash memory. Kramer even had developed a plan for a music store where people could bring in the IXI and hook it up to a telephone line to download new music, according to Wired. Kramer's patent lapsed in 1988 after a board-room dispute split his company and left him without the funds to renew it. At that point the technology became public property. The IXI and digital music store are very familiar now, in the form of the iPod and the iTunes store. Apple has acknowledged Kramer's role in the creation of the iPod.
In an attempt to create a machine that could perform mathematical calculations without error, Charles Babbage created the first predecessor to the modern computer. Babbage's analytical engine was the first general computational device that had the ability to solve different types of equations. What is most interesting about the analytical machine is that it was built before electronics, so the entire thing was run mechanically. The engine's memory consisted of gears, and its processing unit worked through the use of cams, clutches, cranks and gears. Babbage continued to tinker with the analytical machine until his death in 1871.
In 1632, René Descartes proposed a device to correct vision. This method involved a glass tube filled with liquid that would be placed in direct contact with the cornea. The protruding end was to be composed of clear glass, shaped to correct vision. Descartes had created the first set of contact lenses. Inconveniently, the wearer of these “lenses” would be unable to blink, so they never moved beyond the idea stage. In 1887, Adolf Eugen Fick, a German ophthalmologist, created the first successful pair of vision-correcting contact lenses out of blown glass. They could be worn for only a few hours at a time, but his creation eventually led to Czechoslovakian chemist Otto Wichterle's soft lenses, made of breathable, flexible plastic. Today soft lenses are being used by millions of people in the United States alone, according to <a href="http://www.eyetopics.com/">eyetopics.com</a>.
When it was first featured in Popular Science, the Colorfax was touted as a machine that "opens up a whole new world to the home owner and businessman alike." The Colorfax was a box that could be plugged into an FM radio and re-create incoming images on paper. It would draw those images with red, blue, yellow, and black mechanical pencils, taking around fifteen minutes per image. The article in Popular Science envisioned various uses for the technology: "You can listen to a radio lecture on any subject under the sun and look at illustrations accompanying the lecture as they roll out of the facsimile machine in color. If the lecture is on atomic energy, you can support your understanding of what you hear with colored charts. If it’s on automobile repair, you can look at the part under repair in color. Afterward, if you want to, you can tack the picture up in the garage." While the Colorfax machine never became popular, hampered by its $150 price tag and its inability to send images, today's color printer has become a fixture in most offices.
In 1883, Charles Fritts develops the first solar cell by coating the semi-conductor selenium with a thin layer of gold. The device proved ineffective, however; it had an efficiency of only 1 percent. (Today's solar devices have an average efficiency of 13 percent.) It wasn't until 1954 that the methods were developed, by researchers at Bell Laboratories, to make photovoltaic cells efficient enough for use. Soon solar cells were being used to power space satellites and smaller items like calculators and watches; today thousands of people power their homes and businesses with individual solar photovoltaic systems, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Four years ago, the United States military unveiled the Active Denial System; it projects an invisible high-energy beam that produces a sudden burning feeling. The device, known as a heat ray gun, does not actually cause harm, the military says, and can be used to safely disperse crowds ― unlike the original heat ray, which, it is said, was used to set enemy ships ablaze. The story goes that during the siege of Syracuse in 212 B.C., Archimedes constructed a “burning glass” to set Roman warships on fire while they were anchored in the harbor. While the truth of this story has been hotly debated over the years, various experiments have proven it can be done. Despite the story’s “busting” on the Discovery Channel's “Mythbusters,” others have proven it is entirely possible that Archimedes was able to use his heat ray to ignite a Roman ship.
The steam engine has been credited as the single most important invention of the Industrial Revolution. Steamships and locomotives allowed for the quicker transportation of products and people across countries and oceans.</p> <p>While James Watt has been credited with inventing the steam engine, its first application came centuries before he was born.</p> <p>Hero, a Greek mathematician from Alexandria, described a device known as the Aeolipile, the first known device to apply steam to rotary motion. It was a hollow sphere mounted above a cauldron of water. As the water boiled, the steam traveled into the pivoted sphere, and came out of the nozzles at the ends of two opposing arms, which caused the sphere to rotate, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.</p> <p>Hero used a similar process to create self-opening doors for temple ceremonies.
“Watch-Case Phonograph” described the tiny music player perfectly. It was a miniature phonograph that had been built in a watch case. When wound, the phonograph would play a “miniature record.” You could hold the Watch-Case Phonograph up to your ear and listen to whatever you’d chosen. The idea was a good one, but the design was ineffective and meant holding the phonograph's “diminutive horn” up to their ear to listen. It also required people to purchase the mini-records. The development of the Sony Walkman in 1970 made the whole concept of a portable device with pre-recorded music much more common.
While serving with the Austrian army in the Seven Years War, Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot drew up a device to haul artillery. The steam-powered vehicle, considered the world's first true automobile, was tricycle-mounted, with the single front wheel performing both steering and driving functions. After seeing the gun carriage, France’s minister of war commissioned Cugnot to build a larger, more powerful, and faster version. It was completed in 1771. The minister, Étienne François de Choiseul, fell from power and his successor was not interested in Cugnot's invention, according to <a href="http://www.madehow.com/inventorbios/95/Nicholas-Joseph-Cugnot.html">MadeHow.com</a>. The artillery carriage sat in a military shed for 30 years before it was moved to the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris, where it has been on display ever since.
Vending machines, currently caught in the crossfire of the health debate, can be found in schools, airports and most office buildings. What may surprise you is that they have been around since the first century. They were first used to dispense holy water in the temples of Ancient Greece. In an attempt to prevent people from taking more holy water than they paid for at the temples, Hero of Alexandria created a new device to dispense the water. A person put a coin in a slot at the top of a box. The coin hit a metal lever, like a balance beam. On the other end of the beam was a string tied to a plug that stopped a container of liquid. As the beam tilted from the weight of the coin, the string lifted the plug, and water was dispensed until the coin dropped off the beam, according to the Smithsonian Institution. This same system was used in the vending machines that were developed in the 1880s, and up until electricity took over. <em>This article was provided by <a href="http://innovationnewsdaily.com">InnovationNewsDaily</a>, a sister site of TechNewsDaily.</em>